• Rosenberg Scholar Presents The Power of Po-Er: Tea’s History in China

3/5/2009

The Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies kicked off its Spring 2009 Visiting Scholar series with Professor Peter Perdue of Yale University.   On Tuesday, February 24, Perdue spoke to a packed room of students and faculty in Archer 110 on his research in Chinese economic history, a talk titled “From the Hills of the Salon White House: Chinese Tea in the World Market”.

Professor Yong Xue of Suffolk’s History Department introduced Perdue, putting his visit in the context of the university’s efforts to develop its Asian Studies programming.    Xue, who also serves on the Asian Studies Committee, spoke of the place of East Asian Studies at Suffolk in his four years here:  “Boston is the best place in the U.S. to study East Asia… and Suffolk is in the center of Boston!”   Introducing Perdue, Xue called the multi-lingual, Harvard-trained scholar a “global historian,” in that he examines not only his specialty, but its connectedness to other regional and international histories.

Perdue, former chair of MIT’s History Department, used his empirical expertise to take his audience through the history of tea in Chinese trade, politics and culture.  “The story of tea is the story of trade and colonialism,” said Perdue, highlighting its use as an economic tool for Chinese governments to gain control of neighboring territories.  He linked the beginnings of tea crops in 16th century China and the 19th century’s competition with Britain’s tea plantations in India, to today’s ecological concerns about the “greenness” of its agricultural and processing techniques.  Perdue also illuminated the differences between black and green teas and the importance of their trade in China’s economy, as historically valuable as silk and porcelain exports to the West. 

The tea variant Po-Er was the focus of Perdue’s talk. Po-Er is a highly-prized specialty tea that is molded into a sphere, and packaged reverently in a leather box.  “To some, it tastes like a dose of Chinese medicine,” Perdue explained, using vocabulary like a sommelier enthusiastically discussing wine.  But its popularity, in addition to its alleged health benefits, is proving a boon to China’s economy today.  Perdue concluded, “Po-Er shows that China is getting a world-class reputation for tea, again.”

This is event was presented by the Barbara and Richard M. Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies.  For more information regarding the Institute, please visit http://www.suffolk.edu/college/30058.html.

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