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The legend of Princess Xi Shi and the Origins of Tea

Many know the story of Shen Nong and his tea origin story, and Bodhidharma and his tea legacy (and if not, next week we will be delving into their histories), but very few are aware of Princess Xi Shi and the tragic role she played in both the complex political dramas of her time and the creation of tea.


The legend of Princess Xi Shi and the Origins of Tea

During the Spring and Autumn period, the state of Yue was defeated by the neighbouring state of Wu. The King of Yue, seeking vengeance, devised a long-term strategy that involved the most unexpected of weapons: beauty. According to the plan, the most beautiful women would be trained and then sent to the King of Wu to sow discord and weaken his rule from within.


Xi Shi, whose beauty was said to cause fish to sink away in ponds from sheer shyness, was chosen as one of these women. She was sent to the court of King Fuchai of Wu, where her presence indeed caused the king to become infatuated with her, neglecting his duties and leading to the eventual downfall of his state.


However, Xi Shi was so heartbroken and disillusioned when she realised just how great a part she had played in the state of Wu falling into disrepair that she completely vanished from the historical records. Some versions of the story say she was sent away or escaped to a remote area to live a life of solitude.


In this remote and secluded life, it is said that Xi Shi would often be seen by a river, her sorrow as deep as the waters, weeping for the pain and destruction caused by her unintended role in the political machinations of the era. As her tears fell into the river, they were transformed by the gods, moved by her sorrow, into tea plants.


These plants were discovered by the local people, who found that the leaves could be brewed into a beverage that was as bitter as her sorrow, yet as sweet as her character. It is said that this specific tea evoked a reflection on the transient nature of beauty and the profound depths of human emotions.

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