Basic History of Chinese Incense
Chinese incense culture can be chased back to 4000 years ago.
Just like the origin of incense all over the world, the ancient ancestors found there are some plants have fragrance aroma, because of only tiny kinds of plants having fragrance aroma, those fragrance herb has been recognized and were used in the festive activities and also religious purposes.
People use for religious purpose because people wish to offer what they think it is precious to the supreme power. No matter 4000 years ago nor till today,fragrance herbal is still really precious. And also because of the value of the fragrance herbal, the royal family and the upper class like to burn fragrance herbal to show their precious identity. We can find some antiques of small incense burner back to the Chinese Warring States period(around 500 BC ~221BC). The exist of the small incense burner is meaning that it is no longer used for religious purpose but individual entertainment.
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), because the Dynasty started expending the territories to the Central Asia, more and more foreigners came to Han Dynasty for trading. Therefore, more and more fragrance herbs came to China and made the usage of ingredients for incense burning became more rich and thus the incense culture became more popular. One of the historical record recorded that the spices that such as clove and pepper were introduced to China during Han Dynasty from the Central Asia.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), there were already international trading all over the world. According to the historical record, in the capital of Tang Dynasty, there were so many businessmen from Roman, Arabian, Indian, Japanese, Korean, etc. Therefore, the spices and fragrance all over the world can be arrived to the China. Also, as Buddhism was really popular in Tang Dynasty, many Indian incense culture came to China. During the Tang Dynasty, except the Royal family, actually ordinary people can usually use the incense too. Some antique incense burner were used for portable purpose, which is the incense burner ball, it can be carry out to hang on the litter (vehicle). So you can see that except incense from the temples, people can smell incense fragrance every where. During that period, as Tang Dynasty was the most fashionable place of Eastern Asia (just like Korea today), many Japanese and Korean came to Tang Dynasty to learn to most fashionable culture and bring back to their own country. Now, Japanese incense culture is so famous all over the world, but the origin of the Japanese incense culture was came from China during Tang Dynasty. For example, the Venerable Ganjin great Buddhist Monk (鑒真大和尚), a famous monks in Tang Dynasty went to Nara of Japan for promoting the Buddhism. He and his team brought many ingredient and knowledge of incense to Japan. Today, you can still find the incense sticks with the formula of Venerable Ganjin in Tōshōdai-ji (唐招提寺) of Nara, Japan.
Song Dynasty can be said as the highest period of the culture, many philosophers were existed during that dynasty. Different art culture also achieved many high technique. During that period, many books related to the incense knowledge and formula were published. This can be shown that how the incense culture popular it was. Burning and tasting incense was already one of the four high class leisure activities (burning incense, drinking tea, arranging flowers and hanging painting) of the writers, scholars and calligrapher during that period. Japanese learnt these four high class leisure activities and brought back to Japan and developed into an artistic activities with high philosophic and spiritual thought behind, which is the Kodo (香道, way of incense),Chado (茶道, way of tea), Kado (華道, way of flowers) and Shodo (書道, way of calligraphy).
In Ming Dynasty, there was more and more international spice and fragrance herb trading. During that period, more incense books was published and more Chinese medical books had explained the medical usage of fragrance herb for curing. In Qing Dynasty, the government had tried to collect all the ancient published books and group into one, which is the Siku Quanshu(四庫全書), variously translated as the Complete Library in Four Sections, Imperial Collection of Four, Emperor's Four Treasuries, Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature, or Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, which is the largest collection of books in Chinese history. This collections has collected those inense books that published in Song and Ming Dynasty. Therefore, till today, we can still read that literature of incense that published thousand years ago.
At the end of the last empire of China, the Qing Dynasty, the fashion sense of the world moved from the Asia to Europe because of the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the upper class of China no longer still using the Chinese incense for producing aromatic atmosphere but subsequent by the western perfumes and the essential oil. The practice of using incense is just preserved in the traditional religious rituals. However, the quality of incense of modern time is much worse as it is not use full purify the environment and produce aromatic atmosphere. Therefore today when you go to the temple, you will feel that the incense is actually smells bad and irritating you eyes and nose. We are here to produce the high quality incense for aromatic purpose to revival this traditional Chinese incense culture that lasted for few thousand of years.