Lu Yu: Chinese Tea Saint

Lu Yu (733-804), born in Jingling, Fuzhou (present-day Tianmen, Hubei), was a renowned tea scholar and poet during the Tang Dynasty. He is honored as the “Sage of Tea” and is famous for his passion and expertise in tea.

From a young age, Lu Yu displayed intelligence and a love for learning, especially in the art of tea preparation and consumption. He traveled extensively, gathering knowledge and skills related to tea, continuously practicing and summarizing his experiences. Through his long-term engagement in the world of tea, Lu Yu gradually developed his own philosophy of tea, laying the foundation for the world’s first comprehensive book on tea, “The Classic of Tea” (“Chajing”). “The Classic of Tea” provides detailed descriptions of tea, covering its origins, forms, growth environment, harvesting, and methods of preparation and consumption. It had a profound influence on the inheritance and development of tea culture.

In addition to his remarkable contributions to the world of tea, Lu Yu was also an outstanding poet. Although his poetry works are not numerous, they exhibit high quality, showcasing a unique artistic style and profound reflections. His poems mainly revolve around themes of nature, landscapes, and life, expressing his love for nature and contemplation on life.

Lu Yu’s life was filled with legendary stories. He faced adversity from an early age, being abandoned under a small stone bridge and later adopted by the Zen master Zhi Ji. Despite numerous hardships and setbacks, he maintained his passion and pursuit of the way of tea. On the southern slope of Huomen Mountain, he dug a well known as “Lu Zi Spring,” commemorating his contributions to the tea industry.

He is honored as the “Sage of Tea” and “Tea Saint,” with his contributions to the world of tea earning him the title of “Tea Deity.” Lu Yu’s life and works are recorded in various historical documents, including the “New Book of Tang,” “Wenyuan Yinghua,” “Biographies of Tang Scholars,” and “Complete Works of Tang Poetry.” While much of his literary works have been lost, his masterpiece, “The Classic of Tea” (“Chajing”), remains intact.

Biography:

According to historical records such as the “New Book of Tang” and “Biographies of Tang Scholars,” Lu Yu was abandoned as a child due to his unattractive appearance. He was found and adopted by the Buddhist monk Zhi Ji at the age of seven, near West Lake outside the west gate of Jingtuling. Lu Yu later chose his own name and took on the surname “Lu” based on the divination of the “Yijing” (Book of Changes). Despite being in a Buddhist environment, Lu Yu did not become a monk but remained dedicated to tea and learning.

At the age of twelve, Lu Yu joined a traveling theater troupe, showcasing his talent in acting and humor. Despite his unattractive appearance and a slight stutter, he excelled in playing comedic roles. He later wrote a collection of jokes titled “Xután” during this period.

In the fifth year of the Tianbao era (752), Lu Yu’s talents were recognized by Li Qiwu, the Prefect of Jingtuling, who recommended him to study under the hermit Zou Fuzi on Huomen Mountain. This marked the beginning of Lu Yu’s extensive travels and studies.

In the fifteenth year of the Tianbao era (756), Lu Yu, accompanied by his friend Cui Guofu, explored the tea regions in Bashan, Jiuzhaigou, and other places, collecting valuable information on tea cultivation and production.

In the first year of the Qianyuan era (758), Lu Yu arrived in Shuzhou (present-day Suzhou, Jiangsu) and stayed at Qixia Monastery, where he immersed himself in the study of tea. The following year, he traveled to Danyang.

In the first year of the Shangyuan era (760), Lu Yu moved to Zixi in Zhejiang, living a secluded life in the mountains and focusing on writing “The Classic of Tea.” His lifestyle reflected his deep connection with nature and tea.

In his later years, Lu Yu formed a close friendship with the poet-monk Huai Su, who wrote a biography of Lu Yu. Lu Yu continued his tea exploration and writings until his death in 804.

Tea Exploration:

Lu Yu’s extensive travels allowed him to explore various tea-producing regions, collecting first-hand information on tea cultivation and processing. He wrote a comprehensive essay titled “Shuipin,” unfortunately lost to history, that detailed his evaluations of rivers, wells, and springs, providing valuable insights into water quality for tea preparation.

Lu Yu’s notable friend Huai Su, who was also a skilled calligrapher, created a beautiful manuscript of “The Classic of Tea” for him, emphasizing the deep bond between the two scholars.

Legacy:

Lu Yu’s legacy extends beyond his contributions to the world of tea. He had a profound impact on Chinese literature, particularly through his work in refining the art of tea and his unique perspective on life. His teachings and philosophy continue to inspire tea enthusiasts and scholars worldwide.

Influences:

“The Classic of Tea” (“茶经”) by Lu Yu is a groundbreaking work that had a profound impact on Chinese tea culture. The Tang Dynasty poet Pi Rixiu, in his preface to “Miscellaneous Poems on Tea,” praised “The Classic of Tea” for its comprehensive coverage of tea, including its origins, tools, production methods, vessels, and brewing techniques. Pi Rixiu acknowledged that the book clarified the sources of tea, established the essential tools for tea-making, taught the art of tea production, provided a framework for tea vessels, and set guidelines for brewing tea.

“The Classic of Tea” is considered the first systematic and comprehensive work on tea in China, offering a detailed exploration of tea-related topics during the Tang Dynasty and earlier periods. The book consists of three volumes and ten chapters, covering various aspects of tea, from its origins and production to brewing and consumption. The ten chapters are titled: 1. Origin, 2. Tools, 3. Production, 4. Vessels, 5. Brewing, 6. Drinking, 7. Events, 8. Output, 9. Summary, and 10. Illustrations.

The contents of “The Classic of Tea” can be summarized as follows:

Origin: Describes the main tea-producing regions in China, including their environments and the properties of tea.

Tools: Discusses the tools used in the production and processing of tea during that time.

Production: Explores the process of making tea, detailing various types and methods.

Vessels: Describes the utensils used for brewing and drinking tea.

Brewing: Explains the brewing process, including techniques and considerations for water quality.

Drinking: Discusses methods of tea consumption and the appreciation of tea flavors.

Events: Explores the history of tea consumption in China.

Output: Details the tea-producing regions in Tang Dynasty China, evaluating the quality of tea in different areas.

Summary: Provides guidelines for the preparation of tea utensils based on the environmental context.

Illustrations: Advocates for the use of visual aids, such as drawings, to enhance understanding and appreciation of tea.

Lu Yu’s “The Classic of Tea” not only documented the distribution, cultivation, harvesting, processing, and consumption of tea but also introduced many famous teas, such as Guzhu Purple Bamboo Shoot Tea and Yangxian Tea. It laid the foundation for the systematic study of tea and became a standard reference for tea enthusiasts.

The impact of “The Classic of Tea” extends beyond its historical context. Lu Yu’s work contributed to shaping the Chinese tea culture and established him as an authoritative figure in the field. His detailed observations and recommendations influenced the way tea was perceived, cultivated, and consumed in subsequent centuries.

Social Contributions:

Lu Yu, honored as the “Tea Sage” or an expert in tea, gained recognition mainly after his death. During his lifetime, while known for his love of tea, expertise in tea, and the publication of “The Classic of Tea” (“茶经”), he was primarily recognized as a literary figure rather than a tea expert. This is because, at that time, although tea had evolved into an independent field of study with the advent of “The Classic of Tea,” its influence and status could not be compared to the ancient literary traditions. Furthermore, Lu Yu’s achievements in tea were secondary to his literary accomplishments.

The Classic of Tea

The exact date of the completion of “The Classic of Tea” is subject to various interpretations, with some sources suggesting around the year 758. Lu Yu’s journey to literary fame predates the completion of “The Classic of Tea.” In his early years, Lu Yu studied under Huamen Shan Zou Fuzi after abandoning his career as an entertainer. It was during the years of exile in Jingling when Lu Yu’s literary talent flourished. His association with Cui Guofu during this period played a significant role in his intellectual development.

Cui Guofu, known for his proficiency in poetry, had a substantial influence on Lu Yu. The two shared a close friendship during Cui Guofu’s tenure in Jingling, engaging in poetic exchanges. Cui Guofu’s expertise in classical poetry, especially in the genre of fu (rhapsody), contributed to Lu Yu’s learning. The association between Lu Yu and Cui Guofu not only enhanced Lu Yu’s reputation but also provided him with valuable knowledge and scholarship.

Lu Yu’s recognition as a literary figure was evident before the completion of “The Classic of Tea.” His achievements in literature and poetry had already garnered attention, with records suggesting that he was often welcomed and celebrated during his travels to different places. The societal acclaim Lu Yu received was primarily due to his literary prowess, as mentioned by Quan Deyu, rather than his contributions to tea culture.

The contrast between Lu Yu’s pre-death and post-death images is noticeable. While he was celebrated as a literary figure during his lifetime, his posthumous recognition as a tea master is attributed to his contribution to “The Classic of Tea” and his influence on Chinese tea culture. In essence, Lu Yu’s societal contributions were multifaceted, encompassing literature, tea culture, and various scholarly pursuits.

Anecdotes and Stories:

Discerning the Origin of Tea Water:

In the writings of contemporary literati Zhang Youxin in “Record of Brewing Tea Water,” a true story involving the provincial governor Li Jiqing and Lu Yu is documented. While on the banks of the Yangtze River, Li Jiqing encountered Lu Yu, who was inspecting tea matters in the area. Li Jiqing invited Lu Yu to join him on his boat. Li Jiqing, hearing about the excellent tea water near the central part of the Yangtze River, ordered his soldiers to fetch water. Unexpectedly, halfway through the journey, one soldier spilled half a bottle of water and secretly replenished it with river water from the shore. Lu Yu tasted the water and immediately pointed out, “This is water from the nearby riverbank, not from Nanling water.” Li Jiqing ordered the soldiers to fetch water again, and after Lu Yu tasted it, he smiled and said, “This is indeed Nanling water from the central river.” The soldier had to admit the truth, kneeling before Lu Yu, and from then on, Lu Yu’s fame as a tea connoisseur spread even more miraculously.

Disregard for Fame and Wealth:

In the Tang Dynasty, there was a monk named Jigong at Jingling Temple, known for his tea expertise. He could not only identify different types of tea and the water used but also determine who brewed the tea. This skill passed from one person to another, and people started considering Jigong a “Tea Immortal” incarnate. This information reached Emperor Daizong, who was also a tea enthusiast and employed several skilled tea experts in the palace. Upon hearing the rumor, Emperor Daizong, half-believing, summoned Jigong to test his tea skills.

Jigong arrived at the palace, and the emperor ordered a skilled tea maker to brew a bowl of top-quality tea for Jigong to taste. After sipping the tea, Jigong put down the bowl without drinking more. When asked about the reason, Jigong, touching his long beard, smiled and replied, “The tea I usually drink is brewed by my disciple Lu Yu. Having accustomed to his tea, drinking tea brewed by others feels insipid like water.” Surprised, the emperor asked about Lu Yu’s whereabouts, and Jigong answered, “Lu Yu loves nature, travels extensively to famous mountains and rivers, and explores the world’s famous teas and springs. Now, it’s difficult for this humble monk to know where he is.” The officials then dispatched people to find Lu Yu, and after a few days, he was located on a mountain in Shuzhou (now within Anqing), and he was immediately summoned to the palace. Despite his unimpressive appearance and stuttering speech, Lu Yu’s profound knowledge and eloquence impressed the emperor. Lu Yu was appointed to serve in the palace, training palace tea masters. However, he soon returned to Xiaoxi, focusing on writing “The Classic of Tea.”

Exploring Huainan Tea:

During his stay at Ziyang Cave, Lu Yu was captivated by the mountain scenery, clear springs, and tea fragrance. He developed deep friendships with eminent monks from Chongfo Temple, Taiyang Temple, and Guanyin Cave, engaging in poetic exchanges and discussions on tea. Lu Yu explored Huainan tea regions by traveling east to Shuzhou, south to Huangzhou, north to Shouzhou, and then back to Ziyang Cave. His observations and studies formed the initial draft of Huainan tea in his tea book, eventually becoming part of “The Classic of Tea.”

Tea God Festival:

After Lu Yu’s departure, the local residents established his shrine in Ziyang Cave to commemorate his contributions to Huainan tea. They designated the Qingming Festival as the Tea God Festival. Folk traditions include the saying, “Pick new tea during Qingming, test new fire.”

Zhushan and Lu Yu’s Tomb:

Zhushan and Lu Yu’s Tomb are located in Miaoxi Township, southwest of Huzhou City. Zhushan, also known as Baoji Mountain, originally had Baoji Temple in the south, named after the temple. Baoji was the former name of Miaoji Temple during the Liang Dynasty, where Jiaoran served as the abbot. In the eighth year of the Tang Dali era (773), on the twenty-first day of the tenth month, Yan Zhenqing, the governor of Huzhou, built a pavilion for Lu Yu. This pavilion was named “Three Geng Pavilion” due to the construction time being Gengchou year, Gengmao month, and Genghai day.

Lu Yu Tea Culture Festival:

Changxing in Huzhou, Zhejiang, is the birthplace of tea culture and where Tea Sage Lu Yu conducted significant research for “The Classic of Tea.” The region boasts the thousand-year-old tribute tea, Purple Bamboo Shoots of Guzhu, and the magnificent Tang-style Imperial Tea Court. In 2009, the government of Changxing County organized the Lu Yu Tea Culture Festival, which includes activities such as the International Tea Culture Symposium, the “Lu Yu Cup” Yixing Teapot Creation Competition, Chinese tea songs and dances, the International Tea Ceremony Performance, and the “Tea and Business” Oriental Wisdom and Modern Management International Forum.

These anecdotes and stories reflect the rich legacy of Lu Yu and his profound impact on tea culture, from discerning the origin of tea water to his exploration of Huainan tea and the establishment of cultural festivals in his honor.

References:

Lu Yu. Study Strong Country. 2020-03-21. [Accessed on 2020-03-21]

Cai Dingyi. “A Glimpse of Tang and Song Tea History and Tea Culture from the Term ‘Tea Mountain’.” Agricultural Archaeology, 2009(02):28-33.

“Lu Yu Spring” entry in Volume Ten “Landscape” of “Yu Hang County Annals” from the Qing Jiaqing period, stating: “Tang’s Lu Hongjian secluded in Xiaoxi, wrote ‘The Classic of Tea’ in this place.”

Tea Sage Lu Yu. China Government Website. [Accessed on 2014-08-23]

“Tea God” Lu Yu’s Tea Health. Qingdao Newspaper. [Accessed on 2014-08-25]

Liu Xian Ge. People’s Government of Tianmen City. [Accessed on 2021-05-27]

Zhushan and Lu Yu’s Tomb. China Weather Network. [Accessed on 2014-08-23]

Exploration of Huaisu’s “Two Wangs” Brushwork Through the Original Manuscript of the Small Grass Thousand-Character Classic. Sina. [Accessed on 2022-01-22]

Lu Yu. Detailed View of Images of Famous People in China’s History. [Accessed on 2022-02-23]

Yao Chaoyi (Editor-in-Chief), Tao Shuzhi (Deputy Editor-in-Chief), CPPCC Hubei Provincial Committee for Culture and History Information (Compiler). “Cultural Tianmen Series: Shijiahe Culture and Tianmen Relics.” Changjiang Press. 2007.12. Pages 225-226.

Jiang Yin. “An In-depth Study of Lu Hongjian’s Life.” Ancient and Modern Agriculture, 1992:21-26.

Zhu Zizhen (Editor). “Preliminary Exploration of Tea History.” China Agriculture Press. 1996.05. Page 243.

Lu Yu: Tang Dynasty Tea Sage, Author of the World’s First Tea Treatise. Jingzhou Municipal People’s Government. [Accessed on 2023-03-23]

Song Shilei: “Lu Yu’s ‘The Classic of Tea’ and Tang Dynasty Tea Culture.” China Intangible Cultural Heritage Website. [Accessed on 2023-05-23]

Fan Jianhua (Editor). “Dictionary of Chinese Festivals.” Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House. 2012.09. Page 208.

Honing for Forty Years, Lu’s New Chapter in the Pedigree. People’s Net. [Accessed on 2023-11-24]

Zhou Yuan’s “Three Feelings Theory” Clearly Proves That Tea Sage Lu Yu Returned to Seclusion in His Later Years and was Buried in Jingling. People’s Government of Tianmen City. [Accessed on 2023-11-24]

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