1) A revolution in the history of tea took place during the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644) when Emperor Tai tzu( or first Emperor Hongwu) abolished the tribute of Chien-an caked tea from Fujian Province in 1391. He forbade further production of caked tea and changed from powdered tea to tea leaves. During the Ming Dynasty tea leaves were added to boiled water and steeped which is similar to the way we make tea today.
2) Shi DaBin made the High Lantern-shaped Zisha Hu in the 35th Year of Wanli’s reign(1607) . The Shi DaBin Pot was excavated from the grave of Zhang Guang Kai in Doubo village of Dayan Town in Zezhou County, Jinchen City, Shanxi in 1987.
3) Hui Meng Chen made Zisha Pots in Tianqi period and one of his possible Pots is the Tianqi 7th Year Reign High Lantern-shaped Zisha Hu in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
4) Late Ming Zisha Hu historian Zhou GaoQi wrote the book- An Account of YangXian Teapots- but did not mention Hui Meng Chen.
5) Hui Meng Chen made the revolutionary small Zhuni Pots in Shunzhi period(after Zhou GaoQi’s death in 1646) and one of his very possible and earliest small Zhuni Pots is Ren Fu Collection Pot No:387.
6) The rise of Zhuni Hu began in Early Kangxi.(see Pot No:249)
7) The rise of Gong Fu Tea culture started in around the 18th century or Early Kangxi( see picture of Gong Fu tea wares of PotNo:249)
8) Hui Yi Gong made Pots in Late Kangxi and Yongzheng( like Pot No:548 or 524 or 412 or 640)
9) The rise of Santoh Zhuni Hu in Yongzheng.
10) Pan-Hu made his early Pots in Yongzheng and paid his respect to Hui Meng Chen(see Pot No:683 with poem to Meng Chen)
11) In Empeor Qian Long 8th and 13th Year Reigns, commemoration Hui Meng Chen Pots were made, very likely in Jingdezhen, to commemorate the great works of Hui Meng Chen which indicate Emperor Qian Long might be an ardent fan of Hui Meng Chen.
Note: We believe, based on our thousands of teapots and tea wares, that Hui Meng Chen inspired the creation of Gong Fu Tea culture and Gong Fu Tea culture, in return, helped make Hui Meng Chen the household name he was.( as proven by the fact that most of Pre-Daoguang Gong Fu Tea sets contain Meng Chen Zhuni Hu copies)
Development of Tea Culture
People in China knew how to grow the best tea plants before Lu Yu’s time in the Tang Dynasty and they knew how to make cakes or bricks from the best tea leaves and grind them into powder to make tea using crude tea utensils in the Tang and Song Dynasties . As their knowledge grew and improved, so too have their art and techniques of making and drinking tea. The evolution or changes in tea making and tea drinking can be observed from the Tang Dynasty where powdered tea was boiled with herbs and infused and poured into a bowl to be drunk from, to the Song Dynasty where water was poured into a bowl of powdered tea, whisked and then drunk and to the Ming Dynasty where a revolution in the history of tea took place where production of caked tea was forbidden by Royal Decree and powdered tea changed into tea leaves in which the latter were added to boiled water and steeped which is very similar to the way we make tea today. The first Ming Emperor being a former monk and the son of poor parents decreed that even commoners must enjoy in the tea culture making tea an egalitarian pursuit not only of the elites and privileged but also of the commoners. Then in the Transition Period( Chongzhen to Shunzhi), that was in the Shunzhi Reign a Potter by the name of Hui Meng Chen saw a different way of making Yixing Teapot in terms of shape, size and form and created his trademark style of small Zhuni Hu which was made of pure Zhuni clay, the most superior or the best of Zisha clays, to its perfection and later demand for the small Zhuni Pots exploded or soared either as a fashion statement and/or a new superior and more sophisticated Pot which became the trend in tea drinking. In the Early Qing(Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qian Long) tea culture developed further and saw tea drinking at its best not only in tea but also in tea utensils. The tea leaves to water ratio became higher in a small Zhuni teapot making the tea richer, stronger and fresher to be enjoyed by people of refined taste and also popular taste which it did when Hui Meng Chen’s small Zhuni Pot inspired the art of tea drinking ritual called Gong Fu Tea in which the highest so-called Gong Fu Tea Art used the finest tea wares.(see pictures of Ren Fu Collection’s excavated Gong Fu Tea wares). The four Congou Treasures were Yushuwei(a kettle for boiling water), Chaoshanhong stove(a kind of burner), Meng Chen Teapot(a small pottery teapot) and Ruochenou(a small teacup). The very prosperous Early Qing not only saw greater and more affordable access to Zhuni Hus the production of which peaked in Qian Long’s reign making Gong Fu tea also an affordable pastime to be enjoyed by all-aristocracies, literati and the common folks.( we called the 3 People’s: People’s Tea; People’s Potter and People’s Pot) Then came the deteriorating economic situations of Jiaqing and Daoguang reigns when the more affordable Santoh Zhuni teapots became popular and Zhuni Teapots became more expensive and Nande. So Early Qing saw not only the Golden Age of Tea, it also saw the Golden Age of Zhuni Hu in which Zhuni Hu was King( The Golden of Zisha Hu was Late Ming). In simple terms, the Early Qing witnessed the Golden Age of Tea and Zhuni Hu and even the Golden Age of Gong Fu Tea. In the Early Qing as well as in the Ming Dynasty, the custom of tea-drinking had extended to all rank and file: Gong Fu or Congou Tea could be used for family life displayed to guests to show host’s politeness,exhibited before Gods as sacrifices, employed at marriages and funerals, adopted to settle disputes or disagreements, utilized to improve and strengthen friendships, that is, tea drinking could satisfy all kinds of human physiological and social needs. It was no more the monopoly of the nobles, wealthy class of society but a fair and popular egalitarian pursuits of society (Today Gong Fu Tea uses Fake or inferior teapots due to the fact that Zhuni clays went extinct in 1973 and so its difficult to find pure Zhuni teapots to make tea and Old Zhuni Pots are very expensive).
This revolution in tea drinking did not escaped the attention of the West and other countries like Japan. In fact tea, Zisha teapots and tea wares like ceramic teacups and dishes caused an European chinoiserie craze that peaked in the reign of Emperor Qian Long and continued right until the economic downturn in Daoguang when China was invaded by Foreign Powers mainly because of tea and also two big Wars were fought over it namely the Opium Wars and the American War of Independence, making tea the most poignant and profound beverage unlike any other beverages in the world at that time(some people said it’s a beverage to die for). We know after you have travelled this far back in history or the “time tunnel” you might be tempted, not unreasonably, to call Hui Meng Chen “ The Father of Zhuni Pot” or “ The Father of Gong Fu Tea” but be patient and wait a while because there are a lot more about this greatest of Potter that we do not know and therefore have to explore more to as far as we can go with Ren Fu Collection’s archaeological discoveries that are found nowhere else in the world.
(Note: Before the creation of the Zisha Teapot, all tea utensils were subservient to tea meaning tea was the most precious and most important but after Zisha Hu was created, Zisha Hu took on an irreplaceable and priceless art form where aesthetic and utility meet ).
John Ng’s Evolution of the Shi DaBin High Lantern-shaped Zisha Hu
We pay a timely tribute to John Ng by mentioning the aptly contribution of John Ng’s theory of the Evolution of the Shi DaBin High Lantern-shaped Zisha Hu to the discourse on Hui Meng Chen. Among the many takes on Hui Meng Chen, this constitutes another angle to look at the works of the Old Master Potter. The size, shape and style of Zisha Pots were/are constantly changing depending on the whims and fancy or the muse/inspiration of the Old / Contemporary Potter at the moment of his/her Potting. Here we applied John Ng’s theory of evolution of Pots to great effect when we consider how Hui Meng Chen must have felt in Late Ming Tianqi reign(1621-1627) copying Shi DaBin’s High Lantern-shaped Zisha Hu that Shi DaBin made in 1607. That Zisha Pot he copied from Shi DaBin is now found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.Not satisfied with being an underdog and living under the shadow of great Potters before him drove Hui Meng Chen to reach for the sky. And reach for the sky or greatest heights Hui Meng Chen did when he saw the superior quality of Zhuni clay and made his revolutionary Zhuni Pot which later became de rigueur in Early Qing. Unfortunately Zhou GaoQi did not lived to see Hui Meng Chen’s revolutionary small Zhuni Hu and therefore did not mention Hui Meng Chen in his book, “An Account of YangXian Teapots”.We, on behalf of every learners, thank teacher John Ng for his scholarly contribution and hope he will contribute more honest, scholarly discourses on Old Zisha Hu in the future,(to counter Fake facts and Fake stories spread and perpetuated by organized fraudsters)
John Ng 对时大彬高灯笼紫砂湖的演变:
我们适时地向John Ng致敬，提到John Ng的《时大彬高灯笼型紫砂壶的演变》理论对惠孟臣的恰当贡献。在众多关于惠孟臣的作品中，这构成了另一个角度来看待老陶艺大师的作品。紫砂壶的大小、形状和风格一直在变化，这取决于老陶工/当代陶工在陶艺创作时的心血来潮和幻想或灵感。在这里，我们运用了John Ng的壶的演变理论，产生了巨大的影响，当我们考虑到惠孟臣在明末天启（1621-1627）临摹时大彬1607年所作的高灯笼形紫砂壶时，他临摹时大彬的紫砂壶现在在英国伦敦的维多利亚和阿尔伯特博物馆被发现时，惠孟臣不满足于自己是一个失败者，生活在伟大陶艺家的阴影下，驱使惠孟臣走向天空世界。惠孟臣看到了朱泥的优良品质，制作了自己的革命朱泥壶，后来在清初成为了一种习惯，于是他就达到了登天或登天的高度。遗憾的是，周高起生前没有见到惠孟臣的革命小朱泥壶，因此在他的《阳羡茶壶史》一书中也没有提到惠孟臣，我们代表每一位学习者感谢John Ng老师的学术贡献，希望他能更诚实地贡献自己的一份力量，未来关于紫砂壶的学术论述（以对抗有组织的欺诈者传播和延续的假事实和假故事）。