When we prepare tea the ceremonial way, a tea pitcher is a must. This pitcher is also known as ‘Gong Dao Bei’ (fairness cup). In modern times, this tool makes sure the tea flavor is distributed evenly among each served cup.
What even long-time tea lovers don’t know is that the Gong Dao Bei, was also the name of a special kind of cup for liquor in ancient China. It’s a completely different cup! Yet, ‘fairness’ is still the theme behind it.
The Design: Dragon Head Cup
The design of the liquor Gong Dao Bei is unique. It’s also called the “Dragon Head Cup”, because there is a porcelain dragon head along with the neck attached at the inner bottom of the cup. There is a small 3mm hole at the inner bottom of the cup where the dragon neck is attached. There is also another small hole at the outer bottom of the cup.
When filling the cup with liquid, while the liquid level is lower than a mark on the neck of the dragon (which is about 70% full), the liquid stays in the cup. If the liquid level is higher than the mark, the liquid will leak to the bottom of the cup. Isn’t it amazing? Learn in the next chapter how this works.
The Principle Behind the Gong Dao Bei
There is an upside-down U-shaped tube hidden inside the neck of the dragon. The two holes of the Gong Dao Bei are the two ends of the U-shaped tube. The mark in the middle of the dragon neck (a tiny black dot) shows the level of the top of the tube. The inner hole is the end of the short end of the tube, and the outer hole is the long end of the tube.
When the liquid in the cup is at the same level or below the mark, nothing happens. When the liquid level exceeds the mark, which means the surface is over the top of the inverted U-shaped tube, it generates pressure and the siphoning occurs.
The small hole in the top of the cup enters the U-shaped tube and then the liquid enters the inner hole of the cup into the tube and drains out of the outer hole. The liquid will drain into a hollow cup holder below the Gong Dao Bei to avoid a mess.
Ming Dynasty emperor Zhu Yuanzhang loved this cup, learn why in the next chapter!
Story of the Origin of the Gong Dao Bei
The founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang appointed the government to open the Royal Kiln in the porcelain capital of China – Jingdezhen, specializing in the manufacture of porcelain for the royal palace. Any porcelain artist that was selected to work for the Royal Kiln was highly skilled. Needless to say, the production level of the royal porcelain was topnotch. Lots of exquisite pieces were designed and made there and then. This Gong Dao Bei was one of them.
As a man born in poverty, Zhu Yuanzhang established the Ming Dynasty with great leadership and the help of his loyal followers.
One day, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang hosted a banquet for those who aided him in forming the dynasty. During the banquet, he took out a porcelain cup and said to everyone: “You and I fought on the battlefields all over China and made the country united today. You must know your contributions. The amount of the drink I am pouring in the cup matches your own contribution. You can decide how much alcohol you deserve to drink.”
General Xu Da was the first to be served. Xu Da loved to drink, and he felt complacent about what he contributed in the past. He asked Zhu Yuanzhang to fill the cup full to the brim. To his surprise, the drink leaked out completely when he picked up the cup. Everyone else was puzzled too.
Without explanation, Zhu Yuanzhang took general Xu Da and everyone else’ cup that leaked without any explanation. Everyone enjoyed the fine drink as long as they didn’t ask Zhu to fill the cup completely.
Then emperor said: “The ancients taught us: we can always benefit from modesty and introspection; complacency with one’s achievements will bring losses and disasters.
This is the “fairness cup” i received from the Royal kiln in Jingdezhen. Why is it fair? Because the greedy people have no drink whilst the non-greedy ones enjoy it.” Moderation is a key to contentment. Lesson learned!