Nature, tea harvest infuse Jingzhe rituals

Wu Huixin
Jingzhe, one of the 24 solar terms, falls on March 5 this year. It is traditionally the harbinger of insects awakening as the weather warms.
Wu Huixin

The ancient Chinese divided each year into 24 solar terms to mark the sun’s path through the sky as a guide for farming and weather. These embody the rhythms of nature, and the harmony between people and the physical world.

Today, solar terms still play an important role in agriculture. Jingzhe, also known as Insects Awaken, is the third solar term that falls on March 5 this year. It alludes to the fact that insects and animals sleeping in winter are awakened by spring thunder as the weather warms up.

On every Jingzhe, Wengjiashan Village in Hangzhou’s hilly area hosts a hanshan ritual to pray for a good harvest of Longjing tea.

Hanshan, which literally translates to “calling hills,” has its origins in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), a period when people demonstrated reverence for nature through the hosting of such rituals.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), tea culture reached its peak in Hangzhou, which in return gave a boost to the hanshan ritual. At the time, royal officials and farmers paid tributes to the God of Tea, struck drums and bells, and then shouted “Tea leaves sprout!” to stimulate the growth of tea trees.

The ritual has been passed down by generations. In modern days, it shows farmers’ respect of nature and hopes for a good harvest.

Nature, tea harvest infuse <i>Jingzhe</i> rituals
Ti Gong

Tea fields cover the hills in Hangzhou’s Wengjiashan Village.

Jingzhe also symbolizes the beginning of the preparation for picking Longjing tea. Wengjiashan Village is at the highest altitude of the hills in the Longjing production area. It boasts over 69 hectares of terraced tea fields. On Jingzhe, farmers clean tools and machines to prepare for the picking season.

Conventionally, when the new picking season begins, local farmers will host another ritual to honor Monk Biancai. In the Biancai Pavilion, the first glass of freshly fried Longjing tea will be brewed in front of the Biancai statue.

Biancai, a Buddhist master, is credited with the invention of Longjing tea. His practice of making tea for visiting scholars contributed to Hangzhou becoming a point of interest for travelers.

During the Song Dynasty, he spearheaded the efforts at Tianzhu Temple to clear hill slopes for tea cultivation, thereby establishing the foundation for the present-day Longjing tea plantations.

In 2011, the pavilion was rebuilt in the Ancient Longjing Imperial Plantation to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Biancai’s birthday. The plantation is home to the 18 oldest Longjing tea trees, whose leaves are carefully harvested and auctioned annually to support various social charities. At the auction in 2015, 100 grams of tea harvested from the 18 trees were sold for 145,600 yuan (US$20,224).

Nature, tea harvest infuse <i>Jingzhe</i> rituals
Ti Gong

People joyfully exclaim “Tea leaves sprout!” as a ritual to pray for a bountiful harvest of the year.

“Impacted by the chilly weather, the picking season might be delayed for a few days, “ said Sun Bin, Party secretary of Wengjiashan Village.

Following the official implementation of the Hangzhou West Lake Longjing Tea Protection Regulation in 2022 by the Hangzhou government, Wengjiashan has introduced special packaging to safeguard the authenticity of their Longjing tea.

Every company, workshop and farmer must apply for identification codes, which can be tracked on a big data platform. They are prohibited from transferring, giving away or loaning the codes to others.

The codes must also be clearly labeled on tea tins. To expand the market influence, every tin and bag made in Wengjiashan must use the same packaging.

Longjing, the country’s finest green tea, includes pre-Qingming tea, known as mingqian, as its most esteemed variety. Named for its harvest before the Qingming Festival on April 4 or 5, it stands as the most coveted choice among tea enthusiasts.

During the harvest season, tea leaves go through 10 hours of processing, including ventilating, drying, screening and frying, before being packaged in tins.

Frying tea leaves by hand is considered the core of processing, since hand-fried leaves are more aromatic than their machine-fried counterparts.

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