-by Ernie Diaz
As boring a subject as the short-sighted think it, geology forges destiny. And the more violent a geological beginning, as a rule, the more pleasant man finds the after-effects, a few eons later. You wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near northern Fujian three million years ago, what with all the deep seismic faults, and volcanic activity making the place as unstable as a U.S. client state.
But today the Wuyi mountains are just gorges, erosion being much kinder to red sandstone than to all that uninspired loess up in North China. They have long been a barrier to the dry, windy north, keeping out the cold and trapping the warm moisture of the South China Sea. They even kept out those pesky Han for a good long while, the Mingyue empire of native tribes still viable after their official conquering, thanks to the difficulty of Han minions in scaling the beautiful, unwieldy barrier.
Not that Wuyi will be snatching the crown for most beautiful Chinese erosion anytime soon, the honors long having been granted to Guilin. Still, there is that about Wuyi, reflective where Guilin is sedate, inspiring where Guilin is soothing, that has drawn royal pains and classical brains when Guangxi was simply “the Western Expanse” figuratively as well as literally.
Qing dynasty emperors were fond of escaping the arid dust bowl of Beijing and traveling incognito to Wuyi, there to restore the yin energies so easily lost up North. A palace where emperors used to offer sacrifices to Lord Wuyi still exists, the way Abraham Lincoln still exists in Disney’s Hall of Presidents. It was also a foundational Daoist temple, stewarded by famous scholars such as Xin Qiji, Lu You and Zhu Xi.
Who? Let’s start with Lord Wuyi, the amalgamation of Wu and Yi, the two sons of Peng Zu, a Chinese Methusaleh who came to settle in the area after his eight hundred years had slowed him somewhat, and he needed a nice mild climate. The Nine Bend River used to play hell on the aboriginals back then, flooding with the unpredictability and illogic of a Chinese police crackdown on foreigners. His two boys commenced to dredge the ol’ Nine Bend, giving stability and their names to the region.
We’ve given plenty of attention to the Nine Bend River. Less attention goes to Zhu Xi, the aforementioned scholar of the Song Dynasty, who was so taken with his first sight of the river and mountains behind it that he immediately ordered the building of a school, a pedantic choice of tribute, but the Ziyang Academy enriched countless lives afterwards. So did the countless Buddhist and Daoist temples built on the mountainside in ensuing years, almost all long ago redeployed as peasant housing material.
So if you make it to Wuyi, and you’ve done the nine bends on a bamboo raft, by all means test your wind with the 800-step up Clothes Drying Rock to the Bird’s Eye, nice and early if you want a live shot of the misty panorama in all the tourist literature. Misfits can spelunk about the Water Curtain or Taoyuan Cave, then repair to Dazhufeng Snake Village to chase the reptilian buzz of snake-bile wine.
What no one is going to do is violate the Wuyi Nature Preserve with his clumsy despoiling self. Too many sausage wrappers and beer caps burying too many rarer-by-the-day flora and fauna. Closed to the public until the climate stops changing, or we can all plug our braids into the Mother Tree.
But while imperial decree never ceases to reach into our lives, nature likewise unceasingly finds its way much deeper. While many a spectacular tree in the preserve merits admiration, it is the bushes that deserve praise from bended knee.
Reputedly, on an Wuyi cliff kept purposely anonymous, cling the original four bushes from whose cutting-descendants give us the unrivaled Dahongpao tea. The vivid minerals of red sandstone lend their color to the tips of the leaves, and dazzle the palate with their smoky tang. Genuine Dahongpao is pricy stuff, for tea; expect to pay hundreds of dollars for ten grams. Expect a brew from the original four bushes only if you save Hu Jintao’s son from drowning.
Much more easily cultivated, but no less enchanting, is Wuyi’s Shuixian, or Water Fairy tea. Fifteen lifetimes ago, a lad collecting firewood stopped to rest in a cave, fagged by his fags. A compelling fragrance led him to a tree at the mouth, whose silken white leaves delighted his taste buds while quickly dispelling his exhaustion.
That was Zhuxian cave, but already Wuyi had many tribes with many dialects. Wanting to know the origin of the leaves which brewed in water had kept the lad vigorous into his ninth decade, free from illness, those on the other side of the mountain took his “Zhu” for a “Shui”, and the Water Fairy moniker stuck.
You may forget the story, put pray keep the name fresh in your mind. Likewise may you remember Dahongpao, the “Big Red Robe”, and better still, drink them with regularity. These are the best of the oolong tea varietal – oolong, green still with antioxidants, but mildly fermented and thus also bursting with powerful biotic compounds.
Rejoice if you can make them fresh, rather than buy the “Wuyi tea capsules” flogged mercilessly online as a weight loss supplement. Either tea will swiftly round up all the trouble-making fast food lipids and Monsanto residues lurking inside you, and summarily escort them out the back door before they can cause any harm.
Whether or not you are ever in Wuyi, you will never regret having Wuyi in you.