Lao Banzhang – A village in decline

Lao Banzhang is a strange place. I don’t really enjoy going there so much – there’s an air of greed and duplicity about the village. For some reason though, I ended up going there 3 times this year. I didn’t plan it, it just worked out that way. I just happened to be around people who were going there and, having no real reason to decline their offers to tag along, I went.

Last year Chen Shen tea factory was building their new factory in the village. This year it’s finished, shiny and new. Given that the village is surrounded by old tea trees, and that there’s not much available space to build a factory, they cut down a lot of old tea trees to build their new premises. I find this type of thing so sad. Trees that have been growing for hundreds of years being cut down for profit.

Chen Shen Tea Factory

They are processing maocha on a larger scale, buying fresh leaves from the villagers and processing it themselves. This, in itself, isn’t a bad thing – it’s the only way to get the consistency in processing that they need, but they’ve done away with the hand processing and installed one big machines. Out with the old, in with the new. No more hand based kill-green, no more hand rolling.

Chen Shen Processing

Chen Shen Processing

Equally as disturbing, if not perhaps more so, was the view across the village that greeted us as we entered Lao Banzhang. Another area, also previously filled with ancient trees, had been bulldozed and flattened to make way for new homes to be built for newly rich villagers. The greed of a big factory, and lack of immediate concern for the old tea trees in just one of it’s locations I can kind of understand in a despairing way, but this really shocked me – villagers bulldozing the very trees that brought them this newfound wealth. I really can’t comprehend it.

Lao Banzhang Development

I don’t have much hope left for Lao Banzhang. Unless something drastic happens to cut the greed of the farmers, the factories, the producers, vendors and consumers, I fear that this area and people in it are well on the way to self-destruction.

  • Gingko

    This is very well written! It's really sad. Many people say, China is now in the beginning stage of capitalism, featured with extreme greed and cruelty. It can be so contagious, even to remote Yunnan.

  • Giri Mandi

    Scaring! And one more good reason to wait for your Banpen. Best wishes!

  • nada

    Dear Giri Mandi,

    The Lao Banzhang tea is good. There's no reason to wait for Banpen tea more than any other tea. I guess Banzhang has just been on the forefront of the wave of cash that has swept into the Yunnan tea mountains in the last few years. The same thing is happening in Yiwu and other famous places, perhaps just at a slightly slower or less obvious pace.

    I have hope that these old trees can enjoy some protection. This year I've seen too many weak and overharvested trees. I guess the drought has exaggerated weaknesses that were there already, caused by greed from previous years.

    This isn't a problem just caused by the farmers. As consumers and producers of the tea, we've all got a part to play. At the moment I'm not entirely sure what the best thing is to do, but it has definitely made me pause to think a little.

    n.

  • Giri Mandi

    Dear Nada, no doubt, and actually I am waiting democratically for all the teas! However seems a very good idea to search for valid and less "trendy" alternatives.
    Some protection for old trees (not just tea-trees) would be a real blessing for humanity.
    All the best, V.

  • tieguanyin

    Out of curiosity, what do they do with the tress they tear down? It is too bad they cannot re-plant/relocate them somewhere else. Have a good rest of the trip!

  • nada

    Dear Giri Mandi,

    Some protection for old trees (not just tea-trees) would be a real blessing for humanity.

    Very true. I'm always amazed by the sheer scale of the solid wood tables that are the fashion in this part of China – shipped up from Myanmar and Laos. I saw one last week that must have been approaching 2m in width – the tree it came from must have been beautiful.

    Dear Tieguanyin,

    Apparently they make very good firewood.

    I had the same thought about relocating trees, but there isn't that mindset in the villages. I saw the same thing on the (newly widened) road between Lao Banzhang and Banpen – the side of the hill scraped away by diggers, leaving ancient tea trees with only half their roots still intact.

  • Maitre_Tea

    I say we begin boycotting LBZ tea! (not that we could afford any of it in the first place…)

  • tieguanyin

    Thank you for the information. That is unfortunate. In an "anything is possible" world, I would have those trees transplanted in another part of the world (with similar climate t Yunnan) to see what they would do.

    One can hope that the idea of preservation and sustainable agricultural activities become fashionable in Western China *sigh*.

  • Asiatic Fox

    This is terrible. >=O

    I'm certainly tired of seeing land get torn up for development. There are always new things being built in my city, and animal and plant life is being shoved aside as per usual.

    Grrrrrrr.

  • jerryma1982

    hmmmmm, it is really sad, but as a beginning stage of capitalism as Gingko said, it is very normal in China! I have been living in here for more than 5 years now and I'm never used to the ppl around till now!
    They will need another 15-25 years to change at least! Is all about money in here at the moment! Humanity? Not yet! If I talk about it, I will get into trouble! Too bad, so sad…….

  • Stephen Shelton

    How disheartening… progress is not always progress.
    Thanks for sharing this information.

  • pu-erh.sk

    Thank you for an update from Banzhang, I am just loosing interest in their tea just now and not buying probably more. Its getting maybe just a famoust kind of money tea, so called the best of. Big factories brings mass production and that produces standard kept quality. Very sad but I expected by me when I was visiting the place some time ago. Thanks god there are many other great, hidden villages in Yunnan that give very good tea. Seeing Bangpen in other post, I tasted this tea some time ago and have a few kilograms just received from 2008, I did not even know it was so closed to Banzhang. The tea from BAngpen is really a gem, tasty mnamy reminding me other my favourite which Yibang. Good bye Banzhang, or Banzhang is dead and other villages may come ….