Seven Bowls of Tea 七碗詩
Lu Tong 盧仝 (790-835)
The first bowl moistens my lips and throat; 一碗喉吻潤
The second bowl breaks my loneliness; 二碗破孤悶
The third bowl searches my barren entrails but to find 三碗搜枯腸
Therein some five thousand scrolls; 惟有文字五千卷
The fourth bowl raises a slight perspiration 四碗發輕汗
And all life's inequities pass out through my pores; 平生不平事盡向毛孔散
The fifth bowl purifies my flesh and bones; 五碗肌骨清
The sixth bowl calls me to the immortals. 六碗通仙靈
The seventh bowl could not be drunk, 七碗吃不得也
only the breath of the cool wind raises in my sleeves. 唯覺兩腋習習清風生
Where is Penglai Island, Yuchuanzi wishes to ride on this sweet breeze and go back. 蓬萊山在何處玉川子乘此清風欲歸去
—translated by Steven R. Jones
A Teahouse Becalmed
The Yu Yuan Garden Pond-heart Teahouse 豫園湖心亭茶樓 in the old city of Shanghai is one of the most famous, and venerable in years, in China. It is also one of the few genteel traditional-style tea establishments that survived even during the Cultural Revolution. It features in Michelangelo Antonioni's fascinating if somewhat notorious (although now generally forgotten) 1972 documentary film 'Chung Kuo, Cina'.[Fig.1]
Fig.1 A view of Yu Yuan Garden 豫園 and the Pond-heart Teahouse 湖心亭茶樓 looking towards Pudong, Shanghai, 1999. (Photograph: Lois Conner)
Earlier in the Shanghai segment of 'Chung Kuo', Antonioni had visited the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in that city in July 1921 at a gathering of twelve men. They supposedly were seated around a table drinking tea. The Italian director shows the empty room now a display of what would be a momentous event. The camera pans over the surface of the highly polished conference table and notes the carefully arranged teacups and pot, all that remained to mark a spectral moment that altered the course of Chinese history.
Even in the impoverished days of the early 1970s, the teahouse next to the Yu Yuan Garden continued to served desultory customers. The teahouse is housed in a building that was re-constructed in 1784, in the dying years of the Qianlong reign era. Renamed the Yeshi Pavilion 也是軒 in 1855, during the Xianfeng reign era, tea was sold there and today it is one of the most famous tea establishments in the People's Republic. Even in 1970s it was a popular spot. Although the various confections and delicacies for which it had once been renowned were reduced to naught, customers could meet friends there, visit with family members or simply read the paper while they sipped tea, chatted and looked out over the scenery.
In 'Chung Kuo, Cina', Antonioni's camera first pans over the lotus growing in the large pond in which the tea house is situated. It then follows the crowds along one arm of the zigzag bridge linking the shore to the double-storied tea pavilion. The voiceover claims that the teahouse is reserved for senior citizens and their families (this was definitely not the case when I first visited Yu Garden in early 1975). The bridges connect it on one side to the Ming-era Yu Garden, and on the other to the old Temple of the City God 城隍庙. The sounds of the time are recorded with the same care with the languid atmosphere of the teahouse is captured. The camera lingers on some of the sparse artwork on the walls of the pavilion; they include a large Mao slogan in golden lettering reading 'Long Live the Great Unity of the Peoples of the World' 全世界人民大团结万岁 and a poster from the film version of the Beijing Model Opera 'Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy' 智取威虎山. The voiceover tells us:
The atmosphere is strange: nostalgic and jovial at the same time. The recollections of the past mix with the confidence of the present.
The lens then loiters, seemingly transfixed by scenes of normal citizens of Mao's China in casual and relaxed conversation. Customers drink out of small teacups, not the elaborate covered bowls or lidded tea mugs that are now common; they play with children, smoke, sip tea, smoke, chat… Nonetheless, the sounds are muffled, a low din that reflects the de rigueur atmosphere of a world that had survived the Maoist-Lin Biao 'red terror' that had by then reigned for half a dozen years. Through an upstairs window we catch sight of the last words of a popular Mao slogan: 'Down with American imperialism and all reactionaries' 打倒美帝国主义和一切反动派.
Fig.2 Yu Yuan Garden 豫園 and the Pond-heart Teahouse 湖心亭茶樓, 1999. (Photograph: Lois Conner)
In early 1974, Antonioni's 'Chung Kuo, Cina' was vociferously denounced in the pages of the People's Daily.[Fig.2] The paper's commentator wrote in the over-blown prose favoured by Party hysterics at the time (and familiar to those inured to New China Newspeak):
More spiteful is Antonioni's use of devious language and insinuations to suggest to the audience that the Chinese people are repressed, have no ease of mind and are dissatisfied with their life. In the scene of the teahouse in Shanghai's Chenghuangmiao, he inserts an ill-intentioned narration, 'It is a strange atmosphere', 'thinking of the past, but loyal to the present'. He uses the phrase 'loyal to the present' but means just the opposite. Actually he is implying that the Chinese people are forced to support the new society but do not do so sincerely or honestly. Does not Antonioni again and again suggest that the Chinese people are not free?
Fig.3 Tea trees that spell out 'Long Live Chairman Mao!' at the Chikou Tree Plantation, Dexing county, Jiangxi province 江西省德興縣池口林場
Tea drinking was not merely the remnant pastime of retirees. It was an element of traditional culture that flourished throughout the Mao era. Large enamel tea mugs 搪瓷茶缸 featured prominently in the lives of workers and peasants, even when they might only have boiling water 白開水 to drink. Porcelain tea settings were a necessary stage prop at Party meetings be they held in far-flung provinces or at the Great Hall of the People. Such attention was paid to tea finery that one of the penultimate speciality products designed and made for the Party Chairman Mao Zedong was a tea set. Produced in January 1975, it was known simply as the 'January '75 porcelain tea set' 7501毛泽东用瓷茶具. This 'Mao porcelain' 毛瓷 (also known as '7501 porcelain' 7501瓷) is now a collector's item. Porcelain was not the only aspect of Maoist tea culture that survives today. In 1968, the revolutionary masses of Dexing county in Jiangxi cleared land at the Chikou Tree Plantation 江西省德興縣池口林場 to plant some 10,000 tea trees in a pattern that read 'Long live Chairman Mao' 毛主席万岁. Each character occupies 660 square metres. The tea trees, and the slogan, are still flourishing.[Fig.3]
Providing for the Leadership 特供茶
As early as 1942, some people at the war-time Communist base at Yan'an were expressing disquiet at the special privileges given to the Party nomenklatura. Yan'an would later be idealized as the 'golden age' of Party equality and fraternity. The reality was far from being halcyon. The most famous critic of the nascent bureaucratisation and hierarchy of the Party was the writer and translator, Wang Shiwei (王实味, d.1947). In 'Wild Lily' 野百合花, a 1942 essay that contributed directly to his downfall (and eventual execution), Wang wrote:
I am by no means an egalitarian, but to divide clothing into three and food into five different grades is definitely neither necessary nor rational, especially with regard to clothes. (I myself am graded as 'cadres' clothes and private kitchen', so this is not just a case of sour grapes.) All such problems should be resolved on the basis of need and reason. At present there is no noodle soup for sick comrades to eat and young students only get two meals of thin congee a day (when they're asked whether they have had enough to eat, Party members are expected to lead the rest in a chorus of 'Yes, we're full!'). What is more, relatively healthy 'big shots' get far more than they need or than is reasonable to eat and drink, with the result that their subordinates look upon them as a race apart, and not only do not love them, but even… . This makes me most uneasy.
During the socialist (1949-64) and High-Maoist eras (1964-78), Party and state ranks and privileges proliferated. Among other things, leaders both in Beijing and elsewhere also enjoyed access to the finest teas grown in China. This was ensured by a system known then, as indeed now, as 'special needs provisioning' 特需供應, abbreviated as tegong 特供.
In 1950, the Ministry of Public Security established a Foodstuffs Security Office 食品安全處 (the more formal administrative designation of this group was Office Five, Bureau Eight, Ministry of Public Security 公安部八局五處). It had oversight of: a provisioning department; an acquisitions and purchasing department; and, a production department. Special provisioning was both a continuation of Yan'an-era practices, as well as forming a core of the perquisites enjoyed by ranked party-state bureaucrats. Known as 'revolutionary cadres' 革命干部, following the founding of People's China, this special class of men and women it was reasoned not only required, but deserved, access to material goods, services and luxuries denied their fellows. It was reasoned that, burdened as they were with duties of state, Party leaders deserved out-of-the-ordinary treatment to compensate them for their 'revolutionary exertions' 革命工作 on behalf of the broad masses 廣大人民群眾, of which they were, of course, but humble members. Apart from better-quality produce and foodstuffs, including high-quality teas, a range of perks provided for the 'particular care' 特殊照顧 of cadres that included spacious housing, telephones, work-related and private staff, cars, travel, security teams, access to holiday and health resorts, premium education for their children, etcetera.
The Foodstuffs Security Office was formally disbanded in 1953 and its personnel reassigned so as to serve better the needs of their growing, albeit covert, constituency. People from the production department of the original office, for example, went on to establish the central government's organic farm at Ju Shan 巨山農場; the provisioning department now staffed the relevant office at the Peking Hotel; and, the acquisitions and purchase department was instructed to set up a Special Provisions Station 特供站 under the Third Commerce Bureau of Beijing municipality 北京市第三商業局. In 1956, relevant staff from Peking Hotel and the Special Provisions Station were ordered to establish the Beijing Municipality Special Needs Foodstuffs Supply Point 北京市特需食品供應處. It (surreptitiously) opened its doors for business in June that year at No. 34 Donghua Men Street. Due to its location it was known as the 'No. 34 Supply Store' 34号供应部. (Today, these special provisioning tasks are carried out by the Eastern Friendship Foodstuffs Delivery Company 東方友誼食品配送公司, which is under the management of the Second Commercial Group of Beijing).
Prior to the Cultural Revolution, the Beijing Special Needs Foodstuffs Supply Point only served party-state cadres of vice-ministerial rank and above. Unlike other foodstuffs at the time, jasmine tea could be purchased there without ration coupons. Other 'specialty teas' such as Longjing Dragon Well 龍井 and Anhui Houkui 猴魁, as well as 'unique teas' such as those with large leaves or black teas (favoured by the 'internally exiled' Panchen Lama) were available to a restricted clientele at the Bichun Teahouse on Wangfujing 王府井大街碧春茶莊, also without coupons.
The most commonly supplied tea was jasmine 茉莉花茶. Mao himself would drink jasmine tea, also provided by the Special Needs Supply Point. From the time of the Great Leap Forward in 1959, the grades of this popular drink were renamed to reflect better the revolutionary ethos of the day. Thus, the highest-quality tea was now called 'Red Flag' 紅旗, premium grade became 'Leap' 躍進, while second-grade tea was dubbed 'Vanguard' 先鋒. Only seven one-kilogram boxes of the high-quality tea was produced a year; four of these were supplied to Mao and his family while the other three were sold by weight to other party-state cadres and their dependants. The Great Leap nomenclature remained in use until the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Fig.4 Chairman Mao inspecting tea trees at Longjing in Hangzhou 杭州龍井
The Chairman also had a taste for Lion's Peak Longjing Dragon Well 獅峰龍井 green tea.[Fig.4] According to the account of Li Zhisui, one of Mao's doctors and author of The Private Life of Chairman Mao, he rarely brushed his teeth, preferring rather to rinse his mouth with tea after waking. He also had a habit of chewing tealeaves. Oral hygiene was not one of the leader's priorities. 'He resisted all attempts to get him to see a dentist', Li wrote. 'One aide said "the chairman's teeth looked as if they were painted with green paint".... Mao's teeth were indeed covered with a heavy greenish film. When I touched the gums, puss oozed out. An infection of that sort usually causes considerable pain. Mao hated doctors and illness so much that he often endured pain in silence.'
At 22.5 yuan for 500 grams in the 1960s, the Chairman's favourite Lion's Peak Longjing Dragon Well tea was the most expensive, and exclusive tea in China at the time. (Lion's Peak is one of five Longjing Dragon Well teas, the others being: plain Longjing 龍井, Yunqi 雲棲, Hupao 虎跑 and Meijia Wu 梅家塢.) By comparison, the finest jasmine tea was only 18.80 yuan for 500 grams, while premium grade was 9.5 yuan, second grade was 6.4 yuan. Teas of the third grade or lower were not available at the Special Needs Supply Point.
Water for Tea 以水代茶
Around 1960, at the time that the country was still in the grip of the murderous economic depredations caused by the Great Leap, in the relatively privileged open market of Beijing comrades in the street could buy 500 grams of twelfth grade jasmine tea for 1.3 yuan per 500 grams, but only around the time of the 1 October National Day celebrations, and then only with ration coupons. In 1961 and 1962, the farmers in the outlying districts of Beijing finally had access to this low-quality product, while Beijing urban residents were upgraded allowing them to enjoy sixth to ninth grade jasmine teas. At 1.6 yuan for 500 grams, high-grade jasmine 'tea dust' or sweepings 高級茉莉花茶末 (also known simply as 高末兒) was even more expensive than twelfth-grade tea.
Although during these years the Great Hall of the People fared somewhat better than the general population, the Special Needs Supply Point would only sell its caterers 'Vanguard' jasmine tea of the second grade. Given the impoverishment of the society from 1959 (the year that the Great Hall was completed and went into operation), it was no small boast to be able to claim that one had drunk tea that sold for the equivalent of 6.4 yuan a catty. It was not until the economic situation improved in 1965 that the Great Hall was given permission to purchase Dragon Well Longjing, Maojian 毛尖, and Tieguan Yin 鐵觀音 teas for that year's Spring Festival banquet. As one wag put it, the soon-to-be-purged state president Liu Shaoqi had his last drink of Maojian in the Great Hall of the People.
As for the broad masses, during the materially most deprived eras of the late 1950s and again during the 1960s, people would more often than not simply drink boiled water 白開水 instead of tea. The rituals pertaining to tea drinking were, however, for the most part maintained. Making a virtue out of necessity, whether entertaining visitors or just as enjoying a snatched private moment, people would 'substitute water for tea' 以水代茶.[Fig.5]
Fig.5 A general store in Pingyao county, Shanxi province 山西省平遙縣, 1998. (Photograph: Lois Conner)
As with the accoutrements of daily life, the tea cup too was reduced to proletarian simplicity, although from the Great Leap porcelain and enamel mugs were at least festooned with revolutionary art and uplifting exhortations. Following the years of state-planning poverty, tea mugs were made out of a variety of vessels and containers. The most common were glass jars that had originally contained dried Nescafé coffee granules. Long before the protective sleave was developed for thin-skinned aficionados of McDonalds and Starbucks, Chinese tea drinkers (from taxi drivers to workers, blue or white collar) would cover their improvised glass tea mugs in woven plastic sleaves, which were often colourful and heavily patterned. From the late 1970s, as the fledgling market economy began to develop, street-side vendors would also offer 'big bowl tea' 大碗茶 that consisted of a murky liquid usually protected from dust and insects by panes of glass over a wide-lipped shallow bowl. ('Big bowl tea' was a pre-1949 Beijing specialty, and it is so once more; but in the decades of austerity it was shorn of taste, ceremony and style.)
Tea on the Screen
'Chrysanthemum Tea', by Jin Chen, 2000
'Green Tea', by Zhang Yuan, 2003
'Delamu', by Tian Zhuangzhuang, 2004
'Tea in Love', by Meng Qi, 2006
'All in this Tea', by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, 2007
'Tea in the Blood', by Na Sha, 2010
'The Chinese Way of Tea' 中國茶道, (2010)
Do Not Discuss Affairs of State 莫談國事
As Daniel Sanderson, the Guest Editor of this issue of China Heritage Quarterly notes in his Editorial Introduction, tea is a product/drink/art that straddles the social and the artistic, the communal and the individual, as well as the commercial and the political. Tea in China has a history and a heritage that have been readily turned into a constituent part of China's modern ineffable cultural essence. Tea too is the object of fads and fashions—the rise and fall of pu'er tea both in popularity and price over the last twenty years, for instance, is reminiscent of the tulip mania in Holland in the 1630s.
Today, the 'Way of Tea' 茶道 is much celebrated in China, but as the contributors to this issue of China Heritage Quarterly demonstrate, this art actually has a divergent, and mostly recent history. In his study of the Taiwan art of tea 茶藝, Scott Writer explains how a practice that finds its cultural roots in ancient aesthetics, has a far more modern heritage. Similarly, Loretta Kim and Lawrence Zhang trace the venerable traditions of Gongfu cha back to the 1970s. As many of our contributors also note, tea is not only a social lubricant, it is also a drink around which diverse forms of political struggle have unfolded throughout the past century.
Tea and politics are never very far apart (see, for instance, the contributions of W. Gilbert Walshe, Di Wang, Qin Shao, Ying Ruocheng and Linda Jaivin to this issue). In Republican China (1912-1949), teahouses were places where groups gathered not only to socialise but also to debate, agitate and organize. In Rickshaw Beijing his study of the former imperial capital in the Republican era, David Strand notes the role played by teahouses in labour activism. But they were also a place where impoverished labourers, in particular rickshaw men, found respite:
During their working day, these, mainly young, rickshaw men congregated in teahouses to refresh themselves. They could afford to spend money on simple pleasures, like a cup of good tea in pleasant surroundings in the company of men of similar standing. While struggling to save money toward the purchase of a new rickshaw, Xiangzi hovers on the edges of these small communities, anxious that he not squander his savings.
Strand the quotes from the novelist Lao She's 老舍 famous depiction of 'Camel Xiangzi' 駱駝祥子 in the novel of that name:
In teahouses rickshaw men of his rank, out of breath after a feipao ['fast run'—Ed.], like to have a good, ten-cent cup of tea with two lumps of sugar in order to cool off and recuperate. When Xiangzi had run until he was dripping with sweat and his chest was burning, he really felt like doing the same. But for him, this was a bad habit and wasteful. When he really needed tea to quench his thirst he would gulp down a one-cent cup made from tea-sweepings.
It was with rather with the labour rights agitation of Beijing's rickshaw pullers in mind that Lao She would make a point of featuring the admonishment 'Do Not Discuss Affairs of State' 莫談國事 (an expression also commonly formulated as 休談國事) on the wall of the Yutai Teahouse 裕泰茶館. It is at this fictitious locale where the action of his famous play 'Tea House' 茶館 takes place. The chronicles the fate of his characters from the late-Qing era until the founding of the People's Republic of China. After many decades it was in 2011 that the old interdiction 'Do Not Discuss Affairs of State' was linked to tea once more.
Tea, in particular jasmine tea, a drink familiar to those who visit Cantonese-style yum-cha restaurants which serve dimsum/dimsim 点心／茶点, became the focus of a particular form of political discontent and frustrated protest in China.
The Trouble with Jasmine Tea 好一朵茉莉花
Fig.6 Marshalling teacups for a party-state conference in Beijing
After enjoying nearly three decades outside the realm of direct politics, jasmine tea once again became a focus for China's leaders. In February 2011, Chinese protesters attempted to gather outside the McDonalds on Wangfu Jing, the main shopping mall of the capital. Via Internet postings and text messages, activists thought to emulate the Jasmine Revolution that was sweeping the Middle East, creating a Chinese campaign in favour of long-frustrated political reforms and freedoms.[Fig.6]
As Gloria Davies, a contributor to China Story Yearbook 2012, writes in her chapter for that volume, 'Discontent in Digital China':
…police turned out in force at the chosen protest venues. …In the weeks that followed, an increased police presence in Beijing and other cities ensured that the movement could not any traction, let alone visibility. And so China's 'Jasmine Movement' was thwarted before it had even begun. Nonetheless, what was an open and brazen attempt to hold the party-state to account caused such acute anxiety among the country's officials that on the Chinese-controlled Internet a blanket ban was imposed on the word 'jasmine' 茉莉花, something that lead to the removal of all material that even contained the word. One widely noted, and gloated over, casualty of this censorship was a video featuring Hu Jintao, the Party General Secretary and China's President, singing the well-known Chinese folk song 'Jasmine' [好一朵茉莉花; for an audio-video version of this ditty, see here.—Ed.].
Official panic mounted as news of the 'dissident flower' spread. On 10 May 2011, The New York Times reported that the annual International Jasmine Festival in Guangxi province 廣西橫縣茉莉花節 had been cancelled. The festival venue and a major producer of jasmine tea, Heng County, has China's largest jasmine plantation; it is locally known as 'the hometown of jasmine'. Sales of the flower and the plant were also halted. Meanwhile, flower vendors in Beijing were called in by local police and forced to sign pledges not to carry jasmine. One jasmine grower was described as 'glancing forlornly at a mound of unsold bushes whose blossoms were beginning to fade' as he observed that the plant had plunged to a third of its market value the previous year.
Not surprisingly, the mainstream media in China was silent about the absurd ban on jasmine, even as it was imposed nationwide. Three months passed before the authorities felt sufficiently confident to allow Guangxi to hold its jasmine festival.
Heng county in Guangxi would use as its official web address www.molihua.net, but from late 2010 a 'Chinese Jasmine Revolution' site with the domain name www.molihua.org had also come into being.
A Hand for a Head 以手代叩
In Hong Kong and more broadly Guangdong (and among overseas Chinese communities) the expression 'invite me to drink tea' 請喝茶 is generally a jocular way for a someone who feels they have suffered a slight, be it large or small, to demand reparation from a friend or family member. Tea drinking has many other far more amiable social functions, too, as well as a few that can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. In the south 'to drink tea' it is yum cha 飲茶, in East China it is chi cha 吃茶, in the argot of the north it can be za cha 咂茶, but in the Chinese capital people know the often-sinister dimension of the more universal and seemingly innocuous words he cha 喝茶.
In contemporary mainland Chinese parlance, 'to drink tea' 喝茶 more likely than not means that one has been called to 'have a chat' with the shadowy, or even overt, operatives working for China's public or state security organs. In the past tea was the beverage of choice for such intimate tête-à-tête, but in recent time the menu has expanded to include coffee or, for more thick-skinned and practiced recalcitrants, expensive foreign wines and spirits. One thing remains constant, however, there is more talking than drinking.
The use of tea to intimidate is hardly something new; for Party apparatchiks however 'to drink tea' is always about the guest kowtowing to the requests of the host.
People have often observed that while the political power of the north extends its sway over the south of China, cultural influence from the south just as often penetrates the north. Just as the culture of 'drinking morning tea' 喝早茶 or yum-cha 飲茶 and eating dimsum 點心 have percolated northwards so too has the habit of the 'finger kowtow'. Once the unique province of Hong Kong, in recent years it has leached into the behaviour of all classes of people in central, western, eastern and northern China as well.
The generally accepted story about the origin of this practice dates it in the Qianlong reign era of the eighteenth century. There are fictional accounts that claim that the emperor—well known not only for his imperial hubris, but also for a tireless, sticky-beaking curiosity—when travelling through the wealthy provinces of the Yangtze Valley on his noted Southern Tours of inspection, sometimes set out incognito, or 微服出行. On one such occasion it is said that one of his eunuch retainers dressed for the occasion as the emperor's superior was horrified when his master, who was dressed as his servant, poured some tea for him. Mindful that under no circumstances could he reveal Qianlong's true identity, the eunuch nonetheless felt compelled by etiquette to kowtow to the ruler. Instead of kneeling and banging his head on the ground as ritual required, the quick-witted retainer resorted to a sham kowtow by tapping three fingers on the table nine times. This 'finger kowtow' representing thereby the formal ritual of three genuflections and nine kowtows 三跪九叩之禮.
It is reasoned that since the words for hand shou/手 and head shou 首 are homophones it is natural to think of the polite gesture marking thanks to someone who pours tea during a chat or over a meal as being a miniature version of the elaborate traditional kowtow ceremony. As noted above, the three fingers supposedly represent 'three genuflections' while the nine taps on the table are supposed to replace the 'nine knocks' or kowtows a person makes on the ground with their head to their superior. Whether Qianlong was involved in the evolution of what is known as the 'kow-shou ceremony' 叩手禮 (the ceremony where one bows with one's hand as opposed to one's head) or not, people are adamant that the symbolism is traditional.[Fig.7]
Fig.7 The lotus pond at Yu Yuan Garden at night 豫園夜景, 1999. (Photograph: Lois Conner)
When Guests Depart, Tea Cools 人走茶凉
The novelist and librettist Wang Zengqi (汪曾祺, d.1997) is said to have made up the expression 'when guests depart, tea cools' 人走茶凉 when he was writing the libretto for the Beijing model revolutionary opera Shajia Bang 沙家浜 in the 1960s (the production was based on an earlier, 1950s work, 'Seeds of Fire in the Reeds' 蘆蕩火種). The phrase occurs in an aria sung by Elder Sister Ahqing 阿慶嫂, an underground Party member who manages a teashop in the countryside in Yangtze Valley near Shanghai. The teashop—which is the centre of the action of the opera—is a cover for her political activities as a member of the Communist Party during the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance in the 1940s. Duty-bound to help wounded comrades of the New Fourth-route Army to safety she engages in a battle of wits with local political turn-coats and thugs. Due to the quality of the writing and the striking figure of Ahqing, material from this model opera remain popular, in particular Act Four, 'A Battle of Wits' 智鬥, in which this line occurs.
A Battle of Wits 智鬥
This extract from Act Four of Shajia bang features Elder Sister Ahqing's description of her teahouse and her relationship with her customers—be they revolutionaries under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Communist Party, or traitors. Her nemesis is a local turncoat with the telling name of Diao Deyi 刁得一:
江湖意氣是第一樁。 司令常來又常往， 我有心，背靠大樹好乘涼。 這也是司令的洪福廣， 方能遇難又逞祥。
刁得一∶（唱）新四軍久在沙家浜， 這棵大樹有蔭涼。 你與他們常來往， 想必是安排照應更周祥。
阿慶嫂∶（唱）壘起七星灶， 銅壺煮三江。 擺開八仙桌， 招待十六方。 來得都是客， 全憑嘴一張。 相逢開口笑， 過後不思量。 人一走，茶就涼。 有甚麼周祥不周祥。
For a link to the scene, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXZVvl91v3Q&feature=related, from 00.6.55 to 00.8.55.
Fig.8 Covered teacups being lined up according to the official pecking order
Tea, talk, plotting and conniving feature throughout this issue of China Heritage Quarterly, as do the more civil arts of conversation, reading and conviviality. In this year of political transition in China, however, another battle of wits unfolded amidst the teacups and conference papers of the meeting of that country's formal legislative body, the National People's Congress. In March the political fate of the country's most controversial politician was all but decided. 'People leave, the tea grows cold': it is a shorthand expression for what happens after power is lost (without power all privileges disappear).[Fig.8]
In days past, comical discussions of the political fiasco unfolding in Beijing in 2012 would have been a hotly debated feature of conversations in teahouses and among ribald storytellers. The culture of gossip and the art of the raconteur were fitfully revived in the late 1970s, but rumour-mongering among storytellers around the time of the Xidan Democracy Wall saw such 'feudal remnants' swept away once more. Today, it is not in the teahouses of Beijing, many of which are commercialized tourist traps, that political white noise finds an outlet, rather it is in the virtual salons of the Internet.[Fig.9]
Party and state congresses, receptions and meetings of various types are marked not merely by lugubrious speeches and staid political performance, but also by the large lidded tea mugs and the hot-water thermoses that are used to keep them constantly filled. In the exchange of favours and trade in influence, wine and cigarettes continue to be staples, but luxury teas in elaborate packaging have gained a marked prominence in recent years. For those attending the highly ritualised public meetings of China's government each year, it is the strict regimentation of teacups that presages the orderly political performances of those for whom, as the Cantonese say, 'there is more saliva than tea' (that is, more is said than done).
Fig.9 A teahouse in Chengdu, Sichuan province 四川省成都市, 1985. (Photograph: Lois Conner)
* My thanks to Gloria Davies for permission to quote from her chapter, to Sang Ye for his suggestions and visual materials and to Lois Conner for permission to reproduce her work here.
 For the official website of the Yu Garden, see: http://www.yugarden.com.cn/yugarden/.
 For this scene, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz_VB4dkcRw at 9:10-9:35. See also the scene in the 2011 film by Han Sanping 韓三平 and Huang Jianxin 黄建新 'Beginning of the Great Revival' 建黨偉業, produced to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Party.
 For these scenes, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz_VB4dkcRw at 12:55-14:45; and: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Azg-aFTxfIo at 00:00-3:30.
 See the booklet by the Renmin Ribao Commentator, A Vicious Motive, Despicable Tricks—A Criticism of M. Antonioni's Anti-China Film China, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1974. The Chinese original was published by People's Daily on 30 January 1974.
 See Xu Xiaolong 须小龙, 'The Secrets of the Chairman's Dedicated January '75 Porcelain Revealed (I)' 7501瓷主席专用瓷揭秘(上), 30 January 2012, online at: http://collection.sina.com.cn/cqty/20120130/091353863.shtml.
 Translated and published by New Left Review, Issue 92 (July-August 1975), reproduced online at: http://libcom.org/library/wild-lily.
 My thanks to Maria Barbieri for suggesting these titles.
 See David Strand, Rickshaw Beijing: City People and Politics in the 1920s, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989, p.58. On teahouses and labour agitation in Beijing, see also, pp.32, 58, 145, 154, 155 & 196.
 Gloria Davies, 'Discontent in Digital China', in China Story Yearbook, 2012: Red Rising, Red Eclispse, Canberra, ACT: Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU (forthcoming August 2012).
 For the full Chinese libretto, see: http://tieba.baidu.com/p/103281157. For the English text see Shachiapang: a modern revolutionary Peking opera, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1972.