Book: Tea Production, Land Use Politics, and Ethnic Minorities

I’m free! That is, I’ve finished another harrowing term. I mistakenly thought I would have more free time, and went a little overboard at the library. At least I’ve finished one book.

Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic focuses primarily on the rise and fall of pu’er tea from the 1970s until the boom and fall in 2007. Although it details the changing landscape in the rest of Yunnan at the time, the book focuses primarily on how these changes affected the residents of the village of Yiwu. I bring this up because Po-Yi Hung’s work focuses, similarly, on the village of Mangjing, Yunnan, and the resident’s relationship with Jingmai Mountain.

A large portion of the populace here is Bulang, and much like PT:AC&UC, this book follows the changes the town underwent leading up to, during, and directly after the pu’er tea boom in 2007. Because of this, I feel it’s a good follow-up read to those that picked up Jinghong Zhang’s book and wanted to learn a bit more.

The ‘story’ begins with the rise and fall of the communist party, and how the redistribution of forested land affected the township. The book further details how the state encouraged the transformation of their forests into ‘modern’ terrace tea gardens, followed by the influx of Taiwanese entrepreneurs in the 1990s. From here, more emphasis was put on preserving the ancient tea forests, but their value wasn’t fully realized until the crash in 2007.

The book also details the 50-year contract made between Mangjing (by the state) and a Taiwanese entrepreneur, wherein all tea picked would be exclusively sold to him. I think I found this the most interesting, and it’s a shame that the book uses all pseudonyms. Hung states that there is extensive work written about him, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find anything. At least not with English search parameters. Another interesting topic is the exploration of ‘ancestor worship’, or the recovered ceremonies following Pia Ai Leng, Mangjing’s ‘tea ancestor’.

The book itself is written to explore the human geography of the region (the concept of ‘frontier’, using the transformation of ancient tea forests, and the relationship between the Bulang and the Han Chinese); it’s important to keep that in mind, because the first chapter and the last section of each chapter details how the history and interactions explored relate to the thesis. I admit I don’t understand human geography (or geography much in general), so a lot of it went over my head or felt very philosophical. But there is a lot of interesting history and relationships described in the book, and I think it’s worth picking up.

That said, English is not Hung’s first language, and that does make the book a bit difficult to follow at times; there is a LOT of repetition. If you took that all out, the book would be much shorter. There’s a lot I really liked about this book, and a lot I really liked about PT:AC&UC. There aren’t many English books on pu’er tea, so I grab what I can.

I would like to find more information on the 50 year contract (‘Lincai’ is the pseudonym used in the book) if I could; I wish more ‘tea’ magazines talked about these sorts of histories, because I think that’s the only resource that might cover this.

The two books also discuss the different types of tea gardens, and I wouldn’t mind sitting down with both books and writing something up. Zhang discusses three: the ancient tea forest, the terrace garden, and the pollarded (or wild arbor) garden; Hung mentions ancient tea forests, terrace gardens, and the ecological garden.

But in other news, my sister was particularly perceptive and snagged me a book off my wishlist:

Pictured with my library checkout.

I may have felt up some of the gifts before-hand and noticed one of particular book-like heft and bendibility about a week prior. I suspected it was either Tea or Liquid Jade.

And in final news, as I was proof-reading this, my order from White2Tea arrived; I ordered it back on Black Friday and was actually getting a little worried. I grabbed 2015 Brown Sugar, and 2016 Poundcake, and was gifted a sample of Little Red. White has no information included with it and isn’t listed on the website. HMM.

  • Availability: Amazon for $55US and up


  1. Little Red is good.
    I’m intrigued by the landscape types you mentioned in your review of the puer book. I’ll search my local library for a copy.

  2. Agriculture and its impact on land use is really an interesting topic.
    This is an “old” problem but one to which no one has so far found a solution.

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