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The Rites of Tea

A civilization of more than five thousand years gave birth to the rites and ceremonies of China, China is also called the "State of Rites and Propriety", Needless to say. the rites of China have deeply influenced the evolution of tea culture. The father of Chinese rites was the famous philosopher Confucius. His thoughts on rites focused on "harmony",which to this day is central to Chinese philosophy. Existing historical records cannot confirm whether or not Confucius drank tea. But the earliest reference to tea Erya and the descriptions in Lu Yu's The Classic of Tea confirmed the existence of tea in Confucius's time. So he probably knew about tea. The fusion of Confucius's thoughts on rites into the culture of tea drinking undoubtedly occurred during the ensuing two thousand years.

Chinese tea rites emphasize modesty, honesty, harmony, and respect. These ideals also influenced Japanese and Korean tea ceremonies. Adhering to these principles, people from most regions in China advocate drinking plain tea, which is simply tea infused with clear water, without adding sugar, milk, lime, mint, or any other condiments. They believe that this is the best way to fulfill the ideals of the rites of tea.

Of course, the rites of tea are much more than the simplicity of a cup of plain tea. Behind the simplicity is a profound culture.

Treating guests respectfully with tea is a very basic etiquette in China. A story will explain the underlying culture behind the custom.

The eminent Song dynasty poet and statesman Su Shi loved travelling and visiting Buddhist monasteries. One time, he came to a monastery without his official dress on. Seeing the visitor's modest dress, the abbot pointed to a chair and lazily said, "Sit" He then told a boy monk, "Tea." Although the abbot was treating the guest with the normal etiquette, he clearly did not have true respect for him.

Su Shi knew the abbot was judging him by his looks and purposely neglecting him. So he asked the boy monk to bring the donation log, and wrote, "Donate silver a hundred taels."

The abbot realized the visitor must have some notable background, and quickly led Su Shi into the side room. He said, "Please sit," and then told the boy, "Bring tea."

Su Shi sat down and chatted with the abbot about history and current affairs. The abbot noticed the visitor's extensive knowledge and thought that he was extraordinary man, So the abbot led Su Shi into the best room in the monastery, and bowed, "Please have the honour seat." Then he bid the boy, "Go bring our best tea."

When the abbot finally realized that the visitor was the eminent poet, he insisted that Su Shu write something for him as a souvenir. Su Shi humorously wrote a satirical couplet:

"Sit, please sit, please have the honour seat. Tea, bring tea, go bring our best tea."

Behind this lively story is the essence of Chinese tea rites. As a matter of formality, the abbot did not violate any common courtesy. But his actions were contrary to the rites of tea.

In order to fully display the rites of tea, the Chinese have some clear rules about how tea should be drunk. When the goal of drinking is spiritual enjoyment, the emphasis is on the appraisal of the flavour and aroma of the tea and appreciation of the colour of the brew and the shape of the leaves. This is called "sampling tea." A tea sampler must take small sips and carefully enjoy the tea. This is an advanced way of drinking tea. When the goal is to quench thirst, the tea is gulped down very quickly in big mouthfuls. The tea is often infused for a number of times by adding water repeatedly. This is called "drinking tea." If the tea leaves are swallowed down along with the juice,it is called "eating tea." This is the least consistent with the rites of tea. There is a saying in China,"The first cup is sampling tea; the second cup is quenching thirst; the third cup is drinking like a cow." It concisely summarizes the three states of drinking tea.

The rites of tea are displayed in the various ceremonies of marriage, worship and memorials, as well as daily lives.

In the Chinese marriage! traditions, tea is an important betrothal gift from the groom to the bride's family. Besides the four ideals that tea embodies, tea, as an evergreen, also represents the unwavering love between the bride and the groom.

In the countryside of some southern regions in China,there is also a custom that unmarried young women cannot drink tea when they are guests in another family. If they drink the host family's tea,it means that they have agreed to marry into that family. This custom was also described in one of the Chinese classic novels, Dream of the Red Chamber.

Sacrifice and worship are very important in the traditional life of China, At every New Year's, solar term, and traditional holiday, the Chinese go to worship their ancestors, and gods, and various spirits that will bless people's lives. No matter who the subject of the worship is, though the ceremonies may be conducted differently, tea is always an important offering. Sometimes, a cup of tea is offered, and sometimes a whole set of tea wares is offered.

In China, the rites of tea have also developed into a type of visual arts, called "tea arts". "Tea arts" are performed to create an elegant process of tea drinking, allowing tea drinkers to have an experience of sight,, hearing, smell, and taste all at the same time. "Tea arts" are usually performed at locations with an elegant environment. The modest Chinese classical music is often played; sometimes, there are even poets reciting poetry. Wearing the traditional Han robes,the well-trained performers infuse elegant routines into the brewing process, then politely hand each member of the audience a cup of their artistically infused tea. Therefore, tea arts provide a comprehensive artistic experience.