Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

An Analysis of the Social Functions of the Tea-Drinking Custom in Southwest China during Tang-Song Dynasties

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

An Analysis of the Social Functions of the Tea-Drinking Custom in Southwest China during Tang-Song Dynasties

Article excerpt


Tang-Song dynasties are an important period in the formation of the Chinese tea custom and culture. During this period of time, immensely flourishing culture and arts, integrated with the tea-drinking custom, gave birth to a tea culture that had distinct characteristics of Tang and Song dynasties. The history of tea-drinking in the southwest region, the first tea-drinking region in China, can be traced back to the pre-Qin period. Influenced by the tea culture of Tang-Song dynasties, the tea-thinking custom in the southwest region carried out many social functions. This essay offers an analysis of the cultural factors inherent in the tea-drinking custom in the southwest region, starting with an examination of its social function.

Key words: Tang-Song dynasties; Tea-drinking; Function


Numerous ethnic groups share China's vast lands. Due to their differences in geographic enviromnent, history and culture, as well as ways of life, these ethnic groups have different tea-thinking customs. During Tang-Song dynasties, the tea-drinking custom in the southwest region had its own unique characteristics and relatively mature social functions, Therefore, it is necessary to expiore the social functions of the tea-drinking custom in Southwest China during Tang-Song dynasties and analyze the embedded cultural factors, adding new content to the burgeoning tea culture in contemporary China.


In traditional Chinese culture, reciprocal courtesy is customary practice prescribed by propriety. According to the Book of Rites, Record of the Dykes, "the rules of propriety recognize these feelings of men and lay down definite regulations for them, to serve as dykes for the people"; that is, "propriety" is social norms created in accordance with human feelings. During Tang-Song dynasties, the tea-thinking custom was quite popular. hi the process of tea-drinking, a set of corresponding etiquettes were formed. Liu Zhenliang of Tang Dynasty noted the "ten virtues" of tea; that is, "tea can be used to alleviate depression, disperse drowsiness, boost vitality, ward off illness, cultivate courtesy and benevolence, show respect, delight people with rich flavor, nourish the body, practice Taoism, and solidify aspiration" (Zhuang, 1988, p.23). Thus, apparently, Liu Zhenliang has elevated "tea" in its material sense to "tea" as etiquette; the functions and nature of tea have changed accordingly. Huang Shang of Song dynasty stated that "tea is something that is capable of warding off illness and dispersing drowsiness. It can be offered to guests to express love and respect. Tea should be an integral part of life for all people. is not specific to any human feelings but is manifestation of propriety in general." Thus, it can be inferred that tea is a bond between the host and the guest; it is an instantiation of Chinese etiquette. These characteristics made tea a medium for interpersonal communication, favored by people from all walks of life in Tang-Song dynasties.

1.1 Serving Tea to Guests

The custom of serving tea to guests originated in Tsin dynasty. During Eastern Tsin dynasty, Lu Na, the prefecture chief of Wuxing, welcomed guests with nothing but tea and pastry. But before Tang-Song dynasties, tea-drinking was not yet a national custom, and serving tea to guests was popular only in some regions and social classes It was not until Tang-Song dynasties that serving tea to guests became a fashionable means of social interaction. Zhu Yu of Song dynasty in his Anecdotes of Pingzhou noted that "when tea appeared in Tang dynasty, it tasted bitter at first and then turned sweet. Tea picked late was called Ming. Nowadays when guests come, they would take a sip of tea. ...Serving tea to guests has become common practice everywhere." (Zhu, 2007, p.85). During Tang-Song dynasties, the custom of serving tea to guests in the southwest region among members of different social classes displayed different characteristics. …

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