Accepted Paper:

Learning to value the taste: practice of marginalized tea producers in southern Fujian, China  


Ping Shu (Shandong University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the ways Chinese marginalized tea producers deal with their situation. It showcases that local tea producers comply with the reified taste in a struggle for bargaining power which ends up deeply embedding them in the de facto global hierarchy of value.

Paper long abstract:

The Chinese tea product from different planting areas is politically and culturally classified in terms of taste by the state, elite tea growing regions, tea merchants and consumers in urban cities. The village I investigated is located in a mountainous area in southern China and has developed tea agribusiness since the early 2000. It is marginalized in the tea development plans established by the local government at different levels (town, county and provincial level). Tea merchants are efficient and fundamental channels for villagers to access to the fluctuating market. Furthermore, tea merchants well know the knowledge of tasting and valuing a cup of tea and thus possess the initiative in the tea negotiations. In contrast, villagers lack such "tasting knowledge" as they describe, therefore they are eager to learn from the merchants. Based on the ethnographic research, I suggest that for villagers in these newly developed and marginalized areas, given limited political and economic resources, they want to achieve much more bargaining power through learning to find out tricks in tea negotiations, correctly making a cup of tea in everyday drinking practice and evaluate the tea product in terms of its flavor, smell, shape and color. However, their inferior status in the Chinese hierarchical tea system makes it's hard to realize their expectations.

Panel P091
Knowledge revealed and concealed: anthropologies of things unseen by the illiberal state