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The Manchus' Contributions to Tea Culture

The Manchus in the Qing Dynasty were descendants of Nuzhen. The Nuzhens started to drink tea early in the Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) dynasties. According to records of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), many customs of a matriarchal system were retained among the Nuzhens in the late Liao Dynasty and the early Jin Dynasty. At that time sweethearts could run away freely, later visit and present gifts to the girl's family. When the son-in-law called on his wife's family, all females of the family, young or old, would sit on the heatable bed for him to make a bow to. Then his wife's family would warmly entertain him with tea, liquor, cheese and candied fruit, etc. The Nuzhens called food served on festivals and food served to guests "tea food," which showed the role that tea played in their life.

With the rise of the Manchus, it became a common practice for the northern ethnic groups to drink tea. And the descendants of the Nuzhens still liked to drink tea. After the reign of Emperor Qianlong, emperors were addicted to tea, making it popular with the Manchus. The Manchus made outstanding contributions to tea culture.

First, the Manchus organically connected the tea culture that was characterized by serving tea without refreshments and the tea culture characterized by serving tea with refreshments, and they put the milky tea culture to a position almost equal with that characterized by serving tea without refreshments. In the Qing Dynasty emperors and empresses liked to eat dairy products and drink milky tea. At the old men's banquet, which started at the time of Emperor Kangxi, the officials in charge of tea and meals first presented a cup of brown milky tea to the emperor and his sons, respectively. After the emperor and the crown prince drank the milky tea, the officials presented tea without refreshments to ministers. This shows the Manchu emperors had inherited the northern hobby of drinking milky tea. The introduction of milky tea to the imperial court affirmed the important position of the tea culture characterized by serving tea with refreshments. According to Records from the Yangji House, the Manchus "used to drink milky tea. Rules were made to provide cows for the emperor and his officials. Milk was sent to the tea house for boiling, and milky cakes were made in the tea house in spring and autumn." The herdsmen and hunters on grasslands liked to drink tea to go with milk, while the Nuzhens used to drink tea to go with such refreshments as tea cakes and tea medicine. It can be seen from this that the Manchus had three sources of tea culture: first, since the Liao and Jin dynasties they had adopted the northwest ethnic groups,custom of drinking milky tea; second, they followed the Nuzhens' custom of drinking tea to go with fruits and refreshments; third, they inherited the Hans, custom of drinking tea without refreshment. Emperor Qianlong drank milky tea both at court in his daily life and at old men's banquets; but when he was present at tea banquets or was composing poems or painting pictures, he became a bosom Mend of Confucian tea drinkers, for he liked to drink tea without refreshments. Thus, the Manchus drew together the tea customs of ethnic groups of the Central Plains, the northwest and the northeast. Most orthodox Chinese tea-drinkers advocate Confucians, drinking tea without refreshments rather than drinking tea with refreshments or drinking milky tea. However, the tea culture characterized by drinking tea with refreshments plays a noticeable role not only in China but throughout the world According to statistics, L3-1.5 billion people in the world drink tea without refreshments, with the annual sales of tea being 400,000-450,000 tons, while 100 million Qunese and 3.8-4.0 billion people from other countries drink tea with refreshments. At present, most typical tea houses in Beijing sell both tea and food, which is the result of the connection of drinking tea with refreshments and chinking tea without refreshments. Adding fragrance of flowers to tea conflicts with the traditional tea culture. We should notice that the tea culture characterized by drinking tea with refreshments is popular among people. So we can say that the Manchus made creative contributions to tea culture.

Second, as the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty liked to drink scented tea, semi-fermented tea (a sort of scented tea between black tea and green tea) developed rapidly. The jade perfume was favored by the common people, though it was looked down upon in traditional tea culture. Semi-fermented tea pushed forward the changing of Chinese tea culture. The "Eight Banners" (military-administrative organizations of the Manchus in the Qing Dynasty), an idle class, combined tea with flowers and created many kinds of tea, undoubtedly enriching Chinese tea culture.

Third, teacups with lids were popular with the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty. As the Manchus lived in a cold zone in the north, it was necessary for them to keep the tea in the teacups warm with lids. A pioneering work of tea sets, the lids keep the tea warm and clean, dispel tea leaves, and cover the mouth to show respect for others.

The common people of the Manchus often treated guests to tea at home. In all, the Manchus played an important role in the combination of the tea cultures of all ethnic groups, as well as in the development of tea art and tea ceremonies.