The Song Dynasty (960-1279) was one of the most culturally rich periods in Chinese history, and one in which the ‘Four Arts of Life’ — tea brewing, flower arranging, painting appreciation and incense burning — were regarded as fashionable pastimes. Such activities not only offer us a better understanding of traditional Chinese culture, they can also help to cultivate spiritual health.
Ahead of The Pavilion Sale on 5 April, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art specialist Sherese Tong visited a modern teahouse located in the bustling Kowloon, offering a perfect harmony between traditional culture and modernity.
In Chinese culture, many leisure activities are related to health and spiritual enhancement. Drinking tea helped to keep the practitioner awake during religious meditation, while scientific studies have showed pu'er can promote the secretion of saliva, warm the stomach and suppress the growth of bacteria, and Tieguanyin, some experts believe, can fight ageing and help to prevent cancer.
Tea culture was an indispensable part of life during the Song Dynasty: Zhao Kuangyin, the founding Emperor Taizu of Song and a passionate tea lover, even set up a tea authority at court. The ancient ways of enjoying tea, however, were significantly different from today’s practices, as the video explains. For example, in the Song era tea was primarily prepared using the whisking method that combined pouring and dripping.
The philosophy and aesthetics behind the tea whisking tradition can be applied to modern life as a means to elevate our spiritual wellbeing. The meticulous process of whisking tea helps to soothe the mind and relieve stress, echoing the new trend of ‘slow living’.
In artistic terms, the people of the Song Dynasty also had strict requirements for the techniques and tools used in the ritual. Taking as an example a Jian Yao tea bowl, a favourite among the royal family and scholars in the Song Dynasty, the black glaze was used to highlight the desired whiteness of the froth, while the thick, heavy bowl keeps the tea at ideal temperature.
A Jian ‘oil spot’ black-glazed tea bowl and a Jizhou tortoise shell-glazed tea bowl. Southern song dynasty (1127-1279). Estimate: HK$80,000-120,000. This work is offered in The Pavilion Sale on 5 April at Christie’s Hong Kong
With their subtle forms and timeless simplicity, utensils made in the Song Dynasty can be seamlessly incorporated into modern homes. See, for example, the Qingbai cup and stand from the Southern Song Dynasty, and the large and finely moulded Ding ‘lotus’ dish from Northern Song-Jin Dynasty offered in The Pavilion Sale.
A set of Qingbai stem cup and cup stand, Southern song dynasty (1127-1279). Estimate: HK$30,000-50,000. This work is offered in The Pavilion Sale on 5 April at Christie’s Hong Kong
A large and finely moulded Ding ‘Lotus’ dish. Northern Song-Jin Synasty (960-1234). Estimate: HK$1,000,000-1,500,000. This work is offered in The Pavilion Sale on 5 April at Christie’s Hong Kong
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