Monday, March 4, 2013

"Six Great Tea Mountains" and Their History

Six Great Tea Mountains were the most famous producing area of Pu-erh Tea in historical recordation. The first time they were mentioned was in Qing Dynasty, early 18th. Century, when development of Pu-erh Tea reached an outstanding position in its history, described by Tan Cui in his book as “ Pu-erh Tea is famous through whole country, produced in the region of Six Tea Mountains that belong to Pu’er Prefecture, of which the first mountain is called You Le, the second is called Ge Deng, the third Yi Ban, the forth Mang Zhi, the fifth Man Zhuang and the last is Man Sha, covering total an area of 800 square kilometers. ” 

The geographic locations of Six Tea Mountains are all in territory of today’s Xishuangbanna, on the east side of Mekong River, among the rest You Le was located around Ya Nuo Village, Ji Nuo Township of Jing Hong, Ge Deng, Mang Zhi, Yi Ban and Man Zhuang were situated in Xiang Ming Township of Meng La County, Man Sha usded to have its position around Man Sha Village of Man La Township, Meng La County, but Yi Wu, a former part of Man Sha Tea Mountain was marked off to be an independent township when county was regionalized. On the map of today, Six Tea Mountains are actually connected with each other; they form an integral region in the northeast of Xishuangbanna.

The first time Six Tea Mountains were mentioned was in 18th. Century, but it doesn’t mean the history of Six Tea Mountains started so late, early as 1000 years ago, Pu, who were the ancestors of Bulang Nationality living in Xishuangbanna today, began to domesticate wild tea plants for daily consumption, and 800 years ago, started mass plantations, but during that period, ethnic people undertook production mostly for self-sufficiency, not for trade, this situation remained unchanged till the end of Ming Dynasty, approximately 380 years ago, as the central government strengthened exploitation and control on frontier region, intercommunion with inland China got promoted, tea from this region gradually became known by more and more people. During the middle of Qing Dynasty, about 250 years ago, tea production and trade in Six Great Tea Mountains area reached the height, their products gathered and acted as leading role in tea market of Pu-erh, a town which used to be administrative capital of south Yunnan as well the distribution center of tea from this region, then spread around to Tibet, other provinces of China or southeast Asia. Salability of these tea products gained great fame for their producing area; Six Great Tea Mountains became the acknowledged cradle of famous Pu-erh Tea, even had the responsibility of supplying tribute tea to Chinese emperor on shoulders. From 19th. Century, British colonists began to develop tea planting on a large scale in India, intensive farming and efficient management achieved high yield at low cost, big quantity of cheap tea entered Tibet to vie for market, owing to behindhand way of production and primitive way of transportation, Pu-erh Tea couldn’t match against its new competitor from India, gradually lost the most important traditional market it had occupied for hundreds of years; on the other hand, countries around south Yunnan, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand or Myanmar became colonies of European, those countries once offered the shortest courses from origin to harbor, but under control of European, the former exporting routes of Pu-erh Tea were totally blocked; moreover, corrupt government officials of late Qing Dynasty laid exorbitant taxes and levies upon tea trade, farmers and merchants couldn’t bear the increasingly strengthened exploitation, changed professions and moved out one after another. These reasons directly caused the comedown of Six Great Tea Mountains in late 19th. Century, plus pestilence that spread in this region and destruction inflicted by rebellious ethnic tribes, Six Great Tea Mountains became more and more desolate and less populated, by degrees finally passed into silence at the beginning of the 20th. century.

For very long time in history, green tea produced in central China had been absolutely the dominant role on the stage of tea industry development, Pu’er Tea from Six Great Tea Mountains changed this situation, it offered tea drinkers a different option and step by step gained its own place in Chinese tea culture. Besides, prosperous tea trade of Six Tea Mountains attracted numerous Han people to move in, they brought advanced production technology and civilized culture, which greatly improved the productivity of frontier region and effectively helped ethnic people to develop local economy, it’s the first time that Han immigrants took part in construction of Xishuangbanna in great force, in a sense, Six Great Tea Mountains are a monument about intercommunion between Han and border ethnic groups.

As Pu-erh Tea is regaining popularity on the market in recent years, Six Great Tea Mountains are also recatching people’s attention.

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