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Help translate carvings on handmade box


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I found this recently and was impressed by the craftsmanship, but i remain utterly confused by its purpose, other than it has the words "North" "Tea" and "Shop" involved in the characters carved into it. Perhaps somebody can help identify it or make more sense of the words for me. Thanks in advance.




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Thank you for your reply... your translation seems to be the most exact of any ive received. 北苑 translates to Beiyuan (?) both a neighborhood in beijing but also an imperial tea plantation, the latter of which is what i think it means. (http://www.buzzle.com/articles/oolong-tea-facts.html) This really seems to have some interesting history to it. Thanks again for your help :-)

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No problem! :P

And to clarify, the standard Romanization of 北苑 would be "Beiyuan", but that is not a translation of the meaning. The character 北 (bei) means "North". The character 苑 (yuan) can be a surname or it can have a couple of meanings:


1) "A place where birds and animals are raised or plants and crops are grown. In ancient times it often indicated gardens reserved for the emperor as a recreational hunting space."


2) "A place where objects are gathered."

Typically the character 苑 is used in place names (when it is not being used as a surname). I felt that the most all-encompassing English meaning for that character would be "park", but technically it has a much more regal feel than that. So maybe you could translate 北苑 as "The Northern Grounds" or something like that.

Yes, 北苑 is the name of a district in Beijing, but it also might be the name of a district in Shanghai or some other big city. I doubt there is just one place named 北苑 in all of China.

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Also, for what it's worth, I found a dictionary entry for 北苑茶 (i.e. Beiyuan Tea). The entry reads:


During the Five Dynasties period in the royal gardens of South Tang's regent, the northern grounds (北苑) were employed to make tea. This area was especially good at making tea and the tea from there became known as "Northern Grounds Tea" (北苑茶).


Later, tea made at Phoenix Mountain in Fujian also became called "Northern Grounds Tea".

This still doesn't answer what that box is for though! :blink:

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Hehe, I guess we may never know exactly what it was for... from what you've been able to tell me translation-wise, and from its age and its craftsmanship i think its probably somewhat likely that it once held an expensive bottle of Beiyuan Tea for sale at Double Dragon Tea Shop around the end of the Qing Dynasty.

I suppose its possible that since Beiyuan Plantation was set up as a garden where tribute tea was produced, that the box might have ties to the Imperial court. However, I can't imagine the court dealt with tea shops when they could have more easily had it sent directly from Beiyuan.

Perhaps if I could contact one, an expert on the subject of the Chinese tea trade might provide a little more info.

Thanks again for your help :-)

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