Monday, August 2, 2010

Emperor Huizong, Artist and Tea Lover

Today the Association of Tea Bloggers is pleased to present a new tea blog carnival. The theme is "Tea Person" and participants may choose any historical, fictional or contemporary tea person to write about. This carnival is being hosted by the honorable Jason Walker, a founding member of the Association.

I chose the Song Dynasty (宋朝) Emperor Huizong (徽宗), who reigned from 1100 to 1126. My research revealed him to be an artist, calligrapher, musician, scholar, and devoted tea connoisseur (1).

Before I delve into Huizong's many connections to tea, I want to briefly mention his love for the guqin (古琴), an instrument I also adore. In addition to playing the instrument himself, Huizong searched China for famous specimens to keep in his "Ten Thousand Qin Pavilion (萬琴堂)." This painting entitled "Listening to the Qin (聽琴圖)" is a self portrait of the Emperor jamming in the garden (2).

In regards to tea culture, Huizong is most famous for writing Daguan Chalun (大觀茶論), or Treatise on Tea. This 900-year-old work is considered an important tea book, perhaps on par with Luyu's (陆羽) beloved Tea Classic (茶經). Unfortunately, I have thus far been unable to find a good translation of Daguan Chalun from the original Ancient Chinese. If I do, I will post a link.

In Daguan Chalun, Huizong describes a favorite tea called Anji Baicha (安吉白茶). The name translates as "Anji White Tea," but should not be confused with what we think of as white tea today. It is actually a very delicate green tea named after the soft "white jade" color of its tea soup (3) after being whisked.

One of the Emperor's favorite types of tea bowls were the black glazed bowls of the Jian Yang Kiln (建阳窑) located in Fujian Province. These bowls were popular during the Song dynasty because their black interior better displayed the frothy white soup of whisked tea (4).

Example of Jian Yang Kiln tea bowl from Song dynasty:

In the end, Huizong's deep love of art and tea may have been his (and the entire Northern Song Dynasty's) ultimate undoing. He was said to have been a very laissez-faire leader in regards to politics and military strategy (1). While the powerful Jurchen armies of Manchuria were organizing their might against him... Huizong was probably kicking back with his guqin, painting a beautiful picture of a "pigeon sitting on a peach branch" and whisking up a fresh bowl of tea!

1.) Huizong Wikipedia entry
3.) History of White tea on Seven Cup's Website
4.) The AMICA library

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the posting.I am a student of Chinese culture. The Emperor had his priorities right.