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Author:Shining Herb Beijing Date:11/16/2020 3:14:07 AM



Lu Tong: the pioneer of Chinese tea culture


Lu Tong (795-835 A.D.), a descendant of Lu Zhaolin (one of the four famous talents in the early Tang Dynasty), was born in Wushan village, Jiyuan, Henan Province. As a Tang poet and a key member of the Han Meng poetry group, Lu Tong was known for his tea poems. His name has been widely spread for his poem "Song of Seven Bowls of Tea" and been acknowledged as "the pioneer of Chinese tea culture". Though Lu Tong and Lu Yu (733-804 A.D.) are both well-known figures from the Tang Dynasty, Lu Yu comes earlier and Lu Tong later. Lu Yu's book, “The Classic of Tea”, focuses on the material world of tea, and he was honored as the "Tea Saint"; Lu Tong's “Song of Seven Bowls of Tea” focuses on the spiritual world of tea people, and he was hence referred to as the "Tea Immortal". The “Saint” and the “Immortal” enlightened tea’s thriving in the Tang Dynasty.

Lu Tong: how did he afford top quality tea being not so well off?

Tea was a luxury in ancient China. Lu Tong, however, was only a poet and was not very well off all his life.

According to historical records, Lu Tong's family was once a well-established one whose ancestor was Lu Zhi, the teacher of Liu Bei who was one of the Kings during the Three Kingdoms Period; the family used to have 22 prime ministers. During Lu Tong's era, the family was broken down with only a few old houses and many shelves full of books left. He was studying hard all day, and the neighboring monks often gifted him food; he studied poetry, classic literature, and history, and was not willing to become a government official, but because of his talent and family influence, his poems played an important role in the Han Meng poetry group and received praises from some authorities at the time. Though he was not very affluent all his life, he had good friendship with famous poets Han Yu and Meng Jian who also provided him kind help.


Lu Tong was a tea “addict” who enjoyed drinking tea and writing poems. His style of poems was romantic yet bizarre and was often referred to as "Lu Tong genre". Lu Tong's tea ceremony and his understanding of tea were also well known. Authorities and officials often gifted him tea and invited him over for tea time, so Lu Tong was very likely never short on tea.

Lu Tong: what kinds of tea did he drink?


Lu Tong loved to drink tea. It is said in Jiyuan that Lu Tong used to drink wild tea from the Wangwu Mountain. It is also said that he used to have local herbal tea, such as dandelions, wild chrysanthemums, etc.


Lu Tong was proficient in tea and tea ceremony. Research has found that Lu Tong, as a tea officer in the Tang Dynasty, lived in the Minglingdong Mountain in Changxing in Jiangnan; around the same time, Meng Jian, a good friend of Lu Tong, served as the governor of Changzhou, and believed that Yangxian tea was superior to Changxing tea. The debate between them contributed to Lu Tong's "Song of Seven Bowls of Tea", also known as “Thanks to Meng Jian’s New Tea Gift to Lu Tong. Later generations also refer to the poem as “Seven-Bowl-Tea Song”, and “Poem for Seven Bowls of Tea, which has been sung for thousands of years. The popular poem goes: "The first bowl of tea soothes my throat, and the second bowl takes away my loneliness. The third bowl makes me search for creativity among five thousand volumes of books. After the fourth bowl, I feel light sweat and all injustice in life dispersed through open pores. The fifth bowl relaxes my muscles and bones. The sixth bowl brings magic. I haven’t even had the seventh bowl, but I am already refreshed and feel a slight breeze under my arms." Effects of tea, Lu Tong's aesthetic pleasure of tea, and the artistic vibe and spiritual enjoyment of tea tasting are vividly expressed in the poem. Since then, literati from all eras would always quote Lu Tong and his "Song of Seven Bowls of Tea" in their writings and poems about tea. One who expresses his feelings through tea is known for his poem that is known because of tea.

The well-known "Song of Seven Bowls of Tea" not only represents Tang literati’s understanding and interpretation of tea but also those of literati from other eras. It depicts the physical and psychological feelings of tea drinking with the ultimate artistic expressions, which nothing compares before or since.


Regarding Lu Tong's contributions, people from Yixing have said that Lu Tong, the spokesman of Yangxian tea, could have been nominated for a lifetime achievement award. Since the Tang Dynasty, the line "the Emperor must taste Yangxian tea before hundreds of flowers dare bloom" in Lu Tong’s poem has become the best slogan of Yangxian tea of Yixing, of which Yixing people are proud. Research has found that Lu Tong was handed over the position of Mingling, a tea selecting officer of tribute tea, in the junction of Jiangsu and Zhejiang (both belong to Jiangnan), the birthplace of Tang Gong Yangxian tea. He first lived in Minglingya village in Changxing (Dongshan Mingdong, the first place in Zhejiang’s history where tea was planted; Prince Liu Xiu of the Han Dynasty once lived in Dongshan where tea was taught by youngsters; Lu Yu also once studied tea planting and wrote books there and called it the World’s First Tea). Finding the village’s scenery beautiful and full of tea fragrance, Lu Tong later decided to settle down and study tea there. Meng Jian, a good friend of Lu Tong, appointed as the governor of Changzhou, thought that Yangxian tea was better than Changxing tea. The debate between the two men contributed to Lu Tong's “Thanks to Meng Jian’s New Tea Gift to Lu Tong”. Lu Tong's descendants also lived there. (Yixing, originally under the governance of Changzhou, is now part of Wuxi).

In his poem, Lu Tong wisely responded to the debate with Meng Jian regarding which tea was better by saying "the Emperor must taste Yangxian tea before hundreds of flower dare bloom. Gentle breeze brushes through pearl-like tea buds, and golden buds sprout in the early spring. " He praised both Yangxian tea and Changxing golden buds tea and avoided conflicts.


Prior to Yangxian tea, Lu Tong preferred purple bamboo shoots and golden buds among Changxing tea. Yangxian tea from Yixing, and purple bamboo shoots and golden buds from Changxing were all tribute tea at the time. The two places were only tens of kilometers away. Their tea mountains were connected and were both considered the best of green tea.

The historical significance of Lu Tong's tea culture

Lu Tong's tea ceremony plays a significant role in the history of Chinese tea culture. Since “Song for Seven Bowls of Tea” came out, literati from all eras would always quote the poem in their writings about tea. Su Dongpo's "need not to take a pill from the Wei Emperor, just enjoy the seven bowls of tea with Lu Tong" is a representative example. There are also "three articles from Lu Yu , seven bowls of tea from Lu Tong ", "They say tea fragrance spreads thousands of miles, but who can compete with the seven bowls of tea", and so on. It is said that “Song of Seven Bowls of Tea” was widely spread in Japan and South Korea and that Lu Tong was considered the tea ancestor by Japanese and South Korean tea people. The poem has evolved into a "throat soothing, loneliness breaking, creativity searching, sweat making, muscles and bones relaxing, magic creating, and breeze feeling" Japanese tea ceremony. Lu Tong was highly thought of among Japanese people, and descendants of the Korean last name Lu also visited Luoyang and Jiyuan to find their roots. Lu Tong's fried tea ceremony and his role as the pioneer of Chinese tea culture have faded out and been forgotten by later generations due to historical reasons. With the rise of China's modern economy and cultural renaissance, Lu Tong's contributions to Chinese tea culture and world tea culture have been brought back to our attention by tea people and scholars. Inheriting and promoting Lu Tong's tea culture is a responsibility of tea people all around the world as well as a spiritual enjoyment!

Original Chinese version of the article published at: