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Chinese Tea Culture: The Origin of Tea Drinking
by: Ling Wang
Peladunk, Malaysia :
Peladunk Publications 2001, Hardbound
Reviewed by: Lucky Rice
Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page(s): 23
This book is a reviewer's nightmare: It is filled with interesting information and some entertaining tales, but so poorly presented that it can not be heartily recommended; nor can it be entirely dismissed.
The first four chapters rehash tea legend and history from the time of the Holy Farmer, Yan Di, to Lu Yu, called both saint of tea and tea god, and up through the Ming and Qing dynasties. Also covered are tea equipment and brewing and tea ceremonies in Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. There are some fuzzy color reproductions of tea paintings, black and white drawings of utensils, and a couple of unidentified Chinese manuscript pages. The remainder of the book's ten chapters, save a perfunctory chapter on tea in literature and art, and a slim offering on the spread of tea to Japan, Korea, and the West, contains fascinating information. It is on different types of teahouses and their denizens, tea in social rites such as weddings and funerals, and the tea practices of various ethnic minorities in China. There is a particular lack of a bibliography, and an index is sorely missed.
It is unfortunate that key terms, especially 'tea culture' and 'tea art' are not clearly defined from the outset. So it can get a little murky. At one point Wang Ling states that adding flower fragrance to tea is in conflict with 'traditional tea culture.' However, all of his material clearly indicates that there were (and are) many distinct tea cultures in China, from the milky teas of the grasslands to the ritual of gong fu.
The book confines itself to the first several thousand years of tea in China, so don't expect anything on the teas produced and drunk in modern times. It is fair to say you will have to be a real tea fan to make it through this book. At times I felt as if I were reading the first draft of a master's thesis, notecard by notecard, thousands of facts in search of a point. In other words, having read the book, I know a lot more about tea in China, but I'm not exactly sure what to make of it.
Note: The reviewer may not know there is another problem, that the above volume may not be the only edition of this book. At least one other has surfaced published by Foreign Languages Press (Beijing, 2000, ISBN 7-119-02144-3). There is no indication in either that the other one exists. The editor of Flavor and Fortune has only seen the Beijing edition and Mr Lucky only viewed the one reviewed above. The editorial staff was told that copyright laws in the part of the world where both were published only became official circa 1992. Clearly, everyone may not yet be on board.
Bob Lucky, the former editor of 'The Asian Foodbookery' is currently traveling around the world with his family and drinking a lot of tea. His most recent hangout was the China Journal Tea Room in Bangkok. When he returns, we will compare the books. Until then, perhaps a reader can advise as to similarities and/or differences should said person have access to both of them.