“For All the Tea in China” – a book review

October 23, 2012

If you are interested in a real-life collision between the West and China early in the 19th century, then I highly recommend Sarah Rose’s nonfiction work. You will discover that the British Empire and its merchants were successful, because they were more ruthless and devious than anyone else on Earth.

You may be interested in the list of wars that involved the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1701 – 2011. Be prepared for shock and a dropped jaw. The price of an empire is blood, lots of spilled blood.

At its greatest extent, the British Empire was known as the largest in history, and it covered more than thirteen-million square miles (20,921,472 square kilometers), which is about a quarter of the Earth’s total land area, and she controlled more than 500 million people—a quarter of the world’s population.

The English language, which the British Empire spread, is the second most-widely spoken language in the world today—in reality, the standard language of the world.

What financed the brutal expansion of this empire?  According to For All the Tea in China, drugs paid for the empire.  The British Empire was a thief and the largest drug cartel in human history.

Sarah Rose wrote a fascinating story of Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) and one of, if not the largest, acts of corporate espionage and theft in history. This nonfiction book is about how the British stole tea plants and the method of producing tea from China and successfully transplanted this industry in India.

For example, if you drink Darjeeling Tea from India, you are drinking a product that was stolen from China by Robert Fortune in the early half of the 19th century.

But there is much more to this story than the theft of tea from the country that may have invented it almost five thousand years ago. In fact, China is considered to have the earliest records of tea drinking, with recorded tea use in its history dating back to the first millennium BCE.

However, first, I want to dispel a misconception I discovered from a two-star Amazon reader review that said, “I was a little skeptical about her comment in the notes ‘As this is a work of popular history, not a scholarly undertaking, I have avoided the use of footnotes and tried to steer clear of mentioning sources in the body of the text. Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction …’ “

That unfair review left off the rest of Sarah Rose’s quote that said, “Nevertheless, this is a work of nonfiction, and anything in quotes comes from a letter, memoir, newspaper or other contemporaneous sources.

“I have relied heavily on Robert Fortune’s four memoires (listed at the end of this post), his letters to the East India Company and other company documents housed in the British Library. Over five hundred books and documents were consulted in putting this project together.” (pg. 251, hardcover)

On page 227 of the hardcover, Rose wrote, “By the time the Chinese realized that Fortune had stolen an inestimable treasure from them, it was many years too late to remediate their loss. His theft helped spread tea to a wider world at lower prices.”

In addition, “Tea likewise revolutionized Britain’s capital and banking systems and influenced the rapid growth of trade networks in the Far East. It was instrumental in extending the reach of British colonialism as the empire expanded to include countries such as Burma, Ceylon, East Africa and others where tea could be grown …”

On page 178, we discover, “It was through drug-based commercial enterprises such as the tea and opium trade that Britain became the greatest of all hegemonic empires. The British campaign to sell opium in China was tremendously profitable. … Britain’s all-conquering naval fleet was able to be constantly improved with newly minted capital from the sugar, tea and opium trades. Without opium, the India trade would not have flourished and without India, Britain’s post-Napoleonic global ascendency could well have collapsed.”

However, these few quotes do not do justice to Robert Fortune’s adventure in China. He successfully passed himself off as a citizen of the Qing Empire dressed in mandarin robes. He even had a queue, a braid of hair worn hanging down behind the head, sewn to his scalp and had his head shaved to match the style of the time.

“He eventfully became proficient enough with speaking Mandarin that he was able to adopt the local dress and move among the populous largely unnoticed. By shaving his head and adopting a ponytail, this rather gruff Scotsman was able to effectively blend in. So well in fact, that he was able to enter the forbidden city of Souchow (now Wuhsien) unchallenged.” Source: Planet Explorers.com

Besides being nonfiction loaded with facts, this book was also an adventure and/or spy thriller based on a real person and his mission of intrigue—if caught, he would have been executed. To pull off the biggest heist of all time, Fortune traveled to areas of China that no foreigner had ever visited before, and his only companions were Chinese that he had bribed to work for him.

Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol – put together. In fact, China is still the leading tea producer in the world: in 2010 China produced 1,467,467 tons (32.5%) compared to second place India at 991,180 tons (21.9%). Third place went to Kenya at 399,000 tons (8.83%).

In addition, consumption of tea in 2010 grew at a faster rate than global production. In the United States alone in 2011, the US tea industry gross revenue through all foodservice and retail outlets was greater than $27-billion (and twelve countries consumed more tea than the US). For a comparison, ticket sales for the US domestic movie market were only $10.28-billion in 2011.

Tea is more popular than Hollywood.

Robert Fortune’s memoirs:

1. Three Years’ Wandering in the Northern Provinces of China, A Visit to the Tea, Silk, and Cotton Countries, with an account of the Agriculture and Horticulture of the Chinese, New Plants, etc., London: John Murray  (1847)

2. A Journey To The Tea Countries Of China; Including Sung-Lo And The Bohea Hills; With A Short Notice Of The East India Company’s Tea Plantations In The Himalaya Mountains. With Map And Illustrations, London: John Murray  (1853)

3. Two visits to the tea countries of China and the British tea plantations in the Himalaya: with a narrative of adventures, and a full description of the culture of the tea plant, the agriculture, horticulture, and botany of China, London: John Murray (1853)

4. A Residence Among the Chinese; Inland, On the Coast and at Sea; being a Narrative of Scenes and Adventures During a Third Visit to China from 1853 to 1856, including Notices of Many Natural Productions and Works of Art, the Culture of Silk, &c, London: John Murray (1857)

5. Yedo and Peking; A Narrative of a Journey to the Capitals of Japan and China, with Notices of the Natural Productions, Agriculture, Horticulture and Trade of those Countries and Other Things Met with By the Way, London: John Murray  (1863)

Discover The Tea Horse Road or learn about The Magic of Puer Tea

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Shanghai Teahouse

June 20, 2012

This is where I enjoy shopping when in Shanghai.

It wasn’t crowded yet!

The Huxinting Teahouse has been around for awhile (several centuries–it was restored in 1784).  This pavilion was turned into the tea house in 1855. Nice place to stop and have a cup of tea.  Go early.  It gets crowded.


famous Shanghai tea house on the water

The area in Shanghai around the Huxinting Teahouse is a good place to shop. Many small shops. Do not pay asking price. Be willing to bargain.  Start low and meet in the middle. Don’t be too cheap either.

Shopping before it gets crowded.

The following video gives you a musical tour of the sights of Shanghai’s Old District including Yu Yuan Garden and Huxinting Tea House.

For more about Shanghai, also see:
Shanghai
Shanghai’s History & Culture
Shanghai Huangpu River Tour
Eating Gourmet in Shanghai
Chinese Pavilion, Shanghai World Expo

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This edited and revised post first appeared on February 20, 2010 (Note: the author took the photos but did not produce the video)


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Kombucha Fermented Tea – Part 5/5

January 21, 2012

Sometimes I wonder about the sanity of most Americans. It seems they will drink or eat anything that arrives on an attractive plate or in a fancy bottle. I read a piece recently that said Lindsay Lohan and other Hollywood types like Madonna, Kirsten Dunst and Halle Berry are into this new (but old) synergy drink called Kombucha.

No one knows for sure where this fermented tea originated but recorded history says it started in Russia during the late 19th century.

However, promotional material says the drink comes from ancient China or Japan. In fact, some say that kombucha, known as Godly Tsche, dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and was “a beverage with magical powers enabling people to live forever”. Since the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, didn’t live forever, we can discount that claim.

I asked my wife about this tea and she said that as a child she saw it being fermented and that the stuff floating around inside the jar reminded her of dead cockroaches.

Once someone like Pepsi or Coke gets hold of something old like this there is no telling what kind of chemicals will be added. If you want to make this tea, click Kombucha Tea for the home brew recipe.

If you believe the health claims of this tea, you may want to learn about the Chinese “Chong Cao“. Remember, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t evaluated any of these claims.

Return to Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 4 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for the Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 2/5

January 18, 2012

Puer tea is mellowed by aging, the period by which it is transported and stored.

The largest, tallest tea trees in the world grow in the mountains of Yunnan. This region also produces black, green, Oolong and other kinds of tea.

The leaves for “Puer” tea are divided into three sizes and the largest contain more of the health benefits attributed to “Puer” tea.

For centuries, the process of making tea from picking, to washing, to boiling, mixing, pressing, clustering, baking, and packing has been improved to enhance the flavor of the tea.


Chinese Puer tea – Part 2/3

Dao Linyin, the governor of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous region in China says, “Puer tea contains many vitamins. Very few Puer drinkers get high blood pressure.”

Standards for selecting the thickest broad leaves for “Puer” tea means only about 30% of the tea leaves that are picked pass inspection to be processed into the final product. This selection process is important because the wrong leaves will have a negative impact on the fermentation process.

The fermentation step in the process of producing “Puer” tea takes 110 days.

Continued on January 19, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 3 or return to Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Subscribe to “iLook China”
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page.

About iLook China

Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


A High Price for Chinese Porcelain

July 30, 2010

Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province is a well-known Chinese porcelain city and has been an important production center in China since the early Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Chinese porcelain originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC). Source: China Paper Online

Frances Miller writes about collecting antique Canton china at Suite 101.com. He says, “Since the 18th century, blue and white porcelain china originating from the port of Canton has been filling cabinets in America… and was a staple on the dining tables of such prominent Americans as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.”  

“The demand for Chinese products—tea, porcelain, silk, and nankeen (a coarse, strong cotton cloth)—continued after the Revolution. Having seen the British make great profits from the trade when the colonies were prevented from direct trade with China, Americans were eager to secure these profits for themselves.” Source: Early American Trade With China

This hunger for Chinese products, while the Chinese found little in the West to buy, led to the Opium Wars, which Britain and France started and won to force China to even the trade imbalance. Then China sold the West silk, porcelain and tea while the West sold China opium.

Today, we still hear angry voices complain about the unfair trade imbalance between China and the US. Can anyone blame China for maintaining a powerful military?

See The Accidental Discovery of Gunpowder

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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The Opium Wars in the 19th Century (1800s)

June 28, 2010

China began the 19th century confident of its superiority over the rest of the world.  China’s population numbered 400 million. The Qing (Manchu) Empire controlled the world’s biggest economy.  China enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with the West—receiving a huge amount of money for its silk, porcelain, and tea.

By 1800, the British consumed 10,000 tons of tea annually.  So much money poured into China, that one Chinese merchant became the richest man in the world, and all foreign business with was restricted to one city, Canton.

However, Britain had a product to reverse that balance of trade—opium. The British shipped opium into China and up its rivers to almost every part of China.  So many became addicted to the drug, the stability China was threatened.

Then in 1839, the Emperor acted to stop the opium trade. Lin, the man in charge, wrote to Queen Victoria asking for her help. Ignored by Great Britain, Lin resorted to confiscating the opium and destroying it, which led to the Opium Wars started by Britain and France, who respected nothing but force. China lost the war and was forced to pay for a war they did not want and did not start.

In the British parliament, William Gladstone criticized his government calling the Opium war a disgrace.

See Mao’s War Against Illegal Drugs

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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