… recognizing that you know what you know, and recognizing that you do not know what you do not know – this is knowledge.
- Analects of Confucious 2:17
... ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.
… although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks he knows. I neither know nor think I know.
- Plato imagining Socrates (Apology, Benjamin Jowett translation)
I am not Platonic. I do not seek to separate myself from the world. My presence is not an absence. Perhaps I am a hedonist, for I enjoy drinking tea and wine, enjoy the history of the farms, and desire additional knowledge of the cultivars and their terroir.
What I claim to be is a scholar, in the literati tradition, with many modern modifications aligned to my milieu. In writing this book, a book that surely smells of the midnight oil, I have strived to bring enlightenment ideals, scientific rigor, and recent research to bear on my interest in Yixing teapots; to do so, I have relied on many sources: dynastic writing, poems and inscriptions, museum pieces, and the scholarship of others – in addition to my own experiences as a researcher, collector, and practitioner.
What a (good) scholar knows is not that he knows nothing, but that what he knows is based on the evidence of facts and should that evidence be challenged or new evidence be brought to light, the interpretation of those facts must be reconsidered. Thus, if my sources are in error, or if my interpretation is in error, or if my experience has been corrupted by the wares and merchants I trust - then the information presented here will be wrong.
My goal is and remains the publication of a reliable and factual framework for understanding the breadth and depth of Chinese tea culture, with actionable insights to hone a practitioners techne and progress the praxis. My editorial team and I have taken pains to ensure the factual basis of this book, including the use of museum pieces, collaboration with Yixing craftsmen, and original scientific research on the outcomes of brewing experiments.
What I beg of you is to bring any mistakes to light. Engage with me and my work with a critical and constructive mind: challenge where challenge is due; propose a more fitting piece from a museum; find a counter example that must be accounted for.
In the past, books were published in revisions, with information and debate shared publicly or privately via letters. What we have, with this book and forum, may be a better system; together we can find a path up the misty mountain and enjoy a better taste of tea. I can only promise to consider the evidence and adjust my results accordingly.
It is highly unlikely this statement was ever made by Socrates; the closest “quote” is probably εἰδέναι μὲν μηδὲν πλὴν αὐτὸ τοῦτο εἰδέναι (“He knew nothing except that he knew that he knew nothing”, paraphrase by Diogenes, c. Early 3rd century).
Straussian definitions apply.
It is worth noting that text alone is insufficient for the communication and interpretation of intended meaning. Authors have historically assumed that their intended readers share a common grounding of culture and knowledge, such that the communication of context is subtext. Presentism in interpretation brings todays zeitgeist to yesterday’s milieu – decontextualized content without historical grounding. Recontextualization is imperfectly possible through careful intertextual study: consuming multiple period texts to regain the insight of the authors; such historical subtext should be tempered with scientific advancements available to hindsight.