Various items in nature – plants, birds, fish, animals, insects, mountains, and so on – have been inspirations for artists and craftsmen for years. Sometimes, though, it seems that the resemblance is a little too uncanny! Thus it was the day we found a whole, intact cicada shell (the exoskeleton that he had wriggled his way out of and then flown off to await the hardening of the new one). I saw it and was immediately reminded of a certain teapot I had. So the urge to bring it inside and snap a photo or two was irresistible. And here is the result:
Cicadas are common in temperate-to-tropical climates. They are widely known, being of a large size and emitting a unique song. There are about 2,500 species of cicada, and they are related to leafhoppers, which are responsible for the flavor of a certain oolong tea known as Oriental Beauty. Small wonder they tend to ornament teapots like mine. But these insects have other aspects, too. They are an important food source in many countries, including China, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, the Congo, and Latin America. They were also popular in Ancient Greece. The females are meatier and therefore more sought. The shells are even used for medicines in China; a decoction is prepared by boiling down the shells to a concentrated broth that you drink, or they can be ground to a powder and added to water. The cicada (chán 蟬 or 蝉) is also an important symbol in China. It represents eternal youth and happiness, rebirth, immortality, and life after death (it survives underground for a long period of time and then emerges and flies into the sky).
Now, in case you’re wondering, a cicada on my teapot lid does not make the tea taste better nor assure that I will live to a ripe old age. It does assure me of getting a good grip on the teapot lid when I need one (and don’t we all need a good grip on things? hee!), and it adds a bit of cuteness (unless cicadas creep you out) to my tea time. This particular teapot is made in the Yixing area of China from Zisha clay. It is unglazed inside and out and therefore absorbs some of the tea during infusing. Over the years, this tea residue builds up and actually enhances each pot of tea. But you have to use each such teapot with a separate type of tea. This one is for oolongs in honor of those leafhopper relatives of the cicada.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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