2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

From Consumer Space to the Consumption of Space: Drinking Parlors and Tea Houses in Ming and Qing Cities

Hung-tai Wang

Department of History, National Chi Nan University

The steady flow of people and goods spurs the development of city life and culture, and drinking parlors and teahouses can be described as spaces of social activity that have arisen in response to changes in the city, developing into different forms according to the changes of the city's populations. Therefore, the transformation of drinking parlors and teahouses itself is an expression of city culture. This essay is intended to explore how places of this kind change in response to changes of city life. First of all, I will sort these places of consumption into different types; then explain the significance of their development from the perspective of their evolution; and thus consider how these realms of public life relate to the life of common people in the city.  Furthermore, I will look at the role these places of consumption play in the whole of city life, and what social function they fulfill.

The development of drinking parlors and teahouses in the city can be described as an expansion of individual activity and a development of spaces of social activity, and also as a marker for the development of the realm of public life.  While the basic nature of these venues of consumption is to supplement "daily life", as the city develops commercially, the element of "relaxation and recreation" is more emphasized, and hence they become important places for social entertainment in the city. We can look at the "tavern" (jiudian), which provides daily food and drink, the "drinking parlor" (jiulou), which offers the pleasure of singing girls, and the "teahouse", a cheaper place, as a developmental process. The transition of tavern to drinking parlor shows a move towards extravagant expenditure, suggesting a development from an every-day space where food and drink are consumed to a more exceptional space for relaxing entertainment. The transition of drinking parlor to teahouse then shows the popularization of this form of relaxation. In terms of the overall development of social life, the transition from tavern to parlor to teahouse can be described as the gradual establishment of an "uncommon" area of life, and the continuing increase of consumption in places like the parlors and teahouses can be described as a continuing expansion of public space in the city. The rise in the city of such multi-faceted spaces of consumption and relaxation reflects the development of public living space, the quantity and scale of these venues acting as measure of the level of public life in the city. The quantity and scope of activity in drinking parlors and teahouses of Ming-Qing commercial cities reflects the overall expanse and splendor of the realm of public life.


Key Words: drinking parlor, teahouse, consumer space, the consumption of space