Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reference to a hut-style teahouse in Ming China

Teahouse architecture is a recurring theme in my blog and all those posts have been about teahouses in Japan. I’ve never came across of a reference to a ‘teahouse’ in China in its Japanese sense, a rustic free-standing hut. Not anymore. I am reading a book by Craig Clunas about connoisseurship in Ming China. One of his primary sources is a text titled "Treatise on Superfluous Things" written around 1620 by a scholar, painter and garden designer from Suzhou Wen Zhen Heng. This book was a manual for people of means and taste. The first chapter of the book is titled ‘Studios and retreats’ and Clunas translated a small section of it pertaining to teahouses. It reads as follows:

Build a structure of column’s span, adjacent to a mountain studio, and set therein the tea utensils. Train a boy to the exclusive service of tea, so the whole day may be spent there in pure talk, the chilly night spent in sitting there in a dignified attitude. This is the first priority of the recluse, which cannot be dispensed with.
According to Clunas, Wen Zhen Heng’s treatise is heavily based on earlier work by two of his contemporaries. One of them is the dramatist Gao Lian who wrote “Eight Discourses on the Art of Living” and the other is Tu Long who wrote "Desultory Remarks on Furnishing the Abode of the Retired Scholar". Clunas tells us that the work of Wen Zhen Heng, Gao Lian and Tu Long is based on even earlier texts dating back to Song dynasty. This means that when Sen no Rikyū was pioneering soan style teahouses at the end of the 16th century in Japan, the practice of doing something very similar was already old in China. 

By the way, this topic has a connection to bonsai. Tu Long’s "Desultory Remarks" has an entire chapter on potted plants and Gao Lian’s “Eight Discourses” has chapters on plants and rocks.

The image above shows a Rikyū style teahouse called Kaho-an. It has been reconstructed at Happo-en garden in Tokyo and it dates back to Taisho period.

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