Thursday, September 22, 2022

The first priority: the rectification of names

2019 Spring High roasted Wenshan Baozhong

My latest 2 videos on YouTube feature an interview with French philosopher Olivier F Delasalle. Earlier this year, M. Delasalle wrote several articles (in French) about Confucius and his concept of 'rectifying the names' (zhengming, 正名 ). In Chapter 13, 3, Confucius tells Zilu that rectifying the names would be his 'first priority' if he were to serve in the government. The tea I'm brewing on the pictures illustrating this article reminded me of this important concept. When the farmer introduced this tea to me, he used the name of a famous cultivar from the WuYi region known for its high roasting level (Tie Luo Han). There was no intention to deceive me, because he also told me that this tea was made from traditional Wenshan Baozhong (using Qingxin Oolong as cultivar). He chose this nickname, because of the high roasting level, but also because he enjoys tea from WuYi and this is a way to pay them respect.  
Many sellers of Wenshan Baozhong have the habit of giving names that evoke Yan Cha (the teas from WuYi). When I first started selling tea, 17 years ago, I didn't notice this and failed to rectify the name 'Qizhong' in my list of Baozhongs, even though I gave the correct information about this tea, a medium roasted Wenshan Baozhong. However, the name 'Qizhong' designates a very special type of Yan Cha: tea trees from various unknown cultivars that grow wild, on the edges of roads and plantations and that are probably the result of seeds transported by birds!

The teas from WuYi are called Yan Cha, which means rock/cliff teas, because they grow on rocky soil close to the cliffs of the protected WuYi area. They are the most sought Oolongs in China, because of their quality, variety and because WuYi is where the Oolong process was invented. Tea farmers in the Fujian region imitate and copy these famous teas. That's why most tea sellers will add a 'zheng'  before 'Yan' (zheng yan) to say that they are it's the real, the authentic Yan Cha! This is the same character that we saw in zhengming!  
Confucius explains why rectifying names is so important: 

“If names are not rectified, speech will not accord with reality; when speech does not accord with reality, things will not be successfully accomplished. When things are not successfully accomplished, ritual practice and music will fail to flourish; when ritual and music fail to flourish, punishments and penalties will miss the mark. And when punishments and penalties miss the mark, the common people will be at a loss as to what to do with themselves. This is why the gentleman only applies names that can be properly spoken and assures that what he says can be properly put into action. The gentleman simply guards against arbitrariness in his speech. That is all there is to it."

Let's use tea as an example, in order to explain what he means. If the name of the (wrongly named) tea is not rectified, it does not fit with reality. When your tea says 'A', but is 'B', you can't obtain the taste and aromas of 'A'. When you can't obtain the expected aromas of A, you have failed to experience what you intended to get. This failure will lead to frustration. It's a failure in education: you can't learn what A tastes like. It's also a failure in communication: you feel disconnected from the people who have experienced A, because their descriptions are different from yours. And if you don't feel disconnected, this means that you will now wrongfully think that the description of A fits what you experienced with B. So, next time you encounter B, you'll still think it's A and if one day you encounter the real A, you will dismiss it (as something else). All this leads to confusion and the tea drinker ends up loosing interest in tea, because he can't make sense of it. That's why, a gentleman will not confuse his customers with fancy, poetic and misleading tea names, but he will describe his teas with the best information he possesses. And his descriptions of the taste and scents should be based on a standard brewing method using porcelain. 
Confucius didn't blame people who used wrong names. He simply pointed out that when the names are not in harmony with reality, this leads to all kinds of problems. The lesson he draws is that it's up him and each of his students who wants to be a gentleman to rectify the name. I'm doing my part as a seller by providing as much information as I have about the cultivar, the date of the harvest, the method of harvest, the origin of the plantation, the elevation, the processing method... As buyers, you can also help by insisting on purchasing teas that come with a detailed description and not simply a poetic name.
2019 Spring high roast Wenshan Baozhong

Once you've got the correct information, you may finally be able to analyze and compare the quality of similar teas! 

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