On Tea, Confabulation and Being Lazy: Interviewing Chengdu Icon Li Bo Qing

Li Bo Qing (李伯清) is a famous and beloved Sichuan comedian known for earthy style of analyzing day to day social issues particular to Chengdu and Sichuan. At the height of his fame during the 1990s, pretty much everyone in Chengdu turned his show on and chuckled for an hour.

Now Li Bo Qing spends a lot of time at temples around southwest China, mostly in Guizhou. He never carries a phone with him, but he keeps a steady Weibo presence, maintains Douban and Facebook pages and his son is always by his side to take care of any unimportant business. You can also access a collection of his shows on Tudou.

I managed to get him on the phone to talk about Chengdu’s lifestyle and tea houses recently, and here are some excerpts:

On Chengdu Being a Lazy Metropolis

Li Boqing“外界觉得成都慢,闲散,这种看法其实相当表面,这些都是表象,>其实内在是说明成都人很淡定,成都的生活节奏不是很快,成都人是“能做就做,不能做就……找其它活路来做……” 活起没那么累。”

“The outside world thinks that Chengdu is really slow, but that’s just the surface, the first impression. But really Chengdunese just know how to take it easy. A Chengdunese might say, ‘if it can be done, great, if not … well we’ll just see how the chips fall,’ – that way life isn’t such a drag.”

“只有成都这种人文文化才能有开起奔驰吃串串的事情,其他城市莫法。成都人对生活的这种自然淡定的态度,只要有社会,有人,就会一直存在.”

“Only in Chengdu will you see a guy roll up in a Benz and order chuanchuan, (the Chengdunese version of Chongqing hotpot that uses kebabs instead of a boiling pot). No other city has that type of culture. People’s attitudes are really the key. As long as there are people and the need to be social, then the natural, easy-going lifestyle of Chengdu will always be there.”

On Teahouse Culture in Chengdu

“成都,要说茶楼,还是人民公园坝坝头那家,郊区农村抽叶子烟的老头儿喝茶的地方,那才叫资格”
“If we’re going to speak of teahouses in Chengdu, then we have to mention the Heming Teahouse in People’s Park. Old men smoking pipes rub shoulders with young jetsetters here and everyone sits and chats all day. That’s the real Chengdu.”

不坐茶坊,不懂生活,这个就是成都人的茶馆的意义。

Li Boqing“If you don’t spend time chilling in teahouse, you know nothing of life. That’s how Chengdunese view tea culture.”

“茶馆,就是社会信息各方面消息集中的地方。原来没有这么发达的媒体,也没得电话网络,要想得到社会上的各种消息全靠茶坊。”

“Teahouses were traditionally the source of all information for locals. Before there was the Internet or TV the people went to the teahouse to find out what was going on or to solve a problem.  If you want to know what’s going on in Chengdu, understand what the local people think about a certain topic or just gather information from all manner of sources, there really is no better way to do it than by drinking tea and chatting.”

“很多年轻人不晓得,当时文化大革命开始的时候,成都第一件大事就是关茶馆,说茶馆是牛鬼蛇神出没的地方。你看好多老先生,书没读过,但是天文地理历史啥子都懂,为啥子?都是在茶馆里头听来的,这桌不摆那桌摆,东听西听,消息就来了。”

“A lot of young people don’t know: when the Cultural Revolution broke out, the first thing the authorities did was close the tea houses. Said they were havens for heretics and devils. Take a look at some of these old men who have never opened a book, but nevertheless have a firm grasp of history, culture, geography and so on. How do they do this? Through sitting at tea houses; that table discussing a topic, this table discussing another… just keep your ears open and the information will flow right in.”

The Meaning of Bai Long Men Zhen

(摆龙门阵, Bǎi lóngménzhèn) def. Gossip, spin a yarn, babble, confabulate

In Sichuan people use the phrase Bai Longmenzhen to describe what happens over a cup of tea or a pack of smokes. It might not seem like much (just people babbling), but for the local Chengdunese its an art form and an integral part of the culture.

Chengdu teahouse

Chengdu teahouse

The back story is interesting as well. Long Men Zhen (Dragongate Formation) is actually an encirclement ploy used to lure the enemy into a cul de sac and then surround and annihilate him. To properly pull off the Chinese version of this formation requires time, skill and methodical movements because the enemy should not be allowed to escape. Other notable examples of this formation is the lure Hannibal used to crush the Romans at the Battle of Cannae.

Why is this formation linked with the general idea of “babbling”? According to Li Bo Qing and other Chengdu sources, the time it takes to set up the formation corresponds with the time and effort it takes to have a proper all-encompassing confabulation session which lures in every topic, surrounds them and annihilates them over a cup of tea.

Teahouses in Chengdu

It would be irresponsible of me to yap all this time about… yapping… and not provide you with a little teahouse to yap in. Check out the map below for a partial list of high-brow and low-brow locations. Please feel free to suggest your own favorite teahouses in the comments below and we’ll add them to the map.


View Chengdu Teahouses in a larger map

My wife Zhang Yushi contributed (heavily) to this post, thank you!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. After living in Chengdu on and off for twelve years, he now lives in Minneapolis.

14 Responses to “On Tea, Confabulation and Being Lazy: Interviewing Chengdu Icon Li Bo Qing”

  1. shinichi

    I LOVE TEA!

  2. Charlie

    I feel kinda dumb for not having known who Li Boqing was. But then when I start asking around I’m like the man out for not knowing.

    Thanks for writing about this, once again demonstrating your deep knowledge of Sichuan culture.

    • yeah he’s a legend in Chengdu. Too bad there aren’t any of his shows with subtitles, although that would be really tough to pull off considering it’s all in deep deep Sichuan dialect.

      • Charlie

        Seriously, this is no joke. Although my Sichuanhua has improved a lot over the last 6 months since I’ve been getting massages twice weekly and those guys are constantly chatty with me.

        You should write a post sometime about Sichuanhua. Everyone in Chengdu seems to know you as “the foreigner who speaks Sichuanhua”. That’s always mentioned when your name comes up, hahaha.

  3. 采访李老师是件很酷的事!成都的说唱歌手们都很尊敬他,认为他是个很好的说唱歌手。马三采访李老师 太让我惊喜了!他说话很有意思。

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Hao Hao Report - August 20, 2011

    Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  2. China: Teahouse Culture in Chengdu · Global Voices - August 22, 2011

    […] interviews a Sichuan comedian, Li Bo Qing abou the teahouse culture in Chengdu. The city's teahouse is similar to the salon in France where citizen would spend the afternoon […]

  3. China: Teahouse Culture in Chengdu - August 22, 2011

    […] by Ahsan Sascha interviews a Sichuan comedian, Li Bo Qing abou the teahouse culture in Chengdu. The city's teahouse is similar to the salon in France where citizen would spend the afternoon […]

  4. China: Teahouse Culture in Chengdu | Current Affairs - August 22, 2011

    […] interviews a Sichuan comedian, Li Bo Qing abou the teahouse culture in Chengdu. The city's teahouse is similar to the salon in France where citizen would spend the afternoon […]

  5. Cina: Budaya Minum Teh di Chengdu · Global Voices dalam bahasa Indonesia - September 20, 2011

    […] mewawancarai Li Bo Qing, seorang komedian asal Szechuan tentang budaya minum teh di Chengdu. Tempat minum teh yang berada di kota ini mirip dengan tempat minum (salon) di Prancis, […]

Leave a Reply