观音韵 – Guanyin tea – English

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Tea leaves originated in China and therefore, in all of the world’s languages, the word for tea comes from one of two Chinese dialects. Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, and Arabic use the Cantonese word, and German, French, English and Dutch use the word from the Fujian dialect. By looking more closely at the relationships between these langues, you can see the trade map of Chinese tea production. For instance, the boxes that left by sea all came from Fujian, like the English tea.

English people like Fujian tea, and from very early on, they have regarded “Da” tea (Bohea) and Gongfu tea (Congou) as real table treasures. So we can understand how Fuzhou, though it’s a small city which never was a key harbour through history, was entered into the list of trade ports at the end of the Qing dynasty.

The “San Fang Qi Xiang” (literally Three Lanes and Seven Alleys) area is the historical precinct of Fuzhou, protected by the National key Cultural Relics Unit, and with only 40 hectares, is much smaller than the National Palace museum in Beijing. However, this is definitely a remarkable place that produces outstanding people – countless talents have walked here in hundreds of years, and even now one can feel the weight of history on the cobble roads, and detect the perfume of time in old houses. Towards contemporary periods, the people of “San Fang Qi Xiang” are even more renowned. Each period has seen someone famous from San Fang Qi Xiang: Lin Zexu, Chen Baozhen, Zuo Zongshang, Zheng Xiaoxu, Chen Baochen, Yanfu, and Bingxin, are all from this neighbourhood.

There’s also Lin Juemin. His “Goodbye to my wife” was the only text to appear among chosen extracts in text books on both sides of the Straits. His former residence was naturally converted to a centre for patriotic education, where they exhibit a replica of his famous handkerchief. When veterans from Taiwan visit, and deteriorating eyesight prevents them from being able to read the tiny characters, they nonetheless recite from memory: “To my love, you were lucky to meet me, but unlucky to be born in today’s China; I was lucky to meet you, but unlucky to be born in today’s China. We can’t just take care of our own fates after all. I cannot express all of my love on this short piece of paper, there are thousands and tens of thousands more words which I want to say…” sic. They recite and they silently weep for the young bright activist that lost his life at Huanghuagang. As for his old residence, it was purchased and was going to be demolished by Li Ka-Shing, the “patriotic” Hong Kong businessman (Li had already bought and ruined most of the streets in San Fang Qi Xiang), but fortunately saved when Li needed to direct his funds towards development in the New Orient Square of the Imperial Palace. China has always been a place where the elders bury the young.

The past is too heavy, the affairs of the State are too sad, and so we still come back to the teahouse. England used to be like Continental Europe, and preferred coffee to tea. In the early 18th Century, coffee planted by the Dutch in the fields of Java was traded at a price much lower than England’s East India Company’s Moka, and they snatched most of the market from them. The English at this point shifted their focus and specialised in tea, which led to lower prices, increased volumes of sales, and tea becoming England’s national drink. In the mid-19th century, Fuzhou replaced Guangzhou as China’s biggest tea-trading port. This is when the trading port of San Fang Qi Xiang was set up, and apart from the Big Teahouse, there were rows of foreign banks like fish scales, sudden large numbers of Western style buildings. Or perhaps it is because of this ‘East meet West’ quality that Fuzhou produced so many Foreign Ministers under the Qing, and Yan Fu, this first Chinese student to study abroad. Only when the British tea gardens in Ceylon and India became fashionable did the magnificent scenery of Fuzhou become just a little bland. People say that the taste of Indian tea is stronger, more suited for tea and sugar, and in comparison Wuyi Mountain tea appeared as a bit mild.

Is their tea weak? Fujian people do not think so. The British came and went, and the last clippers who used to travel as far as Australia and America also disappeared. They’re proud of the great ministers who brought back vitality 中兴名臣, and heartbroken about the martyrs who fell when fighting against the Manchus. But this cup of tea, you still want to drink it, and the more you drink, the more you care about it. Fujian people today drink tea like others drink wine, and they have great tea competitions. One connoisseur takes one sip and tells you which mountain produced the tea, and whether it was rainy in July of that year; another aficionado savours briefly, pauses, and asks if the tea was dry cooked by a specific Master Lu. Their accuracy and expertise draw much awe and admiration. I once asked a friend, what is the best thing about its flavour, and he replied with a smile: “The charm of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin” And what is the charm of the Goddess of Mercy? I saw the delicate embers of the cigarette, my friend put down his cup gently and shook his head: “It’s inexplicable, and words cannot describe it”.

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Source : Bullogger

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]