Cha Hen Gui

Nicholas Quirke was delighted to have the opportunity to put his Mandarin Vocabulary to the test on 4 March 2021 when the tea rooms he had sought out turned out to be absurdly expensive. His morning had been low key and relaxing. He was looking forward to lunch of tofu and grilled vegetable kebabs and whipped up his own braised marinated tempeh and guacamole to add to the feast. His plan was to visit the Prince Keqin’s (junwang) Mansion which was surprisingly nearby and there was also a renowned tea and bookshop in a converted church nearby. Combining some sight seeing with tea seemed a great idea and he felt a sense of purpose as he set off to absorb another piece of Beijing history. Typically it was a straight path to the relic but Beijing roads are wide and often separated by a median barrier which makes getting to the other side problematic and even though there was a crossing relatively nearby the passage through was blocked by bikes parked across the the entrance to the crossing. On this day however there was an unusually large amount of police present which, indicated to him that the dignitaries of the CCP, who were holding a general meeting in Beijing would be travelling along the road. He managed to get across despite the obstacle with the help of an officer and continued on his way. He was disappointed on arriving at his destination to discover that the mansion had actually been converted into a secondary school, and though it appeared on a list of relics there was no way he would be able to go in side and see the supposedly beautiful, compact buildings. He had to appreciate the architecture from the outside and add it as another small failure that his trip had been littered with. As always, he had made the effort and had some small sense of the royal residence and what it might have felt like to be Yoto, a Prince Keqin of the Qing Dynasty. In the complicated inheritance nomenclature regulations Prince Keqin was one of twelve ‘Iorn-cap’’ princely peerages used in China, which meant that the title could be passed down without being downgraded. The first bearer of the title was Yoto (1599–1639), a grandson of the founder of the Qing dynasty. In 1636, he was awarded the title “Prince Cheng of the First Rank” (Prince Cheng) by his uncle, who succeeded However, he was subsequently demoted for committing offences. After his death, he was posthumously honoured with the title “Prince Keqin of the Second Rank”. It was passed down over 13 generations and held by 17 persons. As one of the highest six ranks of the imperial hierarchy, the holder of the title enjoyed the “Eight Privileges” (八分; bafenjakūn ubu). These privileges were : 1. Promotional books inscribed on jade, set of seals for correspondency, red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, right for reported entry, red walls of the residence, usage of corner lanterns, usage of leopard tail guns 2. Precious stones on the mandarin hat crests, clothes with encircled dragon patterns, usage of imperial porcellain tea sets, purple reins, red wheels, doornails on the gate, employment of guards. 3. Finials on mandarin hats embellished with precious stones, usage of two-eyed peacock feather, surcoats with encircled dragon patterns, purple reins, right to enter the imperial palace by horse, leopard tail guns, separate manor in the capital, employment of officials and eunuchs. Other than the Entrance gate which he could see, there was nothing now left of the opulence these privileges afforded and a little disappointed he turned back and made his way to the church which was a handsome coalescence of Presbyterian and oriental architecture. The interior was really lovely with printing press’s relics and ephemera cluttering the comfortable environment. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the afternoon there until he asked for a green tea and was shown the price of 188 yuan, almost £20. A cuppa, the Prince Keqin would have been comfortable with but not a price he was prepared to pay. “茶很贵 ”(Cha hen gui!), he stated and retired from the establishment with his pride diminished, his mandarin utilised and his wallet safe. Fortunately in the same compound there was a little cafe where for a fraction of the price he was able to enjoy their warmth, WiFi and quirky decor. By the time he left the restrictions at the crossing had been tightened and he had to cycle to Xuanwuman before doubling back on himself . And even at the crossroads all traffic going north or south had been stuspended for 10 minutes as they waited for the traffic from the East, Tiananmen Square, had free reign of the roads. It was the first time he had seen a line of police barricading the highway and it seemed a costly exercise just to ensure the roads were clear. He had actually managed to surreptitiously film the entire procession of busses and limousines as they passed. An unexpectedly smart and fun twist to the horror genre was delivered in ‘Scare Me’ which, was the movie morsel they savoured that night before a welcome slumber enveloped him.

Leave a Reply