Friday, August 31, 2012

Reflecting on ancient China with a Cha Xi


The hotel we stayed at in Kending had a great view on the sea. But it also had a modern black & white, simple zen design. I thought the hallway in front of our room would be a great place for a morning red tea Cha Xi. The flowery Cha Bu (fabric) and the tea add color and life to this cool space.

A Cha Xi is a mandala. It represents a united world, but it's made up of diverse elements that interact to fit harmoniously with each other. In this Cha Xi, for instance, the black Jianyang bowl and the white tea cups miror their surroundings. The white porcelain gaiwan doesn't just match the cups, but it is a fitting teaware to brew red tea without loosing any of its flavors. The ancient Anping jar protects and enhances the dry leaves...

In many ways, a Cha Xi is like a symbol of ancient, classic China and how it prospered.

In the West, the Christian faith has been central to its history. In China, though, many different concepts have appeared and coexisted:
- rites or ceremonies based on the seasons, the stars. They should ensure the harmony between Heaven and Earth.
- Confucius' respect for the classics and the elders,
- Taoism, with its action through non-action,
- Chan (zen), the Chinese version of Buddhism.
Syncretism, the coexistence of these different religions is obvious in most temples in China. So, while the power was centralized by an emperor and a bureaucracy of scholars selected through exams, there was no rigid ideology. The emperors would favor different schools of thought depending on the situation and the skills of the persons. One idea held everything together: Harmony. But harmony doesn't mean that everything is peaceful and that there are no rivalries or frictions. Harmony is finding an equilibrium that takes into account the conflicting energies and channels them into a single purpose (the Emperor, a united China).

This search for balance and harmony is also found in the importance of Feng Shui in Chinese architecture. There's also calligraphy, the art of writing (traditional) Chinese characters in an harmonious, lively way. Chinese medicine, the Yin and Yang or the 5 elements... all center on harmony.

China thrived economically, culturally and technologically in the Tang and Sung eras. Potters innovated to make celadon wares similar to jade, or black bowls with amazing glazing variations. Different kilns competed to fulfill the wishes of the emperor and his highly educated mandarins. Tributes to the emperor were selected for their perfection.

Confident in the strong foundations of their Chinese culture, this elite was open to new ideas and techniques from the outside. Like a Cha Xi, they mixed the old and the new, the Chinese and the foreign. But they did this always considering balance and efficiency.

In a Cha Xi, we select not just the best tea and tea ware. We consider which tea would be the best fit for the particular moment. And then, which combination of water/kettle/teapot/teacup would bring out the qualities of these leaves in an harmonious way. And only then do we think about the aesthetic details that will carry a symbolic message. Art always had a (political) purpose for the Chinese emperor. The art of the Cha Xi aims at uniting men and women around the many joys of a cup of tea. And bring harmony to the world!


6 comments:

Philippe de Bordeaux filipek said...

En un mot : Superbe.

merlin said...

Un magnifique Cha Xi, en effet. Comme quoi, le thé peut accompagner tous les genre, du classique au moderne !

Miss Tea Delight said...

Stephane, how do you feel safe creating something so beautiful in the middle of the hallway where housekeeping is just around the corner?

Stephane said...

Merci Philippe et Merlin.

Miss Tea Delight,
Our room was at the end of the hallway, so I wasn't concerned about neighbors walking across my Cha Xi. As for the housekeepers, they were very friendly and happy to see me make tea there. The (beauty of) the Cha Xi surprised them, I think. But I didn't mind to let them have a glimpse at it! On the contrary, I'm always glad to see people respond positively, with a smile or a few words of praise.

Steph said...

I love your use of a non-traditional space for this Cha Xi, finding beauty in all the nooks and crannies!

Stephane said...

Thanks, Steph. I think it's important to be creative and innovate in the spirit of tea.