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The Tea Ceremony Advocated by a Ming Prince and Ming Paintings on Tea

Established during the waning of China's feudalism, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was inevitably confronted with many social problems, such as the surviving forces of the Mongols, the power struggle inside the imperial court and the peasant uprisings. The Ming rulers had to adopt a high-handed policy to consolidate their power, and the literati were the first to bear the brunt. They were forbidden to hold gatherings, and liable to be accused of opposing the court at every move. In such circumstances many intellectuals found tea a good means to express their noble aspirations and their contempt for meretricious bigwigs.

Zhu Quan, the seventeenth son of the first Ming emperor, had helped Zhu Di, the fourth son, to usurp the throne. But unfortunately the new emperor became suspicious of Zhu Quan and exiled him to the south. Feeling as depressed as the literati, Zhu Quan, a good disciple of Buddhism and Taoism, began to incline towards a reclusive life and also take a strong interest in the tea ceremony. He wrote the Manual on Tea, proposing the purification of people's mind by tea and advocating some reforms of the ceremonial procedures established after the abolition of tea cakes. His proposals were the basis which shaped the form and spirit of the Ming tea ceremony. The literati at the time usually burnt in case before the tea ceremony to air the room and worship heaven and earth; then they laid the table with tea things and cooked water, ground tea leaves, made tea and stirred out the bubbles with a brush. (Zhu Quan made his teapot in the shape of a Taoist alchemist vessel, and had it covered with rattan after the simple style of ancients. Later someone used bamboo, a symbol of moral integrity, as the covering.)

Many books on the tea culture appeared during the Song Dynasty. For instance, Gu Yuanqing wrote a book also named Manual on Tea, and Xu Xianzhong wrote A Complete Gamut of Waters. These books, similar to Lu Yu's The Book of Tea summoned up the development of tea culture down the ages and described the new features of that in the early Ming Dynasty.

Several painters also made a contribution with their brushes to the promotion of the tea culture. For example, The Tea Ceremony at he Huishan Hill. Lu Yu and His Tea and Tasting Tea by Wen Zhengming, and Making Tea, Playing the Zither and Tasting Tea and With Fragrant Green Tea by Tang Yin vividly presented the life of leisure of the Ming literati-beside gurgling mountain springs or suiting rivers, inside ancient pavilions, they played the zither and drank tea, voicing their aspirations to the green mountains and white clouds, and encouraging themselves to hold to their integrity in adversity.

In the later Ming, the active part in the tea ceremony waned because of the repressive policy adopted by the imperial court toward the literati. They had to move the tea ceremony into their houses, and the natural and noble qualities were gradually lost. Many new devices were added to the tea ceremony: for instance, the "100 Tea Patterns," which meant ripples of various patterns, could be stirred up in a cup of tea.