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Speaking Tea - The social function of the Shanghai tea house

The Shanghai tea house in the late 19th and early 20th century developed into an arena for settling personal disputes. "Speaking tea" was a means by which personal disputes were arbitrated, and no issue was deemed too small for consideration. Personal grievances between private individuals would be announced to small groups who would, in turn, help to mediate a solution agreeable to both parties.

"Speaking tea" was an important social function which found a natural home in the congenial atmosphere of tea houses. However, contemporary commentators often lamented that these disputes fell under the influence of local hooligans and ruffians, thereby corrupting the nature of "Speaking tea"; often these over-heated debates deteriorated into full-scale brawls, teapots being bandied around and hurled into these arguments, "which more closely resembled slanging matches and fisticuffs". It was not unknown for tea houses to become war zones or battlefields. No longer a place for relaxation or animated chatter, "Speaking Tea" was promptly taken off the menu, as tea house owners sought to quieten down and pacify rowdy customers. Instead, the higher arts of poetry.



More from our Shanghai tea house series.

1. Shanghai Tea Houses: A time line

2. Brief Introduction

3. Shanghai Emerges from Aftermath of the Opium War(s)

4. Emergence of the tea house in Shanghai

5. Speaking Tea - a function of tea houses in Shanghai

6. Early 20th Century Tea houses

7. Afternoon tea and Cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 30s

8. Tea houses in Contemporary Shanghai


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