East Meets Western Massachusetts Conference

To: all tea enthusiasts, history buffs, and culture mavens – this program is not to be missed!

I am thrilled to be one of the speakers and I look forward to hearing all of the other presentations. Please read on and mark your calendars and join us for a stimulating and educational day.

Chinese bowl, courtesy of Historic Deerfield

‘East Meets Western Massachusetts’


 An exploration of our region’s unique history with China

Saturday, April 14, 2012
Great Falls Discovery Center
Turner’s Falls, MA

The Pioneer Valley has played an interesting and important role in the history of relations between the United States and China. This day-long conference features five noted speakers and will highlight some of the historical and cultural elements of the Pioneer Valley/ China relationship. Lunch will be provided by Chef Pengyew Chin.

The Forgotten Connection: Connecticut River Valley
& the China Trade
Guest speaker:  Amanda Lange

Most of the research on the American China trade has focused almost exclusively on the urban, coastal cities of Boston, Salem, Providence, New York and Philadelphia. But this economic opportunity also impacted rural towns and more inland outposts — like the Connecticut River Valley. Not only did Valley inhabitants own and consume China trade goods, they also supplied outbound cargo (e.g. ginseng) to vessels venturing to China. In addition people from our area set sail for China as captains, first mates, sailors, and travelers — often returning with wealth and souvenirs for loved ones in their home “ports” of Hartford and Wethersfield, Connecticut, as well as Springfield and Northampton, Massachusetts.

Amanda Lange is a graduate of Rice University, Houston, Texas, and received her Master’s degree from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. She holds the position of Curator of Historic Interiors and Curatorial Department Chair at Historic Deerfield, Inc., in Deerfield, Massachusetts. In 2005, Amanda organized “The Canton Connection: Chinese Export Art at Historic Deerfield” and authored it accompanying catalogue.

Chinese Educational Mission
Guest speaker: Dr. Edward Rhoads

The Chinese Educational Mission brought the first 120 Chinese students to America – some as young as 11 years old – to gain expertise in the American education system. These boys served as early ambassadors to the United States and lived with host families throughout the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Dr. Edward Rhoads is the author of Stepping Forth into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81. Until his retirement in 2003, Dr. Rhoads was a professor of Chinese history at the University of Texas at Austin.

A Shoemaker’s Story
Guest speaker: Dr. Anthony W. Lee

On a June morning in 1870, seventy-five Chinese immigrants stepped off a train in the New England factory town of North Adams, Massachusetts, imported as strikebreakers by the local shoe manufacturer. They threaded their way through a hostile mob and then –remarkably — their new employer lined them up along the south wall of his factory and had them photographed as the mob fell silent. So begins A Shoemaker’s Story. Anthony Lee seeks to understand the social forces that brought this now-famous photograph into being, and the events and images it subsequently spawned.

Dr. Anthony W. Lee is an art historian, critic, curator, and photographer. He earned his Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently Professor and Chair of Art History at Mount Holyoke College. He is the author of A Shoemaker’s Story: Being Chiefly About French Canadian Immigrants, Enterprising Photographers, Rascal Yankees, and Chinese Cobblers in a Nineteenth-Century Factory Town, Princeton University Press, 2008.

China’s Tea: Splendid Elixir of Emperors, Nobles, Holy Men and Everyman 
Guest speaker: Mary Lou Heiss          

One of the first recorded usages of tea leaves was the transport of tea from Sichuan province to the court of King Wu (1049/1045-1043 BCE ) in Henan province during the Zhou dynasty. However, Chinese tea scholars and anthropologists place the use and knowledge of some form of tea much earlier than that throughout the vast, forested areas that included the region known today as Yunnan province. By the time of the Han dynasty ( 206 BCE-220 CE ) tea was determined to be one of the daily essentials of Chinese life along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar. Tea usage and tea drinking evolved in China over the course of many centuries before becoming established as the drink we know today. Along the path from yesterday to today, tea was variously used as: a medical concoction/ herbal remedy; a bitter, stimulating brew; a healthful tonic; a pleasure beverage; and an essential beverage.

Mary Lou Heiss is a noted tea authority, tea educator and independent scholar, premium tea retailer and co-author of The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, a 2008 James Beard Foundation Book Award and IACP Cookbook Award finalist, and The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to the World’s Best Teas. When not traveling in Asia sourcing tea, she can be reached at her shop Tea Trekker in Northampton MA or online at www.teatrekker.com

The Bridgmans: America’s First Missionaries to China
Guest speaker: Cliff McCarthy

Elijah Coleman Bridgman (1801 – 1861) was the first American Christian missionary to China and America’s first China expert. He was a Belchertown native and an Amherst College graduate. His wife, Eliza Jane (Gillett) Bridgman, founded and managed for 15 years the first girls’ school in Shanghai beginning in 1850. After her husband’s death, she moved to Peking, secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders. It was the predecessor to the Woman’s College of Yenching University.

Cliff McCarthy is the Archivist at the Stone House Museum in Belchertown which has a collection of Elijah Coleman Bridgman’s letters from China.

Wing C. Tong, student in the Chinese Educatinal Mission,
courtesy Stone House Museum, Belchertown, MA

 Lunch……A Very Special Lunch by Chef Pengyew Chin

Pengyew Chin is an ethnic Chinese born in Penang, Malaysia. He attended Brandeis University as a Wein Scholar, graduating in 1985. A self-taught cook, he has been a professional chef and caterer for more than 15 years, specializing in regional Asian cuisine. He also teaches classes on Asian cooking techniques. Chin creates his menus from Malaysian, Chinese and Nyonya preparations and recipes collected from friends, family and cookbooks. His offerings are a blend of this rich personal and historical heritage, encompassing influences from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and China. He travels regularly to Asia to keep abreast of culinary development.

Chinese Folk Art Workshop

 At 3 p.m., conference participants are invited to attend a performance of the Chinese Folk Art Workshop at the Shea Theater across the street.

Chinese Folk Art Workshop aims to promote interaction with and understanding of Chinese culture in the community. Its members range in age from 12 to 18, and they perform a variety of traditional Chinese folk arts such as Dragon Dance, Lion Dance, Taiwanese Drums, Chinese yoyo and Folk Dance.

Tickets are $25 per person for the whole day, including lunch and admission to the performance.

Tickets for the performance only can be purchased separately and are $6 for adults and $2 for children.

For tickets to the performance only, call 24/7 Ticket Hotline: 1-800-838-3006 or purchase online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/.

The Pioneer Valley History Network is hosting this event in collaboration with the “Big Read” initiative of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, which is sponsoring a community reading of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The “Big Read” is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information visit:




Treasures of the Qianlong Emperor

Students of Chinese art, culture, history and lovers of magnificent, exquisitely rendered objects should be aware of  a very impressive but fleeting exhibition currently on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.  I recently had the opportunity to spend a day lingering over this glorious exhibition ( and some of the rest of the museum as well ) and highly recommend it to anyone able to make the trip to Salem.

The exhibition is The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City and it is a first-hand look at “ninety objects of ceremony and leisure” – furnishings, screens and panels, murals, jades and cloisonne and other priceless possessions – that once belonged to the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1796).

In advance of his retirement, the emperor commissioned the construction of a private compound and garden within the Forbidden City, complete with reception halls, study rooms and shrines for his personal enjoyment and relaxation.

The Qianlong Emperor was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world in his day, and he outfit his private rooms with objects made from the most precious materials by the best skilled artists and craftsmen. It is these personal objects of the Qianlong Emperor that are on exhibit at the PEM.  (I  hoped to see some imperial teawares, and found signage that suggested a tea bowl was meant to be included in one of the exhibits, there was no tea bowl to be seen. When I asked about this, I was told that the tea bowl never left China).

According to a press release from the PEM, the Qianlong Emperor was “a connoisseur, scholar and devout Buddhist. He created a luxurious garden compound to serve throughout his retirement as a secluded place of contemplation, repose and entertainment.”

Nancy Berlinger, curator of Chinese art at the PEM, is quoted as saying ” the treasures are from a part of the forbidden City that’s so different from the rest of the Forbidden City. These objects were made for a context that’s about being contemplative. It’s not about being big, official, national, a victorious ruler or emperor. It’s about being a scholar, and Confucian and a Buddhist.”

The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City ( some 179 acres houses 980 buildings ) have been shuttered since the last emperor left the Forbidden City in 1924 and have never been opened to or visited since by the public. The Qianlong Gardens ( also known as the Tranquility and Longevity Palace Garden ) is now part of a decade-long, multi-million dollar conservation initiative being undertaken by the World Monuments Fund and the Palace Museum in Bejing.

So, what better thing to do with such valuable objects than to pack them up and send them ’on the road’ and out of harms way, so to speak. Which is exactly why the treasures are making a tour of the USA before returning to their rightful place in the renovated buildings in the Qianlong Garden. (Just thinking about how these objects are moved, packed, insured and coddled before, during and after shipment is a process that I would love to see documented on film).

Not only is it a thrill to see workmanship such as this on the highest level of achievement, but I felt a tremendous amount of  awe viewing these masterpieces because they have never before been seen by ‘the general public’. 

In fact, except for a handful of Asian art experts, conservation workers, government officials and museum staff,  visitors in the USA who view these objects at the three chosen museums will be seeing these treasures for the first time, even before they have been  exhibited in China.

The decision to bring the story of the restoration of the Forbidden City and the Qianlong Emperor’s treasures to the American people first was made by the Chinese government and the Palace Museum in the spirit of cultural awareness, education and cooperation among  museums.

These objects will travel only to three museums in the USA ( PEM in Salem, the Met in NYC and the Milwaukee Art Museum ) before returning to China.

In recent years the PEM has also received much praise for one of their permanent exhibits – the Chinese house known as Yin Yu Tang. This is a wealthy merchants house in the Chinese vernacular style built in the early 1800′s in the rural village of Huang Cun in Anhui Province.

After nearly 200 years of continuous family living, the house was no longer lived in by any of the original family members. It was dis-assembled, brought to Salem, and carefully re-constructed on the museum grounds. One visits the old house, which is furnished as it might have been when people lived there, and an audio tour allows the voices of family members to escort visitors thru the rooms with stories and bits of family history.

There is nothing like this authentic Chinese house anywhere in the USA, and the juxtaposition of the simple life of the family who occupied Yin Tu Tang and the sublime treasures from the private quarters of the Qianlong Emperor makes a striking study in contrasts of individual status, living environments and material possessions.

The mission of a world-class museum is to expose visitors to a kalaidescope of wonders about culture, tradition, the history of people, places, wildlife and things on earth. The PEM should be applauded for the exemplary work that they have put into bringing these diverse and compelling aspects of China to its visitors.

The PEM website is worth a visit, also – there is much to see and learn. Visitors to the museum can also purchase advance tickets for viewing these two exhibits online.

The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City’, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, September 14- January 9 2011.  www.pem.org