Beyond Tea: Huizhou Culture
In this new series called Behond the Tea. I will talk about things that are not exactly tea, but have some relation to them in one way or another. Tea is very connected to Chinese culture and my hope is that you will understand tea better by understanding the things that are going on around tea. These things may they be historical, cultural or geographic, shape tea culture and have great influence on the tea we drink today. So with out further adue I would like to introduce Behond the Tea Part one: Huizhou.
Some of the most famous teas in china including Qimen, Mao Feng and Hou Kui all come from the same location, Huang Shan, Anhui. But the area of Huang Shan wasn't always called Huang Shan, infact it was only named that in 1987. Before 1987 the area was called Huizhou. The hui in Anhui stems from the Huizhou name. (The an comes from Anqing another strong culture in Anhui.）
Huizhou more than a location. It is a culture it is an identity. In this article I will briefly introduce you to some of the main aspects of Huizhou culture and history. In this article I struggled to keep it simple and not go indepth, so I invite all of you to look more into the Huizhou lifestyle and history.
Huizhou is located in the southern part of Anhui. It borders Jiangsu and Jiangxi. The prefecture dates back to 589 A.D., though back then it was called Shezhou. (This name lives in the section of Huizhou that is still known as shexian) During the Northern Song Dynasty (1121 A.D.) the Hui Zong Emperor renamed it Huizhou. It kept this name until 1987 when the local government changed the name of the whole prefecture to Huang Shan in order to promote tourism to its famous mountain. Huizhou is a very mountainus region which as we will see influences much of the Huizhou way of life from the food to the common choice of professions.
Huizhou was known for its merchants. Since the area is very mountainous, it was difficult to support an economy on argiculture alone, so the Huizhou people turned toward external sources of money. Starting in their teen years, men would earn money for the family by getting on boats and heading up river to trade, often being gone for years on end. They would earn fortunes then come back to start there own business in Huizhou. Huizhou merchants, or Hui merchants, became know all over China with a similar reconition as Wall Street brokers have today.
"By the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), over 70 per cent of the population in Huizhou was made up of merchants." (asiaculturaltravel.co.uk）
In Tunxi's Huizhou museum there is a section dedicated to the women of ancient Huizhou for the traveling merchant was such a common profession that it was the women who had to take on many of the tasks of daily life, including educating the children, when their husbands were away
The strong merchant nature of the Huizhou culture probably contributes a lot to the fame of Huizhou teas across China.
Education and the Arts
One of the most famous scholars in china came from Huizhou. Ancient Huizhou, in accordance with their strong confucian beleifs held education in high regard. Zhu Xi, who is known for his work in Neo Confusianism, was born in Wuyuan which up until the 1930s was part of Huizhou. (It is now part of Jianxi, a change that angered many) His commentaries on the Four Books: The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects and Mencius become the corner stone of the civil service exam. Life Magazine ranked Zhu Xi the 45th most influential person in the last millienium. Education was held in high regard because at the time being a merchant was seen as one of the lowest levels of society, so a succesful merchant would go to great lengths to make sure his children were highly educated so they could be come scholars or government officials.
The scholary culture has a likely relation to one of the most famous aspects of Huizhou Culture, ink stone and oil paintings. Huizhou is famous for its ink stones. Beautilfully carved they provide smooth strokes and rich color. The beautiful scenery of mountains like Huang Shan have created endless works of ink painting art. Mountains covered in fog, bamboo forrests and scerene images of people drinking tea are scenes of Huizhou depicted in ink. Even the ink sticks from this area are famous. The Huizhou ink stick is famous for its rich color and fragnrence. You can learn more about the Huizhou ink stone, ink stick and the other four treasures in the video below.
Huizhou food, or Hui Cai (徽菜）is one of the eight great cuisines of China. The dishes are known for being fresh and made from local plants and vegetables. Seasonal vegetables, varies types of bamboo, local fish, and pork are key ingreidents to many of Huizhou dishes. They are cooked in oil that, when finished, provides very light fresh flavors and a lot of savoriness. The characterstics of Huizhou food, light but rich, can also be used to describe Huizhou tea. Mao Feng is light, fresh, with a thick oil like mouthfeel. When you compare the flavor of famous Hui dishes with the famous Huang Shan Mao Feng, the relationship is clear.
This article is short, and does not due Huizhou culture and history due justice. There are so many things I didn't talk about. Like did you know the Beijing Opera has strong roots in the Huizhou Opera? Each one of the topics above can be doven into with so much more depth, and more than once while writting this article I had to stop myself from doing just that. I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope it made you a little more interested in traditional Huizhou culture.