How Important the Tea Was in Ancient China?
In Chinese history there is reference to tea as far back as 5000 years. While the origin of tea drinking is not really known, by most accounts the beginnings of the tea culture in China began around 2737 B.C. According to folklore the second Emperor of China, Shen Nung who studied plants and herbs was in the court yard when the leaf of the Camellia Senensis blossom dropped into his boiling pot of water.
A man before his time in reference to hygiene he boiled his water before drinking it. As he did not realize that the leaf had fallen into his pot of boiling water he drank some it and found it to be refreshing.
Tea was originally consumed for its medicinal properties. Used as an herbal medicine the Chinese added the leaves to their food to provide nutrients or as an antidote for poison. It is also known for its benefits of aiding digestion, which is why Chinese prefer to drink tea after their meals and also aids in nervous disorders. Another benefit of drinking tea is it helps to expunge nicotine from the bodies of smokers faster.
The first written reference to the consumption of tea was in 350 A.D when Kuo D'o' updated an old Chinese dictionary. At this time tea was made of leaves and was usually boiled with ginger, orange and other things for flavour. Tea at this time was in the form of green tea. In the interior part of China people compressed the tea into bricks and used it as currency to barter. From 350 A.D to 600 A.D demand greatly increased, outstripping supply. Farmers began growing tea in the Szechwan district.
During the Tang Dynasty 618 907 A.D tea drinking evolved into an art form. The tea culture was highlighted in a book by Lu Yu 780 A.D called the Ch'a Ching or the Tea Classic. The book covered everything from how to grow tea plants and cultivate them, brewing of tea and a complicated formal tea ceremony which used twenty seven pieces of equipment. Because of the complexity of the ceremony only wealthy connoisseurs, such as scholars, officials and members of the royal court who studied the teachings of Confucius could afford the equipment.
With the availability of tea the tea culture spread throughout China with all walks of life able to enjoy tea with the different grades of tea from the cheapest to the priceless. Tea preparation became standardized. With the drinking of tea many intellectuals have gained inspiration. People found that tea drinking enhanced their health, emotions were soothed and elevated and perception was heightened.
The tea trade spread through out mainland Asia. During the Ming Dynasty 1368 1644 China became powerful. Tea was irreplaceable to their daily diet so the tea trade was essential. China used tea as an economical and political tool. They traded tea for horses to keep their army mobile.
Due to China's superiority and self sufficiency, doing business with China wasn't easy.
The country isolated itself and trading was only allowed in Canton. Europeans were not allowed to enter China or communicate with Chinese Merchants. Tea was becoming popular in Europe and in high demand in the 18th century and the East India Company tried to import as much as possible. China needed nothing from the Europeans and the company suffered huge deficits. As a way to decrease the deficit they introduced opium to the Chinese causing millions to become addicted, decreasing their deficit and causing a huge crisis in China. The Chinese government took action and confiscated and burned huge amounts of opium causing the English traders to feel threatened and so war was waged on the coastal towns of China.
The Opium war lasted from 1840 to 1842 and ended with the Chinese suffering the worst defeat in history. They were forced to open the country and five ports for foreign trade between Shanghai and Canton. Hong Kong fell under British rule until 1997. The export of tea increased by five hundred percent. This ended soon though as Europe discovered the tea plant in India. The tea trade of China suffered for many years afterwards.
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