Early Chinese photographers, notably Lai Fong (c. 1839–1890) and Tung Hing (active 1870s), portrayed the tea fields of the Wuyi Mountains amid the expansive valleys. Without tea farmers or any human subjects, these photographs highlight the environmental conditions that nurtured the high-quality black tea and invite further consumption of Wuyi landscape and its natural resources. My project explores the historical juncture when photographing Wuyi coincided with the rising global demand for tea consumption. Around the mid-nineteenth century, European powers forced the Chinese to reveal the secret of tea production and cultivation. In 1848, Wuyi tea trees and seeds were studied and smuggled by Robert Fortune (1812–1880) into India. As a foreign species, Wuyi tea had significant ramifications on the different environments, ecosystems, and people’s everyday life in many places where it was introduced. Yet, few scholars have noticed Wuyi photographs, not to mention their ecological implications in the context of imperialism and international trade. My research shows how early Chinese photographers offered their Western customers an exotic window on the origin of black tea. I use these photographs to examine the relationship between topography, local tea culture, imperialism, and growing economic interests in tea.
Yu-chuan Chen, Oakland University, United States
About the Presenter(s)
Professor Yu-chuan Chen is a University Assistant Professor/Lecturer at Oakland University in United States
See this presentation on the full schedule – Monday Schedule