Category Archives: South Asia

Review of “For all the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose

Recently, I finished For all the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose. I listened to the unabridged audio edition, narrated by the author (who also produced the ‘trailer’ for the book):

For all the Tea in China is the story of Robert Fortune, a botanist and explore/industrial espionage agent. Indeed, Sarah Frost spends a good deal of time on the essential nature of these titles. Indeed, the protagonist is remarkably similar to those who are accused of exactly such crimes. Technically educated, personally ambitious, patriotic, and not scrupulous about the laws of the country he visits, a similar book may one day be written about Baidu’s attacks on Google. Like some of the Chinese scientists accused of corporate espionage, Fortune was professionally published (he has a number of plants named after him, three of which are prominent enough to have their own Wikipedia pages), as well as popular books which are available from Google:

Sarah Rose frames the story as one of two countries, HEIC (technically, Mughal) India and Manchu China, and two flowers, opium and tea. Indian opium was exchanged for Chinese tea, a precarious balance that could be easily be tilted if the Qing ever decided to regulate & tax opium. The HEIC did not believe it could rely on the incompetence of the Qing dynasty forever, and so began its only form of protection: attempting to grow tea.

For all the Tea in China reminds me of Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age, in that it is the story of the tremendous research and development efforts a monopolist can make. While Crystal Fire revolved around AT&T (the American Telephone & Telegraph Company), For all the Tea in China is the chronicle of HEIC (the Honorable East India Company). For HEIC not only did the hard work of maintaining experimental tea farms in India, sending explorers into India, providing them with contacts and cover stories, taking care of shipping… but also invention. While Fortune did not invent the Wardian case which would allow the first successful tea transplantation, he did pioneer their use as a portable incubator for tea plants.

The tone of the book is slightly feminine, as while the history is told ‘straight,’ the context of the story focuses on the life and relationships of Robert Fortune, as opposed to the geopolitical context. The somewhat Gothic nature of his marriage is emphasized more than, say, the global catastrophe which looms over Fortunes adventures. (He visits China shortly before the Taiping Rebellion, India before the Sepoy Mutiny, and America before the Civil War). While this aspect is missing from other female historians, like Barbara Tuchman, is adds another dimension to the book.

For all the Tea in China is an exciting tale of the East India Company, the Qing Dynasty, and the trade is neuroactive flowers that enmeshed them both. It is available from Amazon.com and Audible.

A New Asia, Part I: Friends

A number of unfortunate stories out of Beijing these days, two being China promotes Taiwan-focused military officers and China rejects use of sanctions to resolve Myanmar crisis. While neither are new developments (the Communist Party has protected the Burmese junta and opposed Taiwanese democracy for some time), the decision to look to the past says little about the strategic wisdom of the Hu Jintao Presidency.

President Hu has not lived up to the high expectations set for him. In spite of personal squabbles with former President Jiang Zemin that just don’t end, the current generation of Chinese rulers are no more imaginative than the last. Things aren’t getting better with respect to China’s international behavior, but they aren’t getting worse, either.

A sensible approach would be to assume that China’s cautious glidepath toward development will remain unchanged. So we should keep growing trade links with China, and of course encourage helpful behavior from them. But we shouldn’t have naive dreams, either. China is developing, but she is not a democracy. She has people, but does not have the security experience of India. She has wealth, but does not have an ocean of free capital like Japan. She has culture, but nothing like the vibrant democracy of Taiwan or the captive city of Hong Kong.

American policy in western and central asia should focus on the economic integration of China and the security integration of Japan, Taiwan, and India.

In both cases, the prime obstacle is the Democratic Party. But that is a post for another time…

Epic Post on China / Taiwan

Winds of Change Challenge (Bringing It All Together),” by Bill Rice, Dawn’s Early Light, 13 April 2005, http://dawnsearlylight.blogs.com/del/2005/04/winds_of_change.html.

An epic post on China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Australia, the United States, and peace in Greater East Asia and South Asia.

From a comment in the ensuing discussion

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. My point is not that the US will work against China per se, but work with like minded countries (not pawns… I think I clearly attempted to list each nation’s self interested reason for cooperating with the US position) to contain China from acting out aggressively towards Taiwan. Through this manner and engagement with China diplomatically we can wait out the clock for a more free China.

Exactly right.

Read it.

Update: Per request, my comment on the article

Great post. Your comment that through “this manner and engagement with China diplomatically we can wait out the clock for a more free China” is exactly right. I agree with your conclusions, but I’d like to comment on some of your supporting claims and implications

Just as Japan was able to strike quickly at Pearl Harbor, China may be able to strike quickly against Taiwan, but like Japan circa 1941, China does not have the access to oil and the ability to hold off a militarily superior United States.

The problem goes beyond oil — like Imperial Japan, Communist China does not have access to the outside world in a conventional war with the United States. The US Navy and US Air Force would be able to quickly shut down Chinese lines of communications to almost everywhere. Assuming both sides has the resolve to accept the military loses and the responsibility not to use conventional weapons, the situation would quickly deadlock in a stalemate militarily advantageous to the United States (China having a huge army….. in China).

On the mainland the People’s Liberation Army is militarily undefeatible, even with a total blockade.

Such an extended conventional war is unlikely with Beijing, but (barely) possible.

While the United States did help promote democracy during the Cold War, it did not do so with the passion and energy our nation needs to now pursue it. The Cold War was about pragmatic compromises, supporting unsavory dictators as well, especially in the Middle East, to keep countries in the US sphere rather than the Communist sphere.

In a post Cold War world, where different ideologies dominate the world debate, the old paradigm of working with unsavory nations cannot continue to ensure US security.

Between the Cold War to Globalization era, America switched from a negative to a positive foreign policy. As I blogged earlier

The Soviets were attempting to connect as much of the globe as they could to their command-and-control economy. For them this was a future worth creating. Reagan didn’t have a future worth creating. He saw a future worth destroying. We sought to disconnect every state the Soviets connected, and we succeeded.

Bush, with Clinton’s help, switched America from being anti-Communist to pro-Open-Society. There were just as many ideologies during the Cold War, but our relative weakness, our main enemy’s strength, meant we focused on his destruction.

If the US fails to defend a democratic Taiwan from China then it destroys any credibility won in the War on Terror with other nations. If we fail Taiwan what is our response to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Ukraine, Japan, Australia, our European allies, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and many other nations that depend on American security?

While China may be a problem for the United States, it is not a threat to globalization itself. China’s future worth creating is a lot like ours, only with differente emphases. bin Laden’s hopeful future is a nightmare. China is a developing authoritarian state that is slowly opening up. Saudi Arabia is terrible awfulness, in country-form

It would be possible to America to abandon Taiwan and maintain momentum in the Global War on Terrorism. We could make a trade with Beijing for abandoning Taiwan, and structre the trade to keep up the forward momentum.

It would be unwise, but it possible. Our response to Saudi Arabia and others would be “China is not good but getting better, you are terrible and getting worse.”

Additionally, allowing China to take Taiwan by force would automatically make the 21st Century a Chinese Century, as the ability for the US to promote and defend global security would crumble. Any century that has a non-free government as the apex of the international order will not be a century of peace, economic development and the expansion of liberty.

A historical analogy is useful. Would the 20th century have been better or worse if the Britain did not intervene to save Belgium? We would have had a authoritarian-Germany-dominated trade-oriented Europe. Berlin would have torn Russia apart, crushed the terrorist states in the Balkans, isolated Paris, and probably back democracy in Belgium significantly. Instead, London saved Brussels and we got Lennin, Stalin, and Hitler for our troubles.

China is “good enough” to be the major player in Greater East Asia. It’s not the future I want, but it’s not necessarily bad.

Elsewhere in your post you mention that China’s strategy may be to make a quick negotiated settlement favorable to Beijing. If that happens it is important that we will have thought about the consequences clearly.

Because of Japan’s fears of a rising Chinese dragon, they have extended their military relationship with the US to include defending Taiwan. If war was to break out in the Taiwanese Strait, the economic engine of Asia and possibly the world would grind to a halt. It is in Japan’s long term political, national security and economic interests to work with the United States in providing a proper deterrent to China. It is encouraging that Japan has boldly taken this step

Good point. Assuming a conventional naval start, international sea lanes would quickly be taken by America with China’s navy destroyed. America would be dictating when and where trade continues and resumes. While mercantile cowardess leads nations to favor peace at almost any cost, American force rebalances the equation in favor of our interests.

While a popular Indian worry about any future US arms deal would be the possibility of another arms embargo, as happened with India and Pakistan over the 1996 nuclear testing. This scenario is unlikely to repeat itself, because the US strategically needs New Dehli and New Dehli is not likely to start a war with Pakistan.

Kind-of related, especially where Taiwan is concerned. North Vietnam invaded the South in 1972, and lost. America’s left-dominated Congress then imposed a de-facto arms embargo on Saigon, and two yeras later Hanoi easily won. Beacuse of the influence of a small but powerful left, America has won a reputation for perfidity. India (and Taiwan) are both taking this into account.

The United States along with democratic countries in Eastern Asia have an opportunity to build a constructive alliance to deter China from seeking its goals militarily, but they must act now and wait for an emerging dragon to reform democratically.

Exactly right.