Tea culture

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Tea culture

Unread postby Sun Fin » Fri Aug 11, 2017 7:19 pm

Does anyone know how much about how wide spread drinking Tea was in China during the Later Han? I've read that it was largely medicinal and for Imperial use? Would they have used tea pots to boil it? What kind of material would said pots and mugs be made out of? Thanks in advance guys.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby waywardauthor » Fri Aug 11, 2017 9:10 pm

Sun Fin wrote:Does anyone know how much about how wide spread drinking Tea was in China during the Later Han? I've read that it was largely medicinal and for Imperial use? Would they have used tea pots to boil it? What kind of material would said pots and mugs be made out of? Thanks in advance guys.

I believe hot water and various liquors were used for social occasions in China during the Han Dynasty, while tea started being drunk for non-medicinal purposes during the age of fragmentation. It is possible that some may have drank it for recreation during the Han, but this does not appear to be noted, or wide-spread. Tea itself also does not seem to be too widespread either, with cultivation spreading, but not becoming something more common than other beverages.

They would probably have used clay or ceramic pots over a fire, and would later be poured into either a drinking vessel or a smaller pot like a tea kettle to then be dispensed. The vessels themselves would have class related materials, with some being simple cups, while others would have lacquer, jade, or bronze to symbolize status. The use of lacquer for cups was established long before the Han. While porcelain was probably around as well, I'm not sure how common that was during the Han. So, clay for poor people, lacquer for merchants and low gentry, and jade for the courts - maybe, that's just speculation on my part.
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Fornadan » Sun Aug 13, 2017 4:40 pm

I find somewhat amusing articles on the lines of "In the West they drink beer, in the East they drink tea" with all the far-reaching differences in culture and genetics this is supposed to have brought about, when, as far as I can tell at least, beer was a far more common drink in Ancient China than tea.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Sun Fin » Sun Aug 13, 2017 5:34 pm

waywardauthor wrote: The use of lacquer for cups was established long before the Han. While porcelain was probably around as well, I'm not sure how common that was during the Han. So, clay for poor people, lacquer for merchants and low gentry, and jade for the courts - maybe, that's just speculation on my part.


Thanks guys, would they have drank beer from clay/lacquer cups as well? :D
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Lady Wu » Sun Aug 13, 2017 10:12 pm

Tea-drinking definitely existed, but it's unclear how much of a "culture" was around it in the Han times. There are zero references to tea in the Hou Han Shu, and in the SGZ it was only mentioned once (the character 茶, tea, appeared in 2 other places but both times it's in a place name). The one time tea was mentioned in the SGZ was in Wei Zhao's bio:

皓每饗宴,無不竟日,坐席無能否率以七升為限,雖不悉入口,皆澆灌取盡。曜素飲酒不過二升,初見禮異時,常為裁減,或密賜茶荈以當酒,至於寵衰,更見偪彊,輒以為罪。

"Whenever Sun Hao hosted a feast, it would last the full day. All those who were present were, regardless of their ability, given a quota of 7-sheng of wine. Even if they could not ingest it all, it was forced upon them (presumably like pouring it down their throats and most of it ending up on their clothes or something). Wei Zhao usually drank no more than 2 sheng of wine. At first, when he had Sun Hao's favour, he was granted a reduced amount, or was secretly granted tea to substitute for the wine. But when his favour was diminished, he was increasingly forced to drink the full amount, and was often found fault with for not finishing it."

The first literary reference to tea was by a certain Du Yu (杜毓, not the RTK Du Yu) in the Western Jin. Tea-drinking only flourished as an art in the Tang dynasty.

However, my guess is, tea-drinking didn't come out of nowhere, and if people were writing poetry about it during the Jin, chances are people were already drinking tea in the Han. But it was either considered a mundane thing (like, you don't write about drinking water, right?) or for medicinal purposes.

I have not heard of beer in ancient China though. How do you distinguish beer from other types of liquors that they were drinking?
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby waywardauthor » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:09 am

Sun Fin wrote:Thanks guys, would they have drank beer from clay/lacquer cups as well? :D

Of course! There probably wouldn't have been specialized glasses until you reach the top 1% of Chinese high society.

Lady Wu wrote:I have not heard of beer in ancient China though. How do you distinguish beer from other types of liquors that they were drinking?
Beer's pretty old in China, Stanford just did something with it a little while ago. I am unsure how it would be specified, since a lack of much over reference may mean it is a lower class drink.

http://news.stanford.edu/2017/02/06/rec ... er-recipe/
Alone I lean under the wispy shade of an aged tree,
Scornfully I raise to parted lips a cup of warm wine,
Longingly I cast an empty vessel aside those exposed roots,
And leave behind forgotten memories and forsaken dreams.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby DragonAtma » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:26 am

Presumably the same way modern people distinguish chardonnay from budweiser!

But seriously, humanity has a long history of making multiple types of alcohol, and China is no exception -- they had alcohol as long ago as 7,000 BC. So multiple types of alcohol is no surprise.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Fornadan » Mon Aug 14, 2017 5:22 am

Lady Wu wrote:
I have not heard of beer in ancient China though. How do you distinguish beer from other types of liquors that they were drinking?

My understanding was that while grape wine was not unheard of, 酒 in most cases was made by fermented cereal rather than grape or other fruit. I.e. translating it as "wine" rather than "beer" is just cultural snobbery.

See the very informative post here:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=27234
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Sun Fin » Mon Aug 14, 2017 7:41 pm

Thanks for all your replies guys. The articles shared are particularly enlightening. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them!

I think Prof Michael Loewe’s Bing, From Farmer’s Son to Magistrate in Han China might be helpful on the topic of different kinds of alcohol. On p53 he describes the honeyed alcoholic drink as beer. Later on p76 says that grapes had been introduced to China in 10 BC as a luxury product and describes their product as wine. Therefore I would follow his example and describe grape products as wine and the rest as beer.
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Re: Tea culture

Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Aug 15, 2017 10:51 pm

Fornadan wrote:My understanding was that while grape wine was not unheard of, 酒 in most cases was made by fermented cereal rather than grape or other fruit. I.e. translating it as "wine" rather than "beer" is just cultural snobbery.

Whoa not so fast writing people off as being "cultural snobs". If you read that languagelog post you'd see that not every expert agreed that either wine or beer is better translation than the other. If we're going to be technical here, "beer" is equally unsatisfactory as a translation.

From the Merriam-Webster:
Definition of beer

1 : an alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (such as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation

2 : a carbonated nonalcoholic or a fermented slightly alcoholic beverage with flavoring from roots or other plant parts birch beer

3 : fermented mash

4 : a drink of beer


If the jiu mentioned so frequently was like modern-day baijiu, then it would be a distilled spirit and definitely not definition (1). Jiu also generically referred to all alcohol (yes, even to grape wine), so "beer" isn't going to get everything covered. I don't think definition (2) applies either, since carbonation was not a known process then (and I personally associate carbonation with beer, just like someone else could associate grapes with wine). (3 and 4 can be ignored here)

But in one thing you might be right, that culture has a role in the word-choice. Words do not exist out of a linguistic and cultural context. When there is no direct, one-to-one word mapping between two languages, a translator has to decide on which word in the target language gets more of the point across. In the English-speaking (or just Western?) tradition, "wine" is more readily associated with ceremonial function than "beer" is, and seems to serve a greater range of social functions (as a generic drink with meals, something served at feasts, a gift item, etc.).

And yes tradition may also be at play here. We've gotten pretty comfortable talking about rice wine, Chinese cooking wine (which is neither wine nor beer), sorghum wine, etc. Maybe whoever first translated jiu as wine in an European language wanted to emphasize the cultural significance part of the object rather than the recipe of the drink, and the term stuck, and it's just up to whoever's reading Chinese history to be aware of the fact that the text was just referring to some unspecified alcoholic drink (much like how it's pretty common knowledge that Confucius did not, in fact, have a Latin name and respond to the vocative Confuci).
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