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Quake's impact spills over into tea production

By Ou Hailin | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-26 10:02

Saturday's earthquake and subsequent aftershocks in Sichuan province have paralyzed tea production on a mountain famous for supplying China's imperial families for more than 1,000 years.

Because of its proximity to Lushan county, the epicenter of the magnitude-7 quake, Mengding Mountain has seen a lot of damage to many of its centuries-old buildings, which survived a magnitude-8 earthquake in the same province five years ago.

"Many houses built with wood in the mountain have collapsed. Now and then, debris still falls down," said Jian Shuquan, deputy director of the Center for the Study of International Tea Culture in Mengding Mountain, who surveyed the mountain on Sunday.

"I saw a boulder, probably 3 meters in diameter, crashing through the wall of a house, and leaving a large dent in the ground," he said.

Jian said that as aftershocks continued, tea farmers and villagers had set up tents outside their houses. "Nobody dares to enter the tea factory. About 2,000 kg of freshly picked tea leaves were left unattended and were spoiled."

But the tea fields were unscathed by the quake. There were no landslides, and all the tea trees are safe, Jian said.

For many tea makers on the 1,456-meter-high mountain, April is the best time to make their high-quality teas, which were favored by members of the royal families from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) until 1911, when the last Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperor was toppled.

To miss the peak period would mean another year of waiting and a great loss of revenue.

Jiang Weiming, founder of Chaxiangzi Tea in Mengding Mountain, which follows a traditional method of making tea, using pine logs that have been dried for three years as heat, said the quake has changed his schedule entirely.

"I've three types of high-end teas to be made in the next 10 days, April 25 to May 5," he said. "If we miss that window, I don't think we can produce the tea to the same quality that we're so proud of."

Jiang said the interruption caused by the earthquake will cost him about 1 million yuan ($162,000), which did not include the loss of tea containers and traditional wooden tools that were broken by the quake. Jiang has about 13.33 hectares of tea fields, of which 11.33 hectares are co-farmed by villagers in the mountain.

Jiang said that about 40 other tea factories have had their production paralyzed.

But the mountain's tea industry is not the only business that has been heavily hit by the quake. Its tourism may suffer more in the long run.

Deng Limin, head of the cultural heritage administration in Mingshan county, said that at least 11 examples of ancient architecture in Mengding Mountain have been damaged by the quake, including one memorial arch, built in 1622, that collapsed.

"It's heartbreaking to see these unique, precious buildings destroyed this way," said Gong Kaiqin, general manager of Mengding Royal Tea, one of the largest tea makers on the mountain.

However, Jiang said, some tea factories on the mountain have resumed production, and people's fear of aftershocks is fading.

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