Old Art of Tea – Sequel І
There is a legend about how people were inspired to take advantage of the tea plant in the first place. About 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, Shen Nong was the patriarch of a tribe in prehistoric China. who possessed the power to bring timely rain and make the sun emit enough light and heat. His other accomplishments included collecting crop seeds and teaching people how to grow them. At that time. the earth was ravaged by pestilence, and people contracted diseases and died in multitudes. In order to find a medicine to fight the plague, Shen Nong tasted all kinds of herbs and plants. So, tea was discovered by chance.
Legend has it that one day Shen Nong tasted 72 poisonous herbs, and was poisoned as a result; it was the leaves of a tea tree he inadvertently picked and tried that saved his life. Although some people are skeptical about this legend, derived from the Shen Nong Compendium of Materia Medica (Shen Nong Bencao Jing), it makes sense that primitive man, who lived mainly by hunting and gathering, should have found by accident the therapeutic function of tea leaves while they were collecting and trying plants for food.
Before the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), tea drinking was a practice mainly limited to the areas of Ba and Shu, two vassal states of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1lth century-256 BC). The two states covered nearly the same territory as today's Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality. The earliest regional annals in China, The Annals of Huayang State. The Annals of Ba, says, "King Wu of Zhou (the first ruler of the Zhou Dynasty) over threw the last king of the Shang Dynasty with soldiers from Ba and Shu Having conquered Yin (another name for the Shang Dynasty), King Wu allowed the people of Ba to bear the surname of the ruling house, and granted their leader the title of viscount Red paint, tea and honey ... were sent as tribute." These words indicate that as early as some 3,000 years ago, tea was already being cultivated in the ancient Ba and Shu areas, and used as tribute paid to the Zhou kings in the Central Plains.
The Ba and Shu areas played a signify cant role in the early development of the tea industry after the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) unified China. In the succeeding Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), these areas were the most important consumer market for tea. and the largest base where tea was gathered and distributed. In 59 BC. Wang Bao from Zizhong, Sichuan. wrote in rhymed prose: "An Agreement with My Servant" (Tong Yuel). In it. he stipulates that his servant should "make tea with proper utensils, and purchase tea in Wuyang." Wuyang is today's Pengshan County, Sichuan. This indicates that there al- ready existed tea markets in Sichuan in the Han Dynasty,and that tea drinking was a common practice in the Ba and Shu areas. Before the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Chinese word for tea. cha. possessed many aliases, including tu and ruing. It was in the middle of the Tang Dynasty that the word cha first came into use. When Lu Yu wrote The Classic of Tea (Cha Jing) in the year 780. he changed all the words tu into cha. and listed tu as an alias for cha. Since then. cha has been accepted as the orthodox word for tea. and the meaning, writing and pronunciation of the word established at that time are still in use today.