Part of my daily rituals involve tea. My first cup as soon as awaken and regular top ups throughout the day. It seems singularly British.
I can imagine the moment at dawn on the day of the big Zulu battle at Rorke’s Drift….
“By Jove! There’s thousands of those buggers with spears and shields making a tremendous racket. How terribly uncivilised.
Jeeves, let’s have a pot of tea!”
Tea wasn’t ours though. And it did not come from India.
In the 1800’s, we had converted the Chinese to the joys of smoking Opium. Purely for medicinal purposes you understand (not). Our privateers flogged so much of the stuff, the Chinese economy was on the brink of collapse as way too much silver currency was leaving the country. The Chinese government acted, seizing our warehouses in places like Shanghai and boarding our ships in international waters, destroying all the opium they found.
With the subsequent outrage, our government sent an expeditionary force from India to create havoc and the Chinese were forced to cede to our terms and gave us a long lease on the Island of Hong Kong, which effectively gave us a naval base on their doorstep.
The only export that the Chinese could use to balance the books was tea. Which had been in popular use in China for thousands of years and was sweeping through Europe as a must have drink. In fact, the purchasing of tea from China had caused us so many problems that we kind of brought the opium to China as a counter balance.
For the English, the situation couldn’t go on. And there was big money for someone who could get a tea plant out of China and grow it somewhere else. And one enterprising soul did just that, dressed as a mandarin, journeying into the interior of China, escaping with tea plants which were transported and successfully grown in India. Effectively, this isolated China and prevented her from keeping up with the west. She became isolationist and turned in on herself. So when someone says they wouldn’t do something for “all the tea in China”, a part of me doubts that they will be true to their word!
As China makes its steady march into the 21st century and it’s economy booms, I wonder what history would have been if we hadn’t stole their biggest export product 200 years ago. It is really no wonder that they do not respect our copyright laws and flood our markets with cheap products.