Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Legend of Qizi Bing Cha

(Seven Sons Tea Cake)

Translated from The Classics of Pu'er page 54

Legend has it that in present day Kunlu mountain in Kuanhong village, Fengyang town, Pu'er city there once lived a family surnamed Lu who were very poor and grew tea for a living. In this family there were seven sons and one daughter. The oldest son was called Ailao1; the second, Bulang2; the third, Jinuo3; the fourth, Awa4; the fifth, Aini5; the sixth, Lahu6; the seventh, Wuliang7. The daughter was the smallest, she was called Hani.8
The old man Lu hoped his sons would all grow and process tea, that is to say make a living in the tea business. But because of the families poverty, they hadn't the means to buy a piece of land in the mountain forest. The old man became so worried about this that it affected his heart and he became so ill that he could not get out of bed, and was on the verge of death.
On the 49th day, the seventh son Wuliang came to a place in the rain forest far from his home while out to collect medicine for his father. He inadvertently came upon a huge tea tree, and there picked no few leaves for his tea loving father. Little did he suspect that after old man Lu drank the wild tea, he miraculously escaped from the clutches of death, and the next day he got up and was back to work.
After receiving his seventh son Wuliang's rejuvenating wild tea, old man Lu began to think, "we don't have the money to buy a patch of forest on the mountain, but in the old forests in the deep mountains isn't there plenty of that wonderful wild tea?" After this every day he had his sons each go their own route into the deepest mountains to gather tea. The seven brothers followed the Lancang (Mekong) river valley, walking farther and farther as they went.
After a while, each of the seven brothers had his own tea collecting route and area. Each prospered and multiplied on his own land, as not only grandsons and later generations all grew tea, but also influenced the local people to grow tea as well. Thus today we have Ailao mountain, Bulang mountain, Jinuo mountain, Awa mountain, Aini mountain, Lahu mountain, and Wuliang mountain. Old man Lu and his daughter Hani stayed at Kunlu mountain also in the tea trade, the old couple calling the tea their beloved daughter harvested and processed "Daughter Tea."
Because his sons were usually busy with their work, they could only return to Pu'er once a year on their parents birthday. Knowing that their parents loved tea as they loved their very lives, the brothers would always bring their best leaf home for their parents. The road home was long, and the tea leaf was exposed to damp and squeezed and crushed into cakes by the time they reached Pu'er, but the flavor was somehow better than when first processed.
The old couple valued the tea their sons brought twice as much and stored it at home in bamboo shells. When guests came, they would always serve this tea. The guests would always praise the tea endlessly after tasting it and when they asked where the tea came from and what it was called, the old people would proudly point to the bamboo shells and tell the guests, "This was made by our seven sons."
Thenceforth, "Seven sons pay respects on their parents birthday" and "Seven sons tea cake" became tales on everyone's lips in that locale. P'uer sever sons tea cake became more famous with each telling. Many tea men and tea merchants were drawn by the story, and were pointed towards the Lu family. The filial sons in order to enable their father to store and trade tea more easily pressed them into rounds of uniform size with a small depression in the back. The weight was seven taels, five qian. The round shape symbolized the full moon, which implies a harmonious family all united in the same place.9 The hollow in the back represented the home of the seven brothers and their parents. As for the weight of the cakes, the seven taels symbolized the seven brothers, the five qian represented the self out of the seven brothers.10
As a memorial to their tea producing fore bearers, the people of the Lu clan, descendants of the seven brothers built a tower at the east gate of Pu'er in memory of their ancestors, the inventors of Pu'er tea. They called it the eastern tower. It was eighteen stories tall representing eighteen generations of their family. The base of the tower was nine stories, the first story representing the ancestors who first entered the tea business. The next seven stories represented the seven brothers, the ninth represented Hani. The top nine stories represent their sons, grandsons and their descendants generation after generation, flourishing, prosperous and never declining.

1 Each of these names is equivalent to the name of a mountain in Southwestern Yunnan, most of them also a name for a language or small ethnic group or subgroup. The Ailao mountain range is part of the territory of the Hani

2 A language spoken by a total of 37,200 people in "Southwestern Yunnan Province, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, and the Simao and Lincang regions. Most live in Menghai and Shuangjiang counties. Some are scattered, living among Va (Wa). Also spoken in Myanmar, Thailand" quoted from the ethnologue report, Bulang

3 13,000 speakers in "South Yunnan, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, near Laos and Myanmar borders, 53 kilometers east of Jinghong. Youle Mountains. 40 villages. Over 3,000 square kilometers." quoted from the ethnologue report, Jinuo

4 this is also a mountain range. see the ethnologue report, Awa Awa Mountains, southwest Yunnan as far east as the Lancang (Mekong) River." this is the home of the Wa people in China. Awa is also a dialect of the Wa language.

5 "'Aini' may be the same as the Yani dialect of Hani." the ethnologue report, Aini

6 A larger language the ethnologue report, Lahu

7 A website about wuliang mountain nature preserve in Chinese. There is an English version of this website, but no Wuliang mountain page in English. There is a great page on the Akha/Hani that mentions Wuliang mountain when it says the Akha/Hani "are mainly distributed in the Ailao Shan and Wuliang Shan mountains, and in the mountains and valleys of Mojiang, Babianjiang, and Lancangjiang districts."
There is another story about a man named Wu Liang who invented the Oolong processing method for tea. He lived in Fujian however, not Yunnan. This legend can be found at the end of this article.

Hani is one of the officially recognized 55 ethnic minority peoples in the Peoples Republic of China. it is also a language.

9 The full moon has always represented family for the Chinese, especially in ancient poems where a full moon appearing in a description of a landscape is a metaphor for a person far from home, lonely and missing their family.

10 'Five' sounds like 'myself' in Chinese.


Devin said...

This is your coolest blog yet. You need to find a way to make all of your blogs accessible through a main page. Maybe I'll through my hat in and work on a Buddhism blog as well. If you can make all of this more convenient I'm sure you'll get lots of readers. This is certainly one of the best blogs I've read.

Devin said...

Also, is this from an actual Jing or is it an advertisement written to sound like Wenyan in order to give the tea pedigree?

LaoChaGui said...

Thanks for the enthusiastic comments. This book is not really a Jingwen (经文)or classic. It is just a play on the Classic of Tea, thats why its called Classic of Pu'er Tea. (茶经 --> 普洱茶经, quite clever, no?)