Weng Shang Yi, Shi Feng Long Jing
Weng Shang Yi, now in his late 70′s, has been making Long Jing tea since he was 14. He has devoted his entire life to tea, earning the respect from both local tea fans and government officials alike. He has been actively involved in the tea producing business through Country Cooperation, organizations that handle the issues of farmers to create profit for all involved since the beginning of People’s Republic of China. During those days, Weng apprenticed students, and took part in government sponsored West Lake Long Jing competitions. After gaining many first place awards, he was elevated to Master status for being well known for using traditional techniques to create superior Long Jing.
While he is blessed to process tea in the beautiful Weng Jia Shan Village of West Lake in the central coastal province of Zhejiang, he was sent in 1975 sent by the Chinese government to the Guilin in Guangxi Province, to teach others to make green tea. Weng imparted his skill and knowledge to the Guilin people year after year selflessly, which promoted the rise and development of green tea in Guilin. The Guilin people under Weng’s tutelage produce 350g of superior tea considered as good as those made in Weng Jia Shan, and became a tribute tea as well.
The old saying, “behind every great man, there is a great woman” is especially true when describing Weng’s wife, Weng Jin Dong. Weng Shang Yi and Weng Jin Dong were classmates who played and studied together. In fact, she and Weng worked in Country Cooperation together where she became a fire controller. Before the invention of electric fire wok, the original fire wok to make Long Jing needed to be controlled by hand. Therefore, the importance of controlling the temperature of fire was essential to tea production. If the fire was too strong, the fresh leaves would be burned. If the fire was too weak, the leaves would have small red spots left. The quality of the tea depended not only on the excellent skill of the tea master, but also on the experienced fire controller.
Ms. Weng reflected that the difficult economic condition of the times made her job quite tough- working from 4am to 12 at night. Besides meal time, the only work for the controller was to squat in front of the kitchen range, endlessly controlling the fire, without stopping. It was her job to constantly ask the same questions “How is the fire?” until she got the approval. She said a good fire controller could look after 4 woks at a time. After long periods of time squatting, she would stand to watch the tea masters to learn how they made tea. As time went by, partnering with Mr. Weng, she began to learn about making Long Jing green tea, and then she began to make it and eventually became a good tea maker. As she developed deeper feelings with Mr. Weng, they tied the knot.
After over sixty years of processing Long Jing, Mr. Weng reflects on his experience and the future of traditional tea production. When asked if he continued to enter competitions he said comfortably, “I am too old for that. I haven’t participated in that stuff since I was 60. As an old hat, I should let go of these chances and give them to the youngsters. I teach them how to make tea, and then encourage them to participate in competitions and show what they’ve learned.”
Only making good tea is the basis of promoting the development of Long Jing. Although he has taught many apprentices, most of them are afraid of the hardship of making Long Jing. Many have turned to selling Long Jing rather than making it due to the profit in the Long Jing market. Mr. Weng is strongly opposed to the auction of West Lake Long Jing- he feels the way to maintain the market is to continue to consistently make high quality tea. Next year Mr. Weng’s deaf grandson, who will graduate from the University in Beijing, has promised to give up city life to come back to his hometown to learn the skill of making Long Jing in the traditional way. Mr. Weng’s smile brightens when talking about his grandson. During a recent interview on Zhejiang Province TV, Mr. Weng remarked, “I am from a village, not good at speaking literal words, but I can represent the making of Long Jing for you. Through this, I would like to advocate the importance of making traditional Long Jing green tea to the younger generation. As long as you can overcome the difficulties and work hard, never be afraid of being harmed or burnt, you can carry forward this skill. [Even after over 60 years of making this tea, Mr. Weng can still burn his hand] Although the job is tough, it has been passed down by our ancestors, so we need to maintain it and carry the torch for the future.”