Chapter 2: Tensions under the Bloom

From: Puer Tea

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55 Chapter 2 Tensions under the Bloom Since he is in jianghu, he could do nothing but follow the law of jianghu.­ —Paraphrased from a Chinese proverb: Ren zai jianghu, shen bu you ji. Iarrived in Yiwu at dusk one day in early March 2007 to start my fieldwork . After four hours on the bus from Jinghong along winding mountain routes, I was tired and hungry. Accommodation was unexpectedly hard to find. Most of the local guesthouses were full, and when I finally found one with a room, even after tough bargaining, the monthly rent was twice that of a good apartment in Kunming. While I ate dinner at a restaurant along the main street, I noticed that several houses nearby were under construction. Although it was evening, trucks and cars were still passing by, kicking up dust. As I watched the busy road, I wondered whether Yiwu’s booming business was largely a result of the Quality Safety Standard, a regulation issued by the state government around 2006 to standardize the tea production process. The next day I went to visit Mr. Zheng, an old man whom I had met one year earlier. I recalled that his house was pleasant and large, with several separate rooms, an open yard with a small table for eating and drinking tea, a lovely front door framed with orange flowers on a vine, and a long stairway leading down from the house to the street. His house, however, seemed to have disappeared. Fortunately, while looking for the house, I ran into Mr. Zheng, who recognized me and invited me in. The house still stood in its original place, but the stairs, front door, and orange flowers had all disappeared, replaced by a paved slope for the convenience of tea transport, according to Mr. Zheng. Five meters away, a pickup truck was parked under a tree. Mr. Zheng’s family house was also greatly transformed. Two-thirds of the internal spaces, which used to comprise several bedrooms and one living 56  x  Tensions under the Bloom room, were segmented into smaller units for tea processing on a production line. There were individual rooms for storing, sorting, pressing, and drying tea leaves and cakes, and a dressing and cleaning room for workers. The size of the rooms ranged from about 4 to 10 square meters. Only one-third of the original house was left for living spaces. Bedrooms were in short supply and could not accommodate guests, even immediate family members who came home to visit. I lamented the narrowing of the Zheng family’s living quarters, but Mr. Zheng said that only in this way could he meet the Quality Safety Standard without building another tea-processing house elsewhere. Another building would have cost more than ten times as much as he had invested in renovating his house. Puer tea production in Yiwu is divided into two stages: rough processing and fine processing. Rough processing includes harvesting the tea, killing the green (stir-roasting tea leaves to suppress fermentation), and rolling and drying the leaves. The final product at this stage—​ loose dried tea leaves—​ is called maocha. In fine processing, maocha is steamed, shaped by hand in a cloth bag, pressed with a stone, dried, and packed. Before the Quality Safety Standard came into force, these procedures, except tea harvesting, were all done at local family houses. Processing areas were not routinely separated, and processing occurred under the same roof where people lived and chickens were kept. Starting around 2004, the National Administration of Quality Supervision launched a series of standards to bring more food products into line with a stricter set of market standards. Accordingly, the Yunnan Provincial Supervision Bureau of Technology and Quality began to draft the Quality Safety Standard on tea in 2005.1 While it was rumored that this was just a new way of collecting additional taxes from the growing Puer tea industry , formal documents declared that all the requirements were significant in assuring that tea is processed in a clean and safe environment (Zhang Shungao and Su Fanghua 2007: 207). What the standard actually aims to regulate is fine processing. It has strict requirements for processing sites, scale, and facilities. For example, it requires that processing sites be at least fifty meters away from refuse dumps, farm animals, and hospitals, at least one hundred meters away from fields where pesticides are applied, and even farther from industrial areas; that processing areas be a certain minimum Tensions under...


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