'Understanding wine by understanding tea': comparing the promotion of tea and wine drinking culture in contemporary China

 Zhang Jinghong

Just as tea occupies an important place in Chinese civilisation, so wine has associations with Western civilisation. Both have attracted cultures of connoisseurship and are surrounded by a sophisticated knowledge of plant cultivation, processing skills, and sensory experiences. In selling wine to the burgeoning Chinese market, foreign winemakers have therefore suggested that one might ‘understand how Chinese drink wine by understanding how Chinese drink tea’. This is based upon the fact that Chinese have drunk tea for a long time but have only begun to drink wine seriously in recent years.

Based on the findings of long-term ethnographic fieldwork on tea and recent investigations into wine in contemporary China, this paper compares discourses behind the promotion of these two commodities. By focusing on several recent tea and wine tasting rituals held in China’s littoral, eastern regions, the paper explore how such events are embedded in business practices, cultural performances, and cross-cultural adaptations. Although the two commodities represent a divide between ‘the traditional’ and ‘the modern’, popular tea and wine cultures ultimately share more similarities than differences. Both are set apart from the mundane and contribute towards a construction of the hyper-real, though both in fact mirror realistic concerns with the quality of daily life. The paper therefore argues that comparisons between the promotion of tea and wine offer insights into contemporary Chinese attempts to reconcile the traditional and the modern.

About the Speaker

Zhang Jinghong is a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World, ANU. She completed her PhD in anthropology at ANU in 2011. Her doctoral research explored how Puer tea, originating in Yunnan in southwest China, was manipulated into becoming a popular beverage in twenty-first century China. This work was published as Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic (University of Washington Press, 2014). She is working on a comparative project that explores social and cultural factors behind the rise of wine drinking in China.

After the Seminar

To allow for informal discussion, the seminar will be followed by a dinner with the guest speaker at 6:15pm. The location of the restaurant will be announced at the seminar. All are welcome, though those who attend will need to pay for their own food and drinks. As reservations must be made at the restaurant, please RSVP by noon of the day before the seminar to jasmine.lin@anu.edu.au

The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific, and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University.


Zhang Jinghong

Dates & times

Thursday, 27 August 2015

4.00pm - 5.30pm


Seminar Rooms, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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