Beginning this March, I’m planning to take you on a journey through some of China’s most remote and ancient tea localities. With aid from a Fulbright Research Grant, I will travel across China, exploring a wide-range of tea growing regions in provinces such as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Fujian, and Yunnan.
My interest in China began during my freshman year at Kenyon College, where I began studying classical Chinese. Since then, I’ve studied Mandarin quite intensely, attending several Middlebury College immersion programs both in the US and in China. Throughout the summer of 2008, I was also fortunate enough to conduct environmental research in China’s Yunnan, Shanxi, and Sichuan provinces.
At the crux of my research is a longing to better make sense of the the balance between China’s massive economic growth and its rapid environmental deterioration; I will analyze these effects of China’s swift modernization through the lens of China’s ancient-rooted tea industry. Fortunately, I will be guided by the advice of Mr. Xiaoning Wang, Secretary General of the World Tea Union. He will help me investigate how China’s market economy reforms have improved the Chinese tea industry and in what ways they have been detrimental. Extremely concerned by the environmental impact of China’s astonishing growth, I will pay particularly close attention to how pesticides, chemical fertilizers, severe pollution, and an emphasis on high-yield production are currently affecting the cultivation of camellia sinensis (the tea plant) in China today.
As China places an ever-stronger emphasis on higher-yielding tea production, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are becoming more commonplace. The problem with high-yield, chemical fertilizer production is that it isn’t sustainable. Chemical fertilizers erode the quality of the soil, making it difficult, if not impossible, to continue cultivation on chemical-ridden plots of land. The problem with chemical pesticides is that they are poisonous and cannot be washed from tea leaves like those on a piece of fruit, which isn’t to suggest that fruit doesn’t absorb pesticides. So, when a person drinks tea for its many health benefits, he or she might actually be poisoning him or herself. These factors combined with exponentially higher rates of air, water, and soil pollution, present grave threats to the longevity and integrity of China’s tea.
Known as the birthplace of tea, China has long brought to the world many of its finest and highest quality teas, but China’s current trend of modernization poses many hazards to the vitality of Chinese tea. Now, more than ever, China’s cammelia sinsensis, its land, and the people who wish to preserve their culture, canonized commodity, and employment need our relief. Project Releaf is striving to find it.
By Andrew Stein