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Tea in China

Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History

James A. Benn
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1kn2
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  • Book Info
    Tea in China
    Book Description:

    Tea in Chinaexplores the contours of religious and cultural transformation in traditional China from the point of view of an everyday commodity and popular beverage. The work traces the development of tea drinking from its mythical origins to the nineteenth century and examines the changes in aesthetics, ritual, science, health, and knowledge that tea brought with it. The shift in drinking habits that occurred in late medieval China cannot be understood without an appreciation of the fact that Buddhist monks were responsible for not only changing people's attitudes toward the intoxicating substance, but also the proliferation of tea drinking. Monks had enjoyed a long association with tea in South China, but it was not until Lu Yu's compilation of theChajing(The Classic of Tea) and the spread of tea drinking by itinerant Chan monastics that tea culture became popular throughout the empire and beyond.

    Tea was important for maintaining long periods of meditation; it also provided inspiration for poets and profoundly affected the ways in which ideas were exchanged. Prior to the eighth century, the aristocratic drinking party had excluded monks from participating in elite culture. Over cups of tea, however, monks and literati could meet on equal footing and share in the same aesthetic values. Monks and scholars thus found common ground in the popular stimulant-one with few side effects that was easily obtainable and provided inspiration and energy for composing poetry and meditating. In addition, rituals associated with tea drinking were developed in Chan monasteries, aiding in the transformation of China's sacred landscape at the popular and elite level. Pilgrimages to monasteries that grew their own tea were essential in the spread of tea culture, and some monasteries owned vast tea plantations. By the end of the ninth century, tea was a vital component in the Chinese economy and in everyday life.

    Tea in Chinatranscends the boundaries of religious studies and cultural history as it draws on a broad range of materials-poetry, histories, liturgical texts, monastic regulations-many translated or analyzed for the first time. The book will be of interest to scholars of East Asia and all those concerned with the religious dimensions of commodity culture in the premodern world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5398-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Editions and Conventions
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Tea as a Religious and Cultural Commodity in Traditional China
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is about tea as a religious and cultural commodity in traditional China. That is, it considers the life of tea in China before the nineteenth century, when tea became a global commodity. There are many excellent works about developments in the tea trade during the 1800s and afterward, so I do not wish to duplicate those studies, and in any case I am interested more in the Chinese cultural sphere than in the global marketplace.¹ In this book, we will consider tea as a product (the processed leaves of the cultivated tea plant) and an object of commercial...

  6. 2 The Early History of Tea: Myth and Reality
    (pp. 21-41)

    As I noted in the first chapter, the history of tea in China begins with the publication of Lu Yu’sClassic of Teaaround 780. I will discuss Lu Yu’s life and how he came to compose this work in a later chapter, but here we will consider the significance of some of the work’s claims. Because of the unreliability of our sources and the lack of a single term for tea (as we will see, the characterchais a Tang-dynasty innovation), anything before the date of theClassic of Tea,for the purposes of this study, belongs to...

  7. 3 Buddhism and Tea during the Tang Dynasty
    (pp. 42-71)

    During the eighth and ninth centuries, the drinking habits of Chinese people changed markedly and irrevocably: tea moved into the place previously occupied solely by alcohol. Although this cultural shift is clearly the result of many forces, Buddhist monks and laypeople were at the forefront of attempts to change people’s attitudes toward intoxicating substances and were seen by their contemporaries as missionaries for the spread of tea drinking throughout the empire. Alcohol, which was drunk not only for personal pleasure but also to strengthen social bonds as well as for ritual purposes, was faced with a serious rival for the...

  8. 4 Tea Poetry in Tang China
    (pp. 72-95)

    Why choose to devote so much attention to poems written about or featuring tea that were written during the Tang dynasty? First, the writing of verse was perhaps the most important expression of culture during the period when tea drinking emerged, so reading poetry can tell us a great deal about the trajectories of the practice that we may not be able to discern from other literary sources. Second, as the most highly regarded and prestigious form of cultural expression in medieval times, verse not only expressed ideas but actually shaped attitudes. To some extent, then, poets told people what...

  9. 5 The Patron Saint of Tea: Religious Aspects of the Life and Work of Lu Yu
    (pp. 96-116)

    This chapter introduces the life and works of Lu Yu (733–804), author of the world’s first book devoted to tea, theClassic of Tea(Chajing).¹ As we shall see, both Lu’s life and his work were strongly shaped by the religious climate of medieval China. Lu was orphaned at a young age and was brought up by the abbot of a Buddhist monastery. As he grew up, he rejected the monastic life, enjoyed a brief career as an entertainer, and spent most of his adult years mixing in literary and intellectual circles that included the Buddhist monk-poet Jiaoran, whom...

  10. 6 Tea: Invigorating the Body, Mind, and Society in the Song Dynasty
    (pp. 117-144)

    Song dynasty tea culture was considerably different than it had been in the Tang because of some important developments in areas such as horticulture, state policy, urbanism, and changing tastes in elite and popular culture. The most significant change in the production of tea was the opening up of Fujian as the source of the prestigious “tribute tea” (gongcha) that was sent directly to the imperial court.¹ Fujian was not much developed in Tang times and had not played a significant role in tea production.² As we will see later, Buddhist monks were often in the forefront of developing new...

  11. 7 Tea Comes to Japan: Eisai’s Kissa yōjōki
    (pp. 145-171)

    In this chapter, I discuss the religious dimensions of the introduction of tea to Japan from China. In particular, I focus on the complex religious and cultural associations with tea found inKissa yōjōki(Drinking Tea for Nourishing Life) by the Japanese monk Eisai (1141–1215).¹ Although it may seem strange to devote so much attention to a text by a Japanese Buddhist monk as part of a book about tea in China, there is much to be gained by approaching this important source from a continental perspective. First, because Eisai spent a considerable period of time in China, his...

  12. 8 Religion and Culture in the Tea Economy of Late Imperial China
    (pp. 172-197)

    In this chapter, I examine the role of religious institutions and literati connoisseurship in the booming tea economy of late imperial China, with a focus on the Ming dynasty. Religious figures and institutions, particularly Buddhist, but also Taoist, were involved in key developments during this time—many of the most famous and coveted teas of the Ming period were grown in and around Buddhist monasteries, and Buddhist monks played prominent roles in the innovation of new teawares, especially the famous purple Yixing ware.¹ In Ming times, tea and Buddhism in particular were linked both in reality and in the imagination,...

  13. 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 198-204)

    In this book, we have considered tea as a religious and cultural commodity in traditional China from earliest times through to about 1800. We have looked at how the product itself and its method of preparation changed, and asked how religious ideas, institutions, and individuals affected the story of the commodity. What have we learned? First, we have discovered that commodities and beverages have a history that is just as complex as that of humans and their cultures. Second, we have seen that it is important to question normative claims about the antiquity of tea drinking and accounts of its...

  14. Abbreviations
    (pp. 205-206)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 207-236)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 237-252)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-278)
  18. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-291)