Tea is the most popular drink in the world second only to water. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks combined including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol, and China is still the leading tea producer in the world.
If you are interested in a real-life collision between the West and China early in the 19th century, I highly recommend reading Sarah Rose’s heavily researched nonfiction book For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.
In this book, you will discover that the British Empire and its merchants were successful, because they were more ruthless and devious than anyone else on Earth. When China’s last Dynasty collided with the British Empire, the Qing Emperors probably had no idea who they were dealing with.
The British Empire was 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 it controlled more than 500 million people, a quarter of the world’s population at the time.
What financed the brutal expansion of this empire? In the 19th century the British Empire was not only a thief, but the largest drug cartel in human history. After all, it was the British that forced Opium on China and fought two Opium Wars to make that happen. How do you think the British paid for the expansion of their empire?
The real-life main character in Sara Rose’s fascinating, true, fact-based story is Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) who successfully pulled off one of, if not the largest, act 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 where the British were also growing the opium they were selling to the Chinese.
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 has the earliest records of tea drinking dating back to the first millennium BCE, because this nonfiction book reads like a spy thriller. If caught, Fortune would have been executed by the Chinese. To pull off the biggest heist of all time, he disguised himself as Chinese and 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.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.
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