Hangzhou, Tombstone, and the Pao Gao

Here is a video piece from a NY Times photographer in China.

You might think, “Cool, this is what tea culture was like in old Hangzhou!” Well, almost. It is true that it is in Hangzhou, in the ‘old area’. And it is a tea house. The guys with the hats and long braided fake hair and long blue robes, indicating that the style was from the Qing Dynasty, are called Cha Shi Fu (tea master).

Down here in Arizona, we can go down and see the gunfight at the OK Corral. It is in fact in Tombstone. This tea culture show for the tourists (which are mostly Chinese), does not reflect the tea culture of Hangzhou. Not even close. In this case it would be like going to see the OK Corral act in Chicago or San Francisco. This is Sichuan tea culture from the area around Yaan and Chengdu, way on the other side of the country.

The gungfu practice is called Long Xing Shi Ba Shi, which means the Eighteen Movements of the Dragon. This practice is credited to a Daoist monk named Can Hui during the Song Dynasty.

(Different hair style then, those hats with the braid attached reminds me of the glasses with the big nose attached and made by the same company, formally of Hong Kong, now in Yi Wu)

In many places in China a copper kettle is used to boil water, copper supposedly improving the taste of the tea, but only in Sichuan do they pour directly from the kettle into the gaiwan. The gaiwan (lidded bowl) was also a gift from Sichuan tea culture, as was small leafed tea, and tea culture for that matter. It is true that the tea houses in Western China are very crowded so the long spout is helpful. (80 to 100 cm long) In fact there are more teahouses in Chengdu than anywhere else in China, but that is not the reason for the long spouts. There are a lot of crowded tea houses with short spouted teapots in The Middle Kingdom. The long spouted Chang Zui Tong Hu is credited in legend to Pao Gao. The Pao Gao were like the Sichuan mafia, very powerful, and famed for their Robin Hood deeds. Chairman Mao first aimed at the Pao Gao when he started controlling Sichuan, like he aimed at the Buddhist monasteries when he took over Tibet. The Pao Guo held court in the old teahouses that evolved from Daoist temples. The Pao Gao, of course, liked to have secret conversations when they sipped their tea, and the long spouts added distance to the server, who became skilled at poring from even longer distances into the waiting gaiwans, so that the plots could go on undisturbed.

It’s a pity that the richness of this culture is missed in the Tai Ji Tea House in Hongzhou, but then you can’t learn much about Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, an interesting guy. As for me, I would enjoy both shows and take my friends for the fun of it, passing out glasses with the big noses (da bizi) attached.