The history of tea is not quite the peaceful story one would expect. In the C19th, it was an almost fanatically sought after commodity but British and Indian companies wanted to trade opium in exchange. ‘The Ibis Trilogy’ by Amitav Ghosh is brilliant at taking us into the heart of that period. This feature in The Way of Tea is however a gentle one. I have found the link and the above photograph was one of the pics taken in front of my prized Chinese lacquered cupboard! http://www.globaltea.cn/index.php?a=shows&catid=29&id=546
I met the anthropologist Dr Kunbing Xiao – who wrote this feature- last year when she was a visiting academic at Green College Oxford. Kunbing and artist Weimin He came to tea and I served Chinese rock tea which Kunbing enjoyed. The result was that she asked to interview me for a feature in an exquisite Chinese magazine called the Tao of Tea or The Way of Tea. I am not an expert on tea drinking but my experience in the antiques trade and writing features on history and antiques led me to an interest in the stories surrounding the trade in tea and its impacts on societies. All human life is there: trade that connects and enhances life and trade which destroys life too cf the Opium Wars. We wanted Chinese tea but didn’t want to pay for it in cash but in trade. Shippers wanted full cargoes on each leg of their hazardous journeys. When the Chinese didn’t want to buy European goods, we sent gunboats to force the Chinese to buy opium we were growing in India.
Kunbing took a few pictures of me at home and I introduced her to C19th registration marks on British ceramics which helps us date objects from that period. Only those who read Mandarin will understand the feature (link above) but others may enjoy the visual effects. Chinese calligraphy is also an art. I was privileged to have my review of the Ashmolean’s exhibition China Prints translated into Mandarin and included in Poems and Paintings by Sanping Wu. I find contemporary Chinese art inspiring but traditional Chinese art of the kind practiced by Sanping Wu is elegant,sophisticated and delightful.
This picture of Kunbing and I was taken in Didcot’s Cornerstone Art Centre at an exhibition called Dancing Lines