Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The many faces of spring

The cycle of the seasons is a recurring theme in Chinese culture and paintings. Celebrating spring (east), summer (south), fall (west) and winter (north) is so universal and almost common that it can feel boring. Are you still with me or are you already bored by the subject?! Let's turn to Kuo Hsi (1000-1090) a famous Sung dynasty landscape painter to make spring more interesting. He reminds us that there are infinite numbers of distinctions within the spring season: morning or evening, early spring or late spring, sunny, cloudy or rainy, cold cool or warm, snow in spring, misty after rain... The change from one state to another can happen dramatically, within moments.

Take these 2 pictures from the San Hsia tea plantation where my BiLuoChun comes from, for instance. They were taken just 13 minutes apart! Sunshine and clouds change the colors, the warmth of the picture, which then conveys a different feeling. With these observations, we also come closer to the meaning of Northern Sung landscape paintings. It's the creation of mental images that express ideas and emotions. 
New tea bush in San Hsia, northern Taiwan
The main idea behind most shan shui (mountain and water) paintings is the vastness of an orderly Universe in which man is almost insignificant, but lives an harmonious life with nature. (See this example: 'Early Spring' by Kuo Hsi and this video for more explanations). There are some recurring symbols that are important to know to understand landscape paintings, but the most important remains the state of mind, the feeling:
- the tallest mountain, often in the center, is a symbol for the State, the emperor. It dominates all other mountains,
- rocky mountains are like the bones of the earth. They are kernels of energy,
- smaller than the mountains, trees represent the enduring life. Pine trees are often symbols for the virtuous man in the wilderness,
- man is depicted smaller than trees and looks almost insignificant. He's sometimes on a path toward a temple in the mountain, which means a spiritual journey.
Today was cloudy, rainy and not a suitable day for harvesting tea. That's why I stayed home and felt like brewing a different kind of spring tea. Can you guess which tea I've chosen here above?

It's a spring 2005 BiLuoChun from Jiangsu! It's the highest quality there is: single buds harvested right before QingMing festival! (For green tea, the hand harvest is the most important cost factor: picking just 1 bud takes twice as much effort than picking 1 bud and 1 leaf at a time. And the earlier the tea is harvested in the season, the smaller are the buds and buds, which means the yield of a picker will be smallest for the same amount of work.
This Chaxi turns into a living landscape painting! It's just like what Kuo Hsi observed: "How delightful to enjoy a landscape painting rendered by a skillful hand! Without leaving one's home, to be transported to streams and ravines in faraway places, the cries of monkeys and birds faintly reaching one's ears, light dappling the hills, glittering reflections on the water dazzling the eye." Drinking tea is also a journey to where it came from.
The tea's taste adds another dimension that a painting doesn't have! In this case, the tea's light orange color is a good fit with the cloudy weather. The taste starts warmer and sweeter than a young green tea. But it has retained the same finesse and aftertaste. And what's amazing is that the freshness is still there, underneath or beyond the current dark flavors.
This cool river freshness comes from the brown open leaves, which is the theme of this Chabu! And like a northern Sung painting, my Chaxi tries to go beyond symbols. It reaches outward to recreate an harmonious nature. This then helps me, the brewer, to reach inward to master the mind and then satisfy my thirst!
When tea meets shan shui painting.

1 comment:

Israel said...

As someone who lives in the north, I find nothing boring about spring!