Monday, October 18, 2010
Can One Man Change the World?
The latest entry in my ever-expanding "How could I have never heard of this before?" sweepstakes is found in Sarah Rose's For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History.
For two centuries, Britain raised poppies in India, which it then converted to opium and sold/traded to China for tea. When China threatened to lift the ban and grow its own opium, Britain decided to grow its own tea (it had an excellent place to do so in the mountains of Tibet). There was just one tiny problem. Britain had no tea plants, nor any knowledge of how to grow, tend, and harvest tea. If they were going to wrest control of tea from the Chinese, they would need some help.
They would need a plant hunter, a botanist, a gardener, a thief, a spy. They would need someone capable of disguising himself as Chinese, as Westerners were not welcome in China. They would need someone capable of dealing with everyone from corrupt Mandarins to common folk to pirates. They found Robert Fortune, whose efforts reshaped the world's economy.