A quick link to the original article here. This one was done for a fellow tea enthusiast writing a paper on duckshit oolong for a folklore class. I hope this was educational and useful! Some of you may be somewhat familiar with the origin story, but there may be a few extra tidbits here and there.
Nug The Translation Guy Nug’s Translation Consultancy Services for Specialised Agricultural Research
There’s a particular type of tea with a name that once you’ve heard, you’ll never forget. Some people may have heard of Orchid Fragrance (蘭香), Bean Fragrance (豆香), Chestnut Fragrance (栗香)…but what kind of fragrance is “duck shit” (鴨屎香)? It makes your brain short circuit a bit when it hits your ears but those who have tasted this tea all know that it’s quite impressive. “Duck shit” Phoenix Dancong (鳳凰單叢), also known as Wuye Dan Cong (lit. Dark-Leaf Dancong 烏葉單叢) Belongs to the semi-fermented oolong category, and from one of a few well-known groves. The dried tea is long tight twisted strips with a dark inky-brown color that appears glossy. It has a thick smooth body, long lasting floral fragrance, strong returning sweetness, and can even brew out longer than Tie Guanyin – known to “brew seven times and still have remaining fragrance” – Duck shit can even endure ten plus steeps.
A tea of such quality: Why would they call it duck shit?
At one point there was a farmer who introduced the idea in Wudong (烏菄), planting in “Duck Shit Soil(鴨屎土)” or “Yellow soil (黃壤)” tea gardens. When locals drank the tea, it was extremely well received; the locals inquired into the grove’s origin, and characteristics of the fragrance. The farmer was worried that his newly discovered style may be stolen by others, thus coined the term “duck shit fragrance.” Following this, as people obtained the tea trees and began planting them, “Duck shit fragrance” became a common name for the tea.
In 2014, phoenix dancong “Duck Shit” tea received a name change: “Silver Flower Fragrance (銀花香). The logic of officials concerned with the name change was that “duck shit” would be impossible to elevate to a more elegant level, and might make tasters feel misgivings about the tea, however, privately I believe that it would have been better left as is.
Today, even good quality items need decent advertisement – duck shit dangcong has become more and more popular amongst tea drinkers, not only through outstanding quality, it also carries a special country-side rustic quality in name that has been propagated amongst the common people. Those who first hear of this tea immediately have the name ingrained into their memory. Changing the name to “Silver Flower Fragrance” sounds remarkably common, thus easily forgotten by the masses.
In the same way that countless people have remarked that “Huizhou (徽州)” being changed to “Huangshan (黃山)” would make Tang Xian Zu (湯顯祖) roll over in his grave*, many tea drinkers due to categorization think that duck shit dancong fragrance profile belongs to almond fragrance (杏仁香) dancong. In Ye Han Zhong (葉漢忠) and Huang Bai Zi’s (黃柏梓) compilation “Phoenix Dancongs” 《鳳凰單叢》 duck shit oolong’s fragrance profile was written as belonging as a secondary of Almond Fragrance Dancong.
For tea drinkers, emphasis is put on tasting, a tea’s name is a secondary item. To be able to within this widely known named tea taste such elegance can be regarded as one of the great delights of life. Moreover, what is considered common and what is considered elegant, at the bottom of the heart, has no real rules or reason.
Many tea drinkers mistakenly believe that the “cong” in dancong is the character 樅. After all, when one looks at the way the character is comprised (having a tree radical to represent a sort of tree or plant, and the word 從 cong to the right), it seems to be a perfect pictographic representation of the word. Despite this, looking up the meanings in a dictionary one will find 樅 is defined as a closely compact group of plants and trees, also used as a character meaning “fir trees” (冷杉), ever-green arbor, with large trunks, needle-shaped leaves, strong bark, and producing round nuts, often being found in high altitude cool regions. Because of this, the actual character for Cong used is not this character. In August of 2004, Chaozhou City Municipal Government issued a public announcement, that all teas with packaging for Dancong must use the correct characters 單叢. Those with incorrect publishing would be stricken from being put up for sale.
Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 was a Ming Dynasty poet/writer. He is the author of The Peony Pavilion. He is born in Jiangxi Province. Later in life he traveled to Huizhou and wrote about the area. The famous line he wrote was “一生痴絕處, 無夢到徽州” There is some debate about the actual meaning of his writing here, but that is a topic for another thread I would imagine. Huangshan was originally known as Huizhou, but due to historical implications of the cities and other areas within the province, Huizhou’s name was changed to Huangshan. The piece is suggesting that the famous writer Tang Xianzu may have disagreed with the name change.
The author seems to be pointing at the idea that despite the name change because of the unappealing connotation of “duckshit” it remains the easiest way to remember the oolong, and the commonly popular title. Comparing the change to Huizhou’s change to Huangshan, the author suggests that no matter what literature does to attempt to categorize “duck shit dancong” it will be remembered uniquely due to its origin story and popularization under its previous name.
On a language note: confusion over the character used in Dancong may be more of an issue among simplified Chinese users. Because both 枞 and 丛 use 从 in the simplified characters as a representation of pronunciation, the confusion may be more understandable than the difference in Traditional Chinese between the versions: 叢vs丛, and 樅vs枞. The mistake seems much more likely in the context of Simplified Chinese. The writings for dancong are: Traditional – 單叢 Simplified – 单丛