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Tiny Ceremony: The Study of The Dematerialization of Chinese Teaism

Dematerialization is the process about minimizing form and even depriving physical existence while remaining the core experience at the same time. The form of experience is gradually reduced due to historical context and people’s needs in different era. The experience is improved through the process of dematerialization in some time in the history.

Teaism, also known as tea ceremony, originates from Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) in China. Teaism is an experience includes exploring the spiritual world and enjoying the comforts of life. Chinese people believe that the ideal effect of Teaism can lead people to a peaceful status and then arouse the pondering about life, human, and philosophy of the universe, such as Taoism, Confucianism.

Teaism is an elaborate process including the art of tea, the environment and tea sets, the etiquette of drinking tea, and the social role of tea. All the elements are dematerialized with historical context changing in China. It is more available, individual, faster and lighter in current time. This represents people’s universal desire of pursuing convenience, equality and individualization. Nevertheless, the core experience, brewing, and processing tea, haven’t been changed or disappeared. 

The art of tea, which indicates the procedure and action of making tea, has been simplified to a great extent. In this information era, the pace of life inevitably becomes faster. People are spending shorter time on everything, in comparison with ancient time. For example, Tang Dynasty is one of the two richest imperial dynasties in Chinese history. It was in Tang Dynasty that people invented tea ceremony because of having leisure time and money. The Song Dynasty was even richer than Tang, where the art of tea was quite complicated. Back then, the tea ceremony included crushing the cake of tea, grinding tea into powder, sifting the powder, putting it into a bowl, adding hot water and whisking the tea. When it came to Ming and Qing Dynasty, the tea of art was famous as Kungfu Cha. It no longer needs the cake of tea and was replaced by more natural tealeaves. The process includes warming the pot and cup, bathing the tea with hot water, pouring out the first brew, brewing the tea and serving. Nowadays, people can just put the tealeaves or flowers on the top container, adding hot water, waiting for a short brewing period and drink tea.

The process of making tea is reduced from a huge system to a one-step action. However, the experience of making tea hasn’t changed too much. It still symbolizes leisure. People feel comfort when looking at the tealeaves unfolding, floating up and down in the water.

The environment and wares of the tea ceremony are dematerialized with the art of tea, especially the tea set is minimized because the process is simplified. This indicates the trend of all physical product design. People naturally pursue the convenience and coziness, which leads most of the interface and package of the product become more succinct and understandable. The interface of the tea ceremony is tea set.

The quantity of tea set is extremely reduced and the space of drinking tea is more variable based on the dematerialization. In Tang and Song Dynasty, people need at least grinder, sifter, kettle, whisk, numerous cup and bowls for each step, and it was common to have a specialized room and table just for tea ceremony. From this moment on, tea lovers had the habit called “raising the pot”, they drenched the purple clay pot with the overflowing tea water every time they drink tea. The pot would be more polished, shimmering a glow after a considerable period.

In Ming and Qing Dynasty, people drank tea in a specific room and only with clay teapot, tea wash and cups on a special tray. The tray was used to contain the extra water from washing tea and tea set. It was big enough to hold all the tea set at that time.

Today, tea making can happen in one simple cup with the infuser on the top of it. This allows people to make tea almost in one step: pouring the water to the infuser with tealeaves or flower, waiting for brewing, removing the infuser and drinking. Besides, people use glass tea ware more often. It is physically and visually lighter than clay and iron. That means fewer people, except the connoisseurs, keep the habit of raising clap pot. Tea table and tea tray were replaced by a piece of thin bamboo tea pad, which can be rolled and stored when not using. The interface of the tea ceremony is the lighter and independent teaware, yet it still keeps the sense of ceremony, the tiny ceremony. Tiny ceremony allows users drink tea almost anywhere with much shorter preparation, and drinkers are not necessary to have any knowledge before their first brewing.

 The etiquette of drinking tea has been condensed with the art of tea simultaneously. The heavy etiquette is dematerialized in the process of pursuing the equality among people. The idea of Teaism first appeared in the Chinese ancient palace. When people were drinking tea with the emperor, they had to show respect and thankfulness through kneeling and kowtow. After Qing Dynasty, knocking the table with a knuckle to the person who served you tea was regarded as a formal courtesy in Teaism, which has remained up to now. In addition, people can just say thanks or nod heads to express their gratitude.

The action of knocking table is actually simplified from the action of kowtow. The purpose of thanking has not changed, yet the hierarchy of identity and the form of inequality are totally discarded. This also implies that tea ceremony is much more available and common among ordinary people. However, people still keep the elegance and politeness when drinking tea with others, which is also part of the Teaism experience.

The social impact of Teaism has changed. The form of social activity shifted to a more individual action. That’s one of the design trends, everything become more personal, private and customized. Through design, those big factories and professional services gradually walk into the public daily life, live in the home and even on the desk.

In Song Dynasty, it was very popular that people made tea together and competed the flavor and tea bubble they made (pic 4). Then, with a more casual way of making tea, people drank tea when they were having a conversation or pondering alone. Today, it becomes so casual and common for various reasons, such as healthier lifestyle, relaxing stress, bringing peace and family custom. From Song till today, tea ceremony transferred from a sizeable social activity to a simple daily habit, just like American’s coffee. Modern people don’t have much time and space to set up the entire environment to brew the drink and chat with friends. Also, We are more likely to enjoy the leisure comfort alone, such as reading the book, watching TV and freelancing at home, that is where tea lives now.

The dematerialization of Teaism reflects the changes of Chinese society and common people’s lives, which is based on both practical and cultural context. This eventually reveals the trends of design for the changing needs. Things are designed to be more available to achieve, easier to learn, faster to consume and more flexible to choose.

I designed a Portable Meat Farm for the future home. It is an electrical appliance in the future to grow meat at home. Based on my research on Micro Farming, I have found that people tend to favor extreme organic and healthy food. People’s trusts on supermarkets, farms and authorizations are gradually lost. By farming at home, people can apply food autonomy so as to have an ideal health and transparent information. This device can help users plant customized meat at home by using the nutrition from trusted organic food and additional animal cell nutrition. Users can enjoy the healthiest organic meat, without feeling guilty of killing animals.

This design dematerializes the material, land and risk that cost in the farming process. Meanwhile, it dematerializes the negative feeling of eating meat through killing animals.

Nevertheless, will the path of dematerialization bounce in the future?

Take coffee as an example. The role of coffee is quite similar to tea in American culture. The invention of capsule coffee machine symbolizes the extreme dematerialization of coffee making process. The popularity of coffee store also provides affordable but relatively high-quality coffee. However, many people stick to using vacuum coffee maker, French press, and another coffee makers to perform their tiny domestic coffee ceremony. Sometimes less is more but sometimes simple is boring. Thus, I think the answer is “YES”. Actually we can find some existing cafe where people are promoting the tea and coffee through performing the process of making.

The trend of dematerialization behind many experiences is inevitable. However, as an industrial designer, I believe in the value of physical objects and the beauty of weightiness. The material and manufacturing or crafting process of an object naturally tell the story with no-word language. The energy cost in the process is the elaborate flavor of tea; the scratch left on the object is the luster of the aged clay pot; the meditating time spent in the Teaism experience is an independent mental treasure.

In the future, more and more people will be willing to go back to the period before dematerialization and minimization. Dematerialization will be the sifter, which helps to eliminate all the unnecessary complexity. Then we will discover and redesign the authentic aesthetics through human’s wisdom.



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