Tea & Ancient Chinese Culture - Part Two

June 29, 2020 1 Comment

Tea & Ancient Chinese Culture - Part Two

Tea & Ancient Chinese Culture Sequel

Part Two

“作画如下棋,需善于做活眼,活眼多棋即取胜。所谓活眼,即画中之虚 也。”

“Painting is the same as playing chess – you need to create chances for survival. The more chances you get, the more opportunity you have to succeed. So-called chance in painting is the part where you don’t paint things exactly as they really are.” 

Nowadays, we can easily make different types of tea, but most teas are just like a very normal or not very good painting, tasting too real to be true. People add different chemical essences into teas to give them a specific flavor. It tastes so real, but it’s not tea at all. You are just imbibing different essences. Bad tea is like a bad painting. There is no opportunity to follow a natural path, resulting in people developing diseases.

The best tea is not machine-made, and is without essences. The best ones are pure teas that come from nature and are made by pure handcraft using only traditional methods and without any additional modern techniques. These types of teas offer real “chances.” When you taste them, their taste is unique and not quite like any other. It might bring up deep memories or feelings. Really great tea gives your mind and body the opportunity for spiritual growth.


“画人物最要者有三: 一、要有神气; 二、要有分别; 三、要能化”

“Painting portraits has three keys: 
1. Must have spirit
2. Must be distinct
3. Must have transformation”

As we all know, even though the world is populated by over a billion human beings, you can hardly find a person who looks exactly like you. Isn’t that amazing? You can’t find two leaves that are exactly the same, and even twins still have some differences. This is seen by traditional Chinese as Spirit and Qi. Every single life in this world has different Spirit and Qi, that’s why we are distinct from one another. But we not only have differences, we also transform over time. From this generation to the next, we are all connected and transforming. This is nature’s secret to creating differences in the lives of this world.

Once you understand this, I think you will understand why we use different tea varieties to create different types of tea. Different varieties live in different geographical environments, and different geographical environments create different Spirit and Qi in teas, so different methods are needed to create different types of teas to suit local needs. From Green tea to Puerh tea, the processing steps are similar, which makes them connect to one another, but transformation comes in when some steps are added or subtracted, making them into different types. This is the key to nature – nothing is the same, but everything is connected. The Chinese have followed this principle to create different types of teas.


“写生只能得山川之骨,欲得山川之气,还得闭目沉思,非领略其精神不 可。余游雁荡过瓯江时,正值深秋,对景写生,虽得图甚多,也只是瓯江之骨 耳。”

“If you want to capture the spirit of the landscape in your painting, you need to get the Qi from the landscape. To get the Qi, you need to close your eyes and calm your mind until you can feel it. In autumn, all birds fly across the river. You can find lots of images for your painting, but they are just images. If you can’t feel nature’s Qi, the images won’t have spirit.” 

We have described Qi (Chinese: /) in Chinese medicine. As you can see, Qi is not only important in Chinese medicine, but also in Chinese painting. If you have experience practicing Chinese martial arts, you will know that Qi is the key to understanding the discipline. Qi is not a physical thing you can see or touch; it is in the mind and can only be felt and kept by the mind, but it is a real thing that all things in nature have. It is the energy or spirit of things, and without it, all things die.

The most important word in traditional Chinese tea evaluation is Qi. To judge tea as being good or not is to judge whether or not it has Qi. In Chinese, we always say, “Cha Qi Zu (Chinese: 茶气足),” which means the tea has strong Qi. Qi is not the physical flavor you can taste, it’s the feeling you get from the tea. Good tea having Qi depends on who made the tea, if it was made by a very high level tea masters purely by hand, people’s feelings, and the energy and emotion put into the tea by the people who made it. What type of person you are will be a deciding factor in what kind of tea you can make. If you are a person with deep Qi in your body, the  Qi of the tea you make will be stronger and carry strong spirit. Like a martial arts master who has deep Qi in his martial arts, you can tell and feel his movements will be much stronger than normal people’s. That’s why we always consider a good tea to not only be from a good environment, but it is also very important to know who picked it, who processed it, who transferred it, who brewed it, and who is drinking it! Every single step affects the tea’s Qi. Taoism says we drink tea for nothing other than its Qi. When you calm your mind totally to taste the tea, you will get the Qi from the tea. You won’t care about the flavor or aroma – the only thing you should focus on is whether the tea has Qi or not. This is the highest state of tasting tea.



“When I am looking at a mountain, I like to see the distant hills enveloped in clouds and mist at morning and dusk, because during these times, the mountain undergoes many more changes.”

Change is the natural law. Only change gives rise to life, and without change, there is no life. This is the reason why Huang Bing Hong liked to focus on viewing the mountain’s changes in the clouds and mist. If the painting can have these changes, it will be a good painting that has spirit.

Some tea tasters can taste thousands of different teas in a day, and are able to discern if it is the tea they need for blending in just one moment. When you taste tea, you might be able to tell very quickly whether you like it or not. I have had friends tell me they found tea that tastes exactly like some fruits they like. Unfortunately, this type of tasting is a very basic level of tasting according to the ancient Chinese way of tasting. The first level is discerning the flavor; the second level is moving on to identify the aroma; the third level is focusing on flavor and aroma together, and the feelings you get from it; the fourth level is to not focus on the flavor and aroma at all, but rather to focus on the Qi; and the highest level is to focus on how the Qi from the tea affects your body from one cup of tea to the next.

This is why the ancient Chinese never created tea tannings or tea bags or blended teas. Only by drinking pure loose-leaf tea will you have the chance to feel the Qi in teas and have the chance to feel how the Qi changes from the very beginning of the brewing until the final brew. Every single tea leaf is grown from nature and embodies the soul of nature. When you brew tea, from water temperature to the brewing time, if you keep changing the factors with each brew, the tea flavor and aroma will keep changing, and with the last cup, you will experience the soul of nature completely. This is why it is important to slow down when drinking tea, and it is also the reason why you shouldn’t drink teas made by machine, or pack leaves into a tea bag or brew in a fancy bottle so you can only taste it once. Really great tea can continue to be re-brewed again and again. Being able to brew it more times means the tea contains more Qi.


“画有四病,邪、甜、俗、赖是也。 邪是用笔不正;

甜是画无内在美 ; 俗是意境平凡,格调不高; 赖是泥古不化,专事摹仿。”

“Bad paintings have four shortcomings: evil, sweet, kitschy, and poor.

Evil in a bad painting it means the way of painting is not the proper way, the quality is shoddy;

Sweet in a bad painting means the painting looks beautiful, yet it only appears beautiful, but doesn’t actually have any intrinsic beauty;

Kitschy in a bad painting means the content of the painting shows a very normal conception and doesn’t have very deep meaning;

Poor in a bad painting means it’s just an imitation, doesn’t have any transformation, and it looks the same as an old painting, but much worse because it is empty inside.” 

The way we judge a painting as good or not is exactly the same way we judge whether tea or a tea person is good or not.

A tea being described as evil means the tea might have been grown in a terrible environment, with the tea leaves mass produced and treated in a crude manner. Not all tea people are good people. They might treat tea the same as a normal product or even worse. They don’t care how it was grown or who made it, but they do care how much it costs and how much profit it will bring in; however, outwardly, they look very professional and might even carefully choose their clothes to show people how traditional they are. To see through these kinds of people, talk about tea with them. The longer you talk with them, the more you will know whether they work with tea in a proper way or in an evil way.

In English, the word sweetheart is usually used in a good way to describe a person who has a good heart, or as an affectionate appellation for your lover. Sweet in Chinese is normally used to describe the flavor of food, and is hardly used to describe a person; but when you use it to describe a person, it might not have a positive meaning. We usually say that sweet but not sickly foods are the best foods; sweet but not fake sweet is an honest and good person. So that is why we use sweet as a bad word to describe a bad painting. If the painting looks nice, but you can’t feel any potential meaning or intrinsic beauty, it is not a good painting. A real tea person might not look special at all on the surface, but the longer you converse with them, the more you will glean interesting knowledge from them which will give you a positive feeling.

Kitsch in traditional Chinese culture has a very terrible meaning. Kitschy things are like a very colorful flower, sweet but not beautiful. The outside looks beautiful but will die very soon. We can easily use this word to describe some fashionable women who spend tons of money buying expensive apparel, but no matter how they dress, they still can’t get real respect because their hearts are empty, with no dreams and no ambition. As a man, if you are kitschy, you might tend toward the evil side of being human, only focusing on what you want but totally forgetting  you are just a small life in a big universe. So if the content of a painting shows a very normal conception but doesn’t have deep meaning, it’s just like a kitschy person - whether they die or are even born doesn’t matter at all on this earth. Traditional Chinese tea culture’s purpose is to try to keep reminding people to not focus on the vulgar side of life. No matter what we do, we all belong to the earth, and if you overdose on anything, you’ll have to pay back what you took. When some people learn tea ceremony, they focus on the beautiful physical teaware, how to dress nice for the ceremony, and how to put on a nice tea ceremony performance. Putting all your attention into this, you will totally forgot to calm your mind and cleanse your heart, and you will lose the Qi and the spirit of the tea. No matter how many years you practice the tea ceremony, you’ll be just a tea ceremony performer, but never a master.

In traditional Chinese culture, we practice copying the original paintings until you get the spirit from the original one, and this allows you to create your own style. It’s the same as in martial arts: no matter how many movements you copy from others, you will have to create your own new style, otherwise you’ll never become includes their master’s best techniques, but also new things they created on their own. This is also why the Japanese created their own style of tea ceremony. They find as deep a meaning as the Chinese find in the Chinese tea ceremony, but it is based on their own culture. Chinese traditional culture is not a limited culture; it is a wild culture that is broad and profound. It allows anyone to create a new thing as long as it is based on the proper principles, which allows all kinds of different philosophies, cultures, and thought systems to be supported.

Nowadays, China is famous for producing low quality imitations: fake iPhones, fake computers, fake food, fake tea…..It’s a really terrible situation we are going through right now. China is straying from the principles of its traditional culture. I wrote this book because I wanted to tell you that all human beings are connected. You can’t simply say one person is bad or another is good. Lots of Chinese traditional culture that was lost has very deep historical roots. If you know the history of how the British used opium to trade with the Chinese for tea, you would have a deeper understanding of why China’s culture suffers such a sense of dislocation. Lots of great traditional Chinese culture started to disappear after that time.

Tea can be used in a natural way or in an evil way. Again, how you see tea culture and how you use tea all depends on who you are.

Read Tea & Ancient Chinese Culture - Part One

Read More at The Wild Truth of Tea

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1 Response

Chris Pietrzak-Wegner
Chris Pietrzak-Wegner

July 02, 2020

Shana, I love reading your blogs. THey are very informative and show your respect for tea. Thank you!

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