The Far-Reaching Fragrance of Tea: The Art and Culture of Tea in Asia
The appreciation is a lifestyle, a fashion, an art, and a culture; it is a shared language of tea connoisseurs. The originated in China, and methods of tea making have undergone centuries of change, as have the equipment and the manner in which the tea has been enjoyed.
In ancient times, tea was used both to quench the thirst, and also for its perceived medicinal qualities; during the Tang and Song dynasties, it was brewed by boiling then it was sipped gently. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, tea was brewed by infusing tea leaves in extremely hot water, and appreciated in leisurely surroundings. Following the introduction of tea by Chinese diplomats and traders to Mongolia and Tibet, tea consumption became a part of everyday life there too. As a result of increased demand for tea in these regions, a network of caravan paths known as the Ancient Tea Horse Road developed. These nomadic groups also developed their own tea equipment and culture.
During the Tang and Song dynasties, Japanese diplomatic missions to China, student monks in China, and travelling merchants, introduced the appreciation of tea to Japan where it was integrated into local culture. Japanese tea ceremony etiquette thus developed, giving rise to sadō, a meticulous form of tea ceremony practiced there. In the late Ming dynasty, monks from Fujian introduced Fujian-style tea tradition and Yixing tea ware to Japan. The combination of tea drinking and scholarly conversation soon became popular among intellectuals, and developed into tea ceremony known as senchadō.
Immigrants from China to Taiwan and to Southeast Asia during the late Ming and the early Qing dynasties carried tea culture to those regions. Today, Taiwanese society not only preserves the tradition of the gongfu tea ceremony from Fujian and Guangdong but has also created a new local tea culture which reaches to the realm of art. According to the Zhuluo Xianzhi (Gazetter of Zhuluo County), there were uncultivated tea trees in central and southern Taiwan, suggesting that the climate of Taiwan was suitable for their cultivation. Tea merchants brought tea seeds and production methods from southern Fujian, and continued to improve the methods of cultivation. The 1980s saw the yielding of gaoshan (high mountain) tea, and it was largely planted in central Taiwan’s mountainous areas.
This exhibition follows the course of development outlined above. It is divided into three sections, "The Homeland of Tea: Chinese Tea Culture," "The way of tea: Japanese Tea Culture," and "The Enjoyment of Tea: Taiwanese Gongfu Tea." Selected artifacts from the collection of the National Palace Museum are showcased to illuminate Asia’s many unique tea cultures and approaches to tea appreciation. Through the situational of the Ming teahouse, the Japanese tearoom, and the modern tea presentation table, the visitor is introduced to the atmosphere of tea appreciation in different settings. This exhibition is intended to inform viewers of the dissemination and interchange of tea practices among different Asian regions, and to demonstrate their distinct yet related tea cultures.
The Homeland of Tea: Chinese Tea Culture
1. The Taste of Tang and Song
Tea drinking and its associated culture have a long history in China. Tea became popular throughout the country during the 7th century. By the 8th century, Lu Yu (ca. 733-803) had published his seminal The Classic of Tea (761), a book providing details on tea varieties, equipment, and teabrewing technique; it structured tea practices and the equipment to be used.
During the Tang Dynasty, tea was ground into powder and boiled in a cooking pot called a fu. The tea would then have been poured into tea bowls to be drunk; Yue ware celadons and Xing ware white porcelain tea bowls, known as "ice porcelain snow bowls", were the most popular at the time.
During the Song Dynasty preparation techniques changed. At this time, tea powder was placed into tea bowls, and boiled water was poured over it from a ewer. The method is called diancha (whisking tea). In the 11th century, Cai Xiang (1012-1067) wrote in his book Tea Note that, “Tea drinking involves the appreciation of color, fragrance, and taste”. Nine types of tea service items were introduced in the book, among which ewers, tea bowls, and saucers are the most common still seen today. Tea culture in the Song Dynasty involved not only tea tasting but also tea contests. At a tea contest, tea was beaten with a spoon or whisk in order to form a foam. Tea bowls in black glaze were often used to better complement the foam; on other occasions, celadon tea bowls or those with white glaze were commonly used.
The Way of Tea: Japanese Tea Culture
1. Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility
Chinese tea culture was introduced into Japan by Japanese missions and monks who had visited Tang China in the mid-8th century. Tea cultivation and tea drinking became popular throughout the country after Myōan Eisai (1141-1215), also known as Eisai Zenji (Zen master Eisai), bought back a bag of tea seeds and introduced tea practices from Southern Song Chinese Zen monasteries. During the 15th century, Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), the 8th shogun of the Muromachi period, combined the cultures of the samurai, nobles, and Zen priests. He held tea gatherings in tearooms inside studies, known as shoincha at the time. Later, Murata Jukō (1423-1502) established tearooms that were simple and unsophisticated, arguing that the practitioners of tea should free themselves from desire and comprehend the inner spirit of sadō through self-cultivation. During the middle-tolate 16th century, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) advocated "harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility" as the spirit of sadō, arguing that practitioners of sadō should not stick to the karamono tea equipment from China but should use unsophisticated utensils. Simple and plain tea service items thus began to be produced in Japan.