Hello tea world – remember me?
I recently read the article A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts by Lawrence Zhang (a few years late to the party), and was struck by the claim that Chinese Tea Ceremony is a contemporary constructed culture of foreign influence.
I’ll preface this post with the note that I have no animosity to the author and see this as an academic debate – and debate I shall.
TL;DR – the cliff notes version.
The author (Lawrence Zhang’s) versus my claims:
- LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony (Gongfu Cha) is not a ceremony.
My claim: Chinese tea ceremony (Gongfu Cha) is a ceremony.
- LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony, Chaozhou Gongfu, and Gongfu Cha are all synonyms.
My claim: Chinese tea ceremony is the set of codified practices, or praxis, of tea in China dating to at least the Tang dynasty. Gongfu Cha is a new name (from at least 1801 CE) for the contemporary Chinese tea ceremony. Chaozhou Gongfu is a trans-regional practical technique for brewing high roast mainland oolongs encompassed within Gongfu Cha.
- LZ claim: Teahouses use to be places for gambling and prostitution.
My claim: …. that is not a teahouse!
- LZ claim: Chinese tea ceremony is a constructed tradition of foreign influence.
My claim: Chinese tea ceremony is a living art which has changed and evolved with the culture of China.
In effect, to say that I disagree with the central thesis of the paper would be an understatement; China is the birthplace of tea, Chinese culture incubated the practice of tea since the Tang, and the living tradition of tea ceremony survives to the present day – having evolved alongside the tea, wares, and preferences of the practitioners.
At some level, perhaps, it may not matter if we consider the contemporary practice of Gongfu Cha a modern constructed tradition or an unbroken historical practice – we agree that the practice of tea has changed, sometimes quickly and sometimes radically, over time. Those changes have been in response to economic, social, political, and cultural impacts that have effected China and the world; if any change is enough to render a tradition “new”, then the tea ceremony we practice today is undoubtedly modern.
Finally, if the article was meant merely as a critique of the corporate marketing undertaken by companies such as TenRen, with pseudo-dynastic “ceremonies” and aggrandizing claims, than I will gladly rescind all points below and agree whole heartedly with the article; I have taken the claims within the article at face value as applied to all Chinese tea tradition and have responded thusly.
In the point-by-point refutation below, I examine each claim in turn and respond where my interpretation of the facts differ. My refutations follow the order of the quotes in the article, so you can easily follow along.