Carry A Load Of Tea Leaves For Beijing
Author : Liu Xinglong
Publisher : Bleu de Chine, 1997
It’s been more than a year that I wanted to write about this short novel by Liu Xinglong (118 pages). Not because I love this writer’s works – I haven’t read anything else by him -, but because this story is like a sad comedy, and reminds us that tea is made by humans and has an impact on lives.
Sorry for the picture, I couldn’t find an English version !
My eye was attracted by the title, of course, but, first, by the cover.
It is a part of a painting by a Chinese artist called Tang Zhigang, belonging to the series « Children in Meetings. »(Photo : www.ravenel.com)
These scenes show children in political or business life situations. Do children mimick adults, or do adults behave like children ? The atmosphere is preposterous and pathetic…
But let’s go back to the book…
I read the whole book, partly thanks to the writer’s style : colorful, truculent, without double talk or poetic depictions of natural things. The story takes place in a remote village, people try to live – or survive -, they have ringworm, they shit, they piss, they have sex, they play mah-jong for whole nights, they drink, they smoke, they eat. Delicacy and politically correctedness are miles away from their life : they can nothing but survive, squeezed between the Chinese political and administrative structure, and the reality of country life.
In a village. (Photo : footage.framepool.com)
A tea house and its owner. (Photo : www.telegraph.co.uk)
A traditional tea house, not for tourists at all.
So, what is one supposed to do, when one is ordered to pick tea under the snow ?
Crazy order. Winter is the time when tea trees are dormant, a time that they need to produce new leaves in spring. Picking leaves under the snow, is damaging the branches and risking to have them freez if cold weather comes afterwards. The spring harvest, or, worse, the trees themselves, will be partly or completely lost…
A tea garden under the snow… Who would have the idea to pick tea leaves ?(Photo : www.prokerala.com)
And, when one knows that several years are needed before a tea tree can be harvested, one better understands the unbearable mission that falls on the little chief of a tiny village. Unfortunately, he has no choice : the order comes from his own chief who wants, thanks to this one-of-a-kind present, to please his bigger chiefs to get a promotion.
The burden is all the heavier that the only tea trees that are worth harvesting, belong to the little chief of the tiny village’s father, an old man who takes care of them with love…
Published 22 years ago, this novel depicts a China in which political leaders are corrupted, in which the people suffers, and where the only way not to have problems is to obey one’s superiors.
However, the story is not really sad, nor is it propaganda showing the toiling masses fighting rotten elites to replace them with leaders genuinely interested in ordinary people’s lives.
Humour is there, in style and in the scenes. And tea, of course. Green, everyday-grade, Chinese style : a few leaves in a glass of hot water, or a large lidded mug. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated. Practical and rustic. How far is the delicacy of Gong fu cha, with its teeny tiny teapots, its even tinier teacups, and its rare teas !
Are the characters cowards ? No. They just try and survive. All are scratched, because all are humans.
To drink along this reading, there’s nothing better than a Chinese green tea, (Long Jing works wonderfully !), a few leaves dropped in a glass of water neither too warm, nor too hot !