All the Tea in China

Last week, the Boston Globe’s photography platform The Big Picture featured a collection of photos highlighting tea culture and production in China. Here’s the description:

According to a legend, tea was first discovered by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong in 2737 BC. Today, China is the world’s biggest tea producer, selling many varieties of tea leaves such as green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea and yellow tea. It is the most highly consumed beverage in the world. China still boasts many teahouses, particularly in cities with a strong teahouse culture such as Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Chengdu. Different regions are famous for growing different types of tea. Hangzhou is famous for producing a type of green tea called Longjing or the Dragon Well tea. Tea tastes also vary regionally. Drinkers in Beijing tend to prefer jasmine tea while in Shanghai prefer green tea. Processing raw tea leaves for consumption is a time and labor-intensive activity and still done by hand in many areas in China. The Chinese tea industry employs around 80 million people as farmers, pickers and sales people. Tea pickers tend to be seasonal workers who migrate from all parts of the country during harvest time. The pickers work from early morning until evening for an average wage of around 120 RMB (around 16 euros) a day. Tea can be sold from around 80 RMB (around 11 euros) to over 4,000 RMB (around 525 euro) per kilogram. In 2016, China produced 2.43 million tons of tea. Chinese people believe that the practice of brewing and drinking tea can bring the spirit and wisdom of human beings to a higher level.

And here’s just ONE of the numerous photos:

You can check out all the great photos here.

If you’re a tea lover, and interested in the history of tea in China, I highly recommend the China History Podcast 10-part series, The History of Tea. You can find links to all 10 podcasts on this page (start at the bottom).

Related Posts:

Stealing Tea and Saving Face

Sipping Tea from a Magazine

Tea and Games

Cultural Revolution Tea

Image credit: The Boston Globe

Beijing – Bursting at the Seams

A couple of weeks ago, Xinhua News Agency announced that the population of Beijing was more than 21 million:

Beijing’s population reached 21.15 million at the end of last year, 2.2 percent up on 2012, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics announced Thursday.


Permanent residents in the Chinese capital increased by 455,000 since the end of 2012.


Xia Qinfang, deputy head of the bureau, declared that Beijing’s population includes 8.03 million migrants who have been in the city for over half a year.


Beijing’s population has been growing more slowly since 2011, Xia said.

In case you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around what that means, perhaps this video clip of a subway station at rush hour will help:

(video by Beijing Cream)

Beijing hasn’t always been this crowded, though. Consider this chart showing the population growth since 1953:


 (image source: New Geography)

So, when I moved to Beijing in 1998, the population was just over 12 million, and when I left it was 20 million. That explains so much!

And if you’re want to read up on my adopted hometown, here are four of my favorite books on the history and growth of Beijing:

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, by Michael Meyer

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City, by Lillian M. Li, Alison Dray-Novey, and Haili Kong

Beijing: From Imperial Capital to Olympic City


City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China, by Jasper Becker

City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China

Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China (New York Review Books Classics) by Kidd, David published by NYRB Classics (2003), by David Kidd

Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China (New York Review Books Classics) by Kidd, David published by NYRB Classics (2003)

Happy Reading!








My Favorite China History Books

xichang city gate

To wrap up my week of posts on Chinese history, here are TEN of my favorite Chinese history books:

The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China’s War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900, by Diana Preston.

This is a riveting account of the madness that engulfed northern China at the turn of the century. 

City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China, by Jasper Becker

A great overview of the history of Beijing. I found it particularly interesting to read about the city in the early days of the People’s Republic of China. 

 God’s Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong XuQuan, by Jonathan Spence

This book tells the story of Hong Xuquan, a mid-19th century drifter who becomes convinced he is Jesus’ younger brother. Convinced that God has called him to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, he launches the Taiping Rebellion, which kills 20 million people. 

The Great Wall: China Against the World, by Julia Lovell

What we know as The Great Wall is actually a series of defensive structures that were built over thousands of years. This book helps set the record straight on many mythical stories about the Great Wall. 

 Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine, by Jasper Becker

In the late 1950’s Chairman Mao The Great Leap Forward, a collectivization campaign designed to speed up industrialization. It led to a famine that killed 30 million people. This book is the story of that famine. 

Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, by Peter HesslerThunder Out of China, by Thoodore H. White and Annalee Jacoby

Hessler uses the ancient oracle bones used for divination as a platform to explore the connections between ancient and modern China. 

Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now, by Jan Wong

Canadian-born Jan Wong went to China as a committed Communist in the 1970’s. This is her story of her journey from euphoria at participating in the revolution to disillusionment as she watched the assault on Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

The Search for Modern China, by Jonathan Spence

A good old-fashioned history book. Modern China, here, refers to the period from the 1600’s onward.

The Sextants of Beijing: Global Currents in Chinese History, by Joanna Waley-Cohen

This is a fascinating look at the history of China’s interaction with the outside world over the centuries. Hint — it began much earlier and was more extensive than most people think. 

Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, by Barbara Tuchman

This is a fascinating look at the American involvement in China in the first half of the 20th century. 

For a great list of NOVELS set within Chinese history, check out this list by my friend Amy, over at The Messy Middle.

What are YOUR favorite Chinese history books?

Two of My Favorite Things


tiananmen gate 2 (1 of 1)

I have lots of favorite things, but two that are right up there on the list are road trips and Chinese history.

Last week I found a way to combine those two loves by listening to episodes of the fantastic China History Podcast while driving across Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.

If you are  a Chinese history buff or just want an accessible way to learn a bit more, then this podcast is for you.

It is the brainchild of Lazlo Montomery, a businessman from Southern California (not originally, as you can tell by his accent) who started it for the joy of educating people about Chinese history. What’s not to love about that?

On this last road trip, I learned about the Kaifeng Jews, and knocked off the 10-part series on the History of Hong Kong. Trust me…it’s more interesting than you think it might be.

For my next road trip, I’ve got the 8-part History of the Cultural Revolution cued up.

You can listen to the podcasts directly from the website, or subscribe in iTunes.

I would love to have listened to these on our drive to Alaska in June, but Chinese history is NOT one of my sister’s and mom’s favorite things, so they put the kabash on that idea from the get-go.