Written by Jade, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing Summer 2019
Until I went to Shanghai, I never felt so connected to Chinese culture. I live at Beijing Union University, where it’s just a campus full of students (Chinese and international) and markets. Life here felt separated from culture because of the lack of Chinese farms and religious temples. I saw the Forbidden City and the Yonghegong Temple (Lama Temple) and learned how religions and Confucianism influenced the architecture of the Forbidden City and how people practice Tibetan Buddhism.
These are valuable lessons, but it’s difficult for me to connect that to a university; you don’t see religious temples or religious signs to show people practice the religion (religions nowadays are practiced privately). Beverages, however, are more common and can easily explain culture. In the case of China’s drink, it was a cup of tea.
I was frantically searching around the Tainzifang area, trying to find a place to get good gifts for my parents. With only a week before I flew back home, I didn’t know when I’d have an opportunity to buy gifts again. I thought that I would just buy my dad some black tea because it’s something he enjoys, and I couldn’t think of anything better to get him. A friend took me to a tea store, and I thought about simply about buying a box and leaving to buy my mother a gift. However, the shop owner came up to us and started explaining the different types of tea and their effects. Some are used for medication, some for going to sleep, and others for staying alert. He was taking his time with his descriptions and answering our questions. The tea shop itself was relaxing and was a nice place to just meditate; Chinese music was playing in the background, and there was a table for trying samples of tea. The employee brought us to the table and was demonstrating different techniques of pouring different teas. Some tea needs more time for the water to cool than others. Some tea can be consumed immediately, but the longer the wait, the stronger the effect. Sitting there and learning all about tea made me feel as if I was in ancient China, sitting in a room, drinking tea, deep in thought.
Tea is a slow, calming drink. Different tea works best in only certain occasions. There’s a reason why the Chinese have always drank hot water; it had greater cleansing abilities and was healthier than cold water. Tea reflects how imperial China functioned as a society. Calligraphy is slow, but intricate. Scholars spent hours studying Confucianism, a philosophy that emphasized social harmony. Monks spent hours sitting and meditating to find eternal peace. All these examples of taking time and being subtle are manifest in the practice of drinking tea, and are still visible in the Chinese lifestyle today.