The Rise of Tea Culture in China

The Invention of the Individual

By (author) Bret Hinsch

Publication date:

12 November 2015

Length of book:

172 pages

Publisher

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442251786

This distinctive and enlightening book explores the invention and development of tea drinking in China, using tea culture to explore the profound question of how Chinese have traditionally expressed individuality. Western stereotypes portray a culture that values conformity and denigrates the individual, but Bret Hinsch convincingly explodes this facile myth. He argues that although Chinese embrace a communitarian ethos and assume that the individual can only thrive within a healthy community, they have also long respected people with unique traits and superior achievements. Hinsch traces how emperors, scholars, poets, and merchants all used tea connoisseurship to publicly demonstrate superior discernment, gaining admiration by displaying individuality. Acknowledging central differences with Western norms, Hinsch shows how personal distinction nevertheless constitutes an important aspect of Chinese society. By linking tea to individualism, his deeply researched book makes an original and influential contribution to the history of Chinese culture.
From a distinct perspective, this relatively slim yet fluently written book opens up a new dimension about the tea culture in China. After a brief discussion of the ancient form of tea, the author switches his attention to the period of the Tang and Song dynasties, when the making and drinking of the beverage once again experienced a marked change. But his real interest lies elsewhere. Hinsch is intent on describing how tea drinking at that time played a role in fostering a new culture from the Tang to the Song. Drawing on existent scholarship, the author maintains that Chinas political culture experienced a transformation marked by the rise of individualism (however one chooses to define the term in a Chinese context). He illustrates how this cultural transformation was reflected in tea drinking customs and habits, especially among the literati class. In particular, he points out that from the Tang to the Song, while tea became increasingly accessible to people of all walks of life, it attained a particularly rich sociocultural and religious meaning for the literati class. Very worthwhile reading. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.