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The Metallic Spirit of a Tea Scholar

October 26, 2009


bronze_lu_yu_closeupOne thing that I find interesting about nearly all of the portrayals I’ve seen of Lu Yu, the 8th century Chinese writer of the Cha Jing (茶經, “Classic of Tea”), is that they are so consistent in style. He is almost always seated and shown with a teapot to one side of him on an integral, raised platform part of the structure he is seated on. I have seen some “tea mascots” in the form of Lu Yu in which the teapot is absent because the sculptural platform is intended as a resting place for an actual functional teapot during the Gongfu Cha session. While in use, the effect is essentially the same, despite the difference in scale from the typical scholar/teapot ratio. Portrayals of Lu Yu also invariably give him the traditional Tang Dynasty hairstyle with topknot, long hair and long beard.

On the other hand, the ways that Lu Yu is identified in English are not so consistent. He gets called anything from a “tea scholar” to a “tea immortal” to a “tea god,” generally accompanied by a reference to him as the writer of the Cha Jing, but sometimes he is recognizable only by his affiliation with tea and his image and accoutrements.


As a sculpture of Lu Yu, the piece pictured in the accompanying photographs is more than a little strange, but it uses the same basic elements as most of the other examples. Its difference is in the omission of a whole lot of traditionally important elements, like arms, legs and a body. The person from whom I bought this sculpture identified it as a copper 18th century “tea god,” which is not terribly accurate on any level. I can only speculate on its actual age, but it appears likely to be mid-twentieth century. I wasn’t looking for authenticity as an 18th century artifact, particularly at the price I bought it for, so this is of little concern aside from my desire to know the sculpture’s history. It’s made of bronze, not pure copper, and is an individually cast piece, not a mass-produced piece from a mold. It measures 4″ end to end and is about 2.5″ at its tallest point, which makes it pretty comparable in size to most of the ornamental figures that sit on tea tables, but I don’t know if that is what it was made for.

bronze_lu_yu_sealThe artist’s/manufacturer’s seal on the bottom is in a style of characters that looks to be very old-styled script and stylized, like a lot of seals on cast metal Chinese antiques. This is not an indication of age, and I have yet to find a good source for decoding these seals. It looks so dissimilar to modern Hanzi (Chinese characters) I may even have photographed it upside-down, in which case I’ll be a little embarrassed.

There are some additional photographs of the sculpture on Lu Yu’s fan page on Facebook.

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