Exhibition features Chinese tea culture and tea utensils
More than 100 pieces of refined tea ware from Tang dynasty (618-907) to the 20th century will be featured at the "History of Tea: The K S Lo Collection of the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware" exhibition at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware from today (March 19) until November 17. Visitors will not only be able to appreciate the tea utensils made in different time periods for local use and export, but will also gain a comprehensive idea on the development of the art of tea drinking throughout Chinese history.
The Tang dynasty was a powerful and prosperous period in Chinese history. Its economic affluence and the flowering of cultural life provided the essential conditions for the development of tea culture. The custom of tea drinking spread rapidly northward from the southern parts of China and even reached frontier regions. The imperial court of the Tang dynasty held all matters associated with tea drinking in high regard. In 770, the Office of Tribute Tea was established to take charge of the production of tribute tea for imperial household consumption. The most influential factor contributed to the establishment of Chinese tea culture during this period was the famous treatise, "Chajing" (Classic of Tea), composed by Lu Yu (active in 760-800) in the mid-eighth century.
Tea drinking in the Song dynasty (960-1279) was even more popular. Tea became a national drink and was enjoyed across all social strata. To prepare tea, a tea cake was reground into fine powder. The tea powder was placed in a tea bowl over which boiling water from an ewer was poured. The mixture was then stirred with a whisk. This way of preparing tea was known as the "whipped tea method".
Early in the reign of Zhu Yuanzhang (1368-1398), the first emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the manufacture of tribute tea cakes was prohibited and substituted by the use of loose leaf tea picked from young leaf buds. The practice of drinking tea made from young leaf buds and loose leaves had existed as early as in the Tang dynasty (618-907), but it was not until the Ming dynasty that it became popular. Although people no longer made tea with tea cakes in the early Ming dynasty, they still ground leaf buds into a fine powder, whether for the making of plain tea or cream tea as had been the practice in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). Some tea drinkers retained the elements of tea preparation methods of the Tang and Song dynasties by crushing and grounding tea leaves into a fine powder. Water was poured into a bowl containing the powder and the mixture was stirred until it emulsified and a layer of froth formed on the surface.
The method used to prepare tea during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) followed the path laid in the Ming dynasty. Alongside teapots, covered tea bowls also came into fashion as a means of steeping loose tea leaves. Early in the Qing dynasty, some tea manufacturers in the Wuyi mountain region of Fujian province invented a kind of half-fermented tea. After allowing the plucked tea leaves to wither and ferment until the edges of the leaves turned red, they would then halt the fermentation process by pan-firing them. The tea made in this novel way was called "Oolong tea" or "Wuyi tea". This new category of tea offered a unique taste and its sophisticated production process was recorded in "Xu Chajing" (The Sequel to the Classic of Tea) complied by Lu Tingcan of the Qing period. Lu quoted the description of the production process of Wuyi tea from "Chashuo" (Discourse on Tea) written by his contemporary, Wang Caotang.
The passion for tea is not confined to the Chinese, as tea is also a popular drink overseas. During the Tang period, tea was a main export to Korea and Japan, but small quantities of tea were also introduced to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula where it was re-exported to Europe for medicinal purposes. However, Japanese ceremonial tea traditions had diverged marked from those of prevailed in China since Ming dynasty. The exquisite quality of Chinese ceramics also won high acclaim in Europe. Indeed, they were greatly cherished by the imperial courts of both England and France. The export of Yixing tea ware started from the 17th century. In the late Ming period, Yixing tea ware, more commonly known as "Porcelain Rouge", was introduced to Europe together with tea exports. Yixing pottery was well received and extensively copied by many factories in Europe in the late 17th century. During the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722), the rapid growth of tea exports was accompanied by an increase in the demand for the production of commissioned Chinese tea ware. Until some time in the 18th century, oriental porcelain teacups were used alongside silver teapots and cream-jugs in European tea services, and on some occasions small Yixing teapots also appeared.
The artifacts on display at the exhibition were selected from the K S Lo Collection of tea ware housed at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. These valuable artifacts document the discernible changes and development in the variety of forms and glazes applied to ewers and tea bowls of the Tang and Song dynasties. On display are also refined teapots of the Ming dynasty, an exquisite covered bowl of the Qing dynasty in addition to a variety of styles of tea ware destined for export. While appreciating this bountiful heritage of tea ware featuring various qualities, forms and decorations, visitors are invited to explore the history of Chinese tea culture that they embody. Education corners have been set up to create an enlightening and fascinating experience for the visitors.
Located at 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong (inside Hong Kong Park), the Museum of Tea Ware is open from 10am to 5pm daily and is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free.
For more information, please visit the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware's website at http://hk.art.museum
, or call 2869 0690 or 2869 6690.
Ends/Wednesday, March 19, 2008