[[EDITOR'S NOTE: One of the most important goals of CHA DAO is to emphasize and elucidate the connections between tea and the rest of Asian culture. Readers of CHA DAO are already aware of the intricate connections between tea and poetry in China. Today we are pleased to present a contribution by our distinguished colleague LaoChaGui, who offers us here the text of a tea poem by Zhu Xi, along with annotations and his own new English translation of the poem. To illustrate further the connections among the arts of China, LaoChaGui has also furnished us with his own original calligraphic version of the poem, which we include below (be sure to click on the image for a larger view of this beautiful document). ¶ LaoChaGui hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts; he currently teaches American Culture at Wenzhou University in southern Zhejiang Province. He holds the Bachelor's degree in Chinese Language and Literature from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Chinese poetry and philosophy have been among his interests for over a decade. LaoChaGui's other interests include the Chinese 'scholar aesthetic' and recluse- or hermit-culture in general. Interested readers should also have a look at his excellent tea blog, AMATEURS DE THÉ CHINOIS.]]
Zhu Xi is regarded by many as the most influential Chinese philosopher of the past millennium. He belonged to the Lixue (理学) school of thought, most commonly known as 'Neo-Confucianism' in English. Zhu Xi codified the philosophy of Lixue with his commentaries on the four classics recognised by Lixue -- the Analects of Confucius, the Mencius or works of Mengzi, the Doctrine of the Mean, and the Great Learning -- the latter two works being individual chapters from the Zhou Li, one of the classics of Confucianism. Zhu Xi’s work was considered unorthodox during the Southern Song Dynasty, but was adopted after his death by the Yuan Dynasty, and became official doctrine up until the early years of the Republican period, to the point that men espousing beliefs which ran contrary to Zhu Xi’s commentaries would be considered unfit for government service.(1) Zhu Xi was also a famous calligrapher; some of his original works are still extant.(2)
Zhu Xi was born not far from Fuzhou, where his father was a local official; however, he spent 40 years of his life in and around Chong’an county (today’s Wuyishan City.) He had learned to drink tea from his father, who loved tea to a fault. Later in life Zhu Xi used the pseudonym “Tea Immortal” (茶仙) to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to himself, as his writings were considered heterodox.(3)
The subject of Zhu Xi’s tea poetry was almost exclusively Wuyi Mountain’s tea gardens and environs, along with the tea they produced. The imperial tribute tea of the Song was green tea compressed into small cakes; it was the most celebrated tea of the age. Names such as "Moon Rounds" (月團茶) and "Dragon and Phoenix Rounds" (龍鳳團茶) are found in tea poetry through the ages, and refer to this Song-style tea cake, which was ground into powder and whisked into a foamy white or green liquid before drinking.
In the following poem, Zhu Xi is boating on the Nine Bends Creek, which winds its way among the famous Wuyi Cliffs. He discovers a round hole in a rock, and imagines it is a stone tea stove left behind by immortals.
茶灶 朱熹 CháZào -- Zhū Xī
仙翁遺石灶 xiānwēng yíshízào
宛在水中央 wǎnzài shuǐzhōngyāng
飲罷方舟去 yǐnbà fāngzhōuqù
茶煙裊細香 cháyān niǎoxìxiāng
'Tea Stove' by Zhu Xi
Stone stove left behind by immortals,
Lies crooked in the center of the stream.
Tea finished, two boats drift on abreast,
Tea smoke; wafting delicate fragrance.(4)
1. Hong, Qinfu. Confucianism In Cross-Cultural Dialogue (Shanghai: Shanghai Education Publishing House, 2004), page 69.
2. For an example, see the Wikipedia entry on Zhu Xi sub voc. "Achievements of Zhu Xi in the art of calligraphy."
3. http://www.wuyishantea.com/007/Html/charenchashi/083292259192848.htm (text in Chinese).
4. The fourth line is particularly difficult to render concisely while remaining at once true to the original meaning and the conventions of English. 'Tea smoke' is presumably the smoke from the charcoal fire that has been lit to boil water.