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Tea Rites in Daily Life

Folk customs, an important component part of national culture,showed the psychological characteristics of a nation. In the past, they had distinctive local features. It is truly said that "Ten li apart, but the customs are quite different." Customs were colorful and varied in attitude, which is often ignored. However, they reflected profound cultural psychologies. The same is true of tea-drinking. Although popular drinking methods were not as standardized as the Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist tea culture systems, most of the common people carried out the spirit of tea culture in their work, clothing, food, shelter and transportation, various social rites such as weddings and funerals, and social intercourse, showing that the spirit of Chinese tea culture was integrated with the thoughts of the common people.

It was a popular Chinese custom to entertain one's guest with tea to show great respect to him. People in different areas had various ways of serving tea.

Wealthy and influential families in North China (the Huanghe River Valley and the region north of it) served their guests with three courses of tea. The host first led the guest to the central room.

After greeting each other, the host would ask their servants or children to serve tea. The first course of tea, which was presented when the guest had just arrived, served only as a formality. The guest either left it untouched or took a sip. The second course was served as host and guest talked animatedly with each other. The guest tasted the wonderful tea carefully. They talked while drinking, exchanging their feelings. The third course was served after they had finished talking, and the tea had become weak. The guest then took his leave, and the host saw him off. However, close friends did not adhere to these formalities when they wanted to talk to their hearts' content.

People in regions south of the Yangtze River have entertained guests with the best tea and food to give blessing and show respect to them since the Song and Yuan dynasties. Hunan people entertained guests with tea containing fried soya beans, sesame and ginger slices. Besides drinking the tea, the guests chewed beans, sesame and tea leaves. Instead of using chopsticks, they patted the rims of teacups to suck the tasty morsels out. Villagers in Hubei Province drank plain water at ordinary times, and entertained guests with tea made of popcorn. Sometimes they added malt and tinosporaes to show special respect to their guests. In regions south of the Yangtze River, people offered their guests yuanbao tea during the Spring Festival to wish them luck and bring wealth and treasures in the coming year. It was made of Chinese olives or kumquats which had been cut open, and looked like yuanbao (a shoe-shaped gold ingot).

People entertained guests with tea, or presented it as a gift to their relatives or friends. During the Song Dynasty, people in Kaifeng were very righteous and warm-hearted. They often helped the bullied non-natives. When a resident moved into a new house, the neighbors offered him tea, or invited him to go to their homes to drink tea to show their friendliness and care. The tea was called zhicha. The Southern Song Dynasty later moved the capital to Hangzhou, and this good tradition was caried there. The custom of showing one's friendliness and respect to a guest by offering tea has been preserved up to the present. Every family in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, presented newly-made tea and excellent fruits as gifts to their relatives and friends at the Beginning of Summer (7th solar term). The custom, called qijiacha, was handed down from the Song Dynasty, and recorded in a book written during the Ming Dynasty. According to the Records of Chinese Customs, people of the State of Wu sought tea from their neighbors, and brewed it with the previous yearns charcoal at the Beginning of Summer. This, too, was called qijiacha.

Tea was used not only to serve guests, but also to show mutual respect and love among family members, and the feudal order of importance or seniority in human relationships. As far back as the Song and Yuan dynasties, it was an important component of family rites to serve tea to the family elder. The Chinese stressed genetic connection, family relationship, and advocated respect for aged people and protection of the young. In the old China, children of a wealthy and influential family gave morning greetings to their parents, and the oldest son or daughter served them a cup of newly brewed scented tea on behalf of the other children. The custom was more popular in South China. A bride had to get up early and serve newly brewed scented tea to her parents-in-law when she greeted them on the second wedding morning. The rite was designed to show three things: the bride's filial respect for her parents-in-law; keeping early hours and being industrious and thrifty in running her home; and being clever and deft. In the land of tea, a young married woman who could not brew and serve tea was regarded as clumsy and unreasonable.

Well-off families in Jiangxi Province followed a fixed rule when drinking tea. Servants, long-term hired hands and sedan-chair bearers drank tea from baohu, a huge tin teapot covered with cotton and put in a large vat. They tipped it to pour out the tea through a little hole in the vat. Ordinary family members and guests drank tea from tenghu, a smaller china pot in a cane container. The master of the house or distinguished guests coming on festival days were served newly brewed tea in teacups with covers. It reflected obsession of hierarchy, and respect for seniority.

The Han tea rite was spread to ethnic minorities. In the Dali Area where the Bai ethnic group lived, each family drank tea while admiring the beauty of flowers at every festival and at New Year. They built small gardens, or grew trees and flowers or potted plants in the courtyards or on the steps. They sometimes invited their friends to brew tea while admiring the beauty of flowers. A child had to learn to serve tea to its parents or guests. The first test for a bride was to see whether she could rise early, and serve tea to her parents-in-law before they got up to show her filial respect for them. If she could she would be regarded as industrious and deft; otherwise, she would be regarded as lazy, clumsy and ill-bred. It was the main spirit of the Chinese family tea rite to show respect for one's elders by serving them tea. Although the family tea rite in feudal societies contained some negative factors such as the view that men were superior to women, it advocated that people should respect the old and cherish the young, live with each other in harmony, and be industrious and thrifty in running their homes.