I’ve come to survey Islet Springs,
So that I’m able to gain a personal understanding of tea affairs;
The peasants have abandoned their plowing and hoeing,
And gone off to the truly bitter labor of tea-picking.
Once a man is taken for corvée duty,
His entire household is affected;
They grasp vines, pulling themselves up the slanting cliffs,
Hair disheveled, they enter wild brambles.
The whole morning long they barely pick a handful,
Yet their hands and feet and covered with sores.
Sad laments echo through the empty hills,
Even for the grasses and trees there’s no springtime.
This poem was written by Yuan Gao to describe the harsh working conditions of the corvée laborers who were conscripted at harvest time to pick the tea leaves. The tea from this area was known as Tribute Tea, and produced for the Emperor for the Qingming Festival. This translates to Grave Sweeping Festival, it was a time when the dead were honored and their graves were decorated. Kind of an odd tradition if you ask me!