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 and Audible.

Tibet in Context

While China is often criticized for its invasion of Tibet (which had never been part of China, but had been part of the Chinese Empire for thousands of years), India is rarely criticized for its invasion of the princely states in the mid-to-late 20th century. Upon independendence, the Indian Union was one of many sovereigns in South Asia, some of which (Hyderabad and Kashmir, famously) did not wish to be part of India. India these complaints and used a combination of threats of force and force to compel its neighbors to join its socialist polity.

india_1950If Nehru was really has shocked at China’s invasion of Tibet as he seemed to have been, then his foreign policy really was a foolish as his disastrous economic policy, which held India back for two generations.

This is not to defend China. It is to criticize India.

Slumdog Millionaire: China under the KMT?

Three things that helped me understand the early Cold War were Slumdog Millionare, The Man Who Stayed Behind, and I Chose China.

One thing the Communists were really good at, when they took over a
country, is giving a lower-middle-class lifestyle to almost everyone,
and keeping it there. In economies that could have integrated with
the west (Cuba, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, even
North Korea) this was really bad. In economies that started out
tremendously, and bitterly poor (the Soviet Union and China) this
wasn’t necessarily a bad deal.

I think India now is what China would have been if the KMT had won the
civil war. More-or-less western government tend not to go crazy, so
no cultural revolution, no great disruption, etc. But Communists
countries tend to do far more for the extreme poor, so you get
gigantic slums like in Bombay which simply do not exist in China.

Putin’s priorities are clear

But then, he’s too busy turning the Nazis into the only legitimate opposition in Russia to fight the Taliban:

The Weekly Standard
While Obama deals with the assorted tax problems of his nominees, the world continues to turn. The AP reports that “Kyrgyzstan will no longer allow US to use airbase that supports military operations in Afghanistan.” This as the Kyrgyz president arrives in Moscow for a state visit the agenda for which is to include Russia forgiving Kyrgyzstan’s debt and providing nearly $2 billion in loans and new investments.

This presents an opportunity. Historically, politics in Afghanistan was split between Iran, India, and Russia supporting the multiethnic north, and Pakistan supporting the Pashtun south. If Russia is actively preventing support of the Afghan government (which is a very “northern” institution), we may seeing de facto between Russia and Pakistan in supporting the Pashtun south.

Which means an Indian-Iranian-American alliance in support of Afghanistan’s national government is possible.


I hope Barack Obama is paying attention!


There seems to be some symbolism in General Shinsheki being named to be Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Habor, but I am unable to enunciate it.

Perhaps Shinsheki is a clearer thinker than me:

Shinseki, in 2006, began traveling around the country as a spokesperson for the “Go For Broke National Education Center,” an organization dedicated to preserving and educating about the contributions of Japanese American soldiers in World War II. The 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated unit of Japanese Americans who fought in World War II, adopted the motto, “go for broke.” “There is no other story in the history of the U.S. Army like this one, and given the conditions that gave rise to the extraordinary valor of Japanese American soldiers, there may never be another story like it again,” stated Shinseki.

Other transitions are afoot in the world, too.

The past is always dying, and the future is always being born.

Moving forward, we should work with our ally China to disentangle ourselves from our mutual historic friend (and increasingly, psychotic basketcase) Pakistan. China and the United States should work together to accommodate India as a major power in Asia, and find ways to mutually project power into Central Asia in a way that defeats terrorism and prevents any rogue energy suppliers from overturning the peace.

Oriental Democracy

The removal of Thailand’s Prime Minister and arrest of Taiwan’s former President should give pause to those who insist on democracy as a near- or medium- way forward for the new core economies of the far east.

Building democracy is an important goal, and China is making significant achievemetns to that end. A stable economy is built on a stable middle class integrated into the world. Democracy as a political system makes sense if an even worse system must be avoided, or if democracy can allow the people to fire ineffective rulers without disrupting the system,.

The unfortunate news from Taiwan, and not Thailand, shows the potentially destabilizing effects of free elections. If China can continue to strengthen its economy and ‘build democracy’ without elections, then China is doing her share to contributing to the world and helping construct a peaceful future.

Pakistan in Collapse

The Indian State will survive this, and other, crises. The Pakistani state already does not control its own defense establishment, is not able to limit the export of violence from its borders, and (in a desperate attempt to remain relevent) may pull soldiers who are now monitoring the Taliban.

Stratfor has a good take:

Strategic Motivations for the Mumbai Attack | Stratfor
Now, step back and consider the situation the Mumbai attackers have created. First, the Indian government faces an internal political crisis driving it toward a confrontation it didn’t plan on. Second, the minimum Pakistani response to a renewed Indo-Pakistani crisis will be withdrawing forces from western Pakistan, thereby strengthening the Taliban and securing al Qaeda. Third, sufficient pressure on Pakistan’s civilian government could cause it to collapse, opening the door to a military-Islamist government — or it could see Pakistan collapse into chaos, giving Islamists security in various regions and an opportunity to reshape Pakistan. Finally, the United States’ situation in Afghanistan has now become enormously more complex.

By staging an attack the Indian government can’t ignore, the Mumbai attackers have set in motion an existential crisis for Pakistan. The reality of Pakistan cannot be transformed, trapped as the country is between the United States and India. Almost every evolution from this point forward benefits Islamists. Strategically, the attack on Mumbai was a precise blow struck to achieve uncertain but favorable political outcomes for the Islamists.

Rice’s trip to India now becomes the crucial next step. She wants Indian restraint. She does not want the western Pakistani border to collapse. But she cannot guarantee what India must have: assurance of no further terror attacks on India originating in Pakistan. Without that, India must do something. No Indian government could survive without some kind of action. So it is up to Rice, in one of her last acts as secretary of state, to come up with a miraculous solution to head off a final, catastrophic crisis for the Bush administration — and a defining first crisis for the new Obama administration. Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once said that the enemy gets a vote. The Islamists cast their ballot in Mumbai.

It is foolish to trust the Pakistani government, because the Pakistani government is not powerful enough to control what happens in Pakistan.

We should do what we can to strengthen neighbors (Iran, India, China, etc), while coming up with smart policies that will allow us to firewall ourselves and our friends off from the worst of Pakistan’s exports.

Good Signs (for the fight against Russia)

There are good signs in the news today about the world coming to terms with other countries being nuclear powers.  First, India is now able to buy supplies for its nuclear power plants on the open market.

Slashdot | India Joins Nuclear Market
figona brings news that India will be allowed to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). A waiver was approved yesterday that provided an exception to the requirements that India sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. This means India will be able to buy nuclear fuel from the world market and purchase reactors from the US, France, and Russia; something it has been unable to do since it began nuclear testing in 1974 (which inspired the creation of the NSG). 

Second, there is news that Shimon Peres (the President if Isreal) opposes strikes against Iran.   Peace with Iran is important if we are serious about responding to Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  (This follows earlier news that America and Iran have seriously toned down their rhetoric).

Real grand strategy means prioritizing.  Russia’s invasion of Georgia was a crime against peace more serious than anything since the 9/11 attacks or Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  Weakening Russia, strengthening the New Core around Russia, and absorbing Seam states on the frontier with Russia, are thus important goals of the United States.  More important than enforcing dead-letter nuclear proliferation treaties, that would deny India and Iran nuclear power… and nuclear weapons.

India, unrelated to Pakistan

Michael sent me a fascinating article about the continuing Muslim insurgency against India, and India’s strategy of just-ignoring-it. It’s a fascinating approach, and similar (so I’ve heard) to India’s strategy against the Maoists in the east: ignore them. As I understand it, India is making a concerted effort to be and to act in relation to its regional neighbor China, instead of its physical neighbors Pakistan and Nepal. To use the word association game, India wants you to think of “India-China,” not “India-Pakistan” or “India-Nepal”:

Unfazed by bombings, India has an option: peace –
NEW DELHI — With a deadly attack on its embassy in Afghanistan, Pakistani troops clashing with its soldiers in disputed Kashmir and Islamic militants bombing its cities, India has in recent months seemed a country under siege.

Just don’t ask it to live like one.

Its ancient markets are as packed as ever. Its bright new malls bustle as never before. And few talk of avenging attacks that just a few years ago would likely have brought South Asia’s nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war.

This must be coming as some political cost. India is losing as many lives as another Muslim-inspired insurgency: Iraq. (Though obviously in both Islam is an enabling, if not a driving, force.)

Still, the attacks have done little to alter life for most Indians, as terror-related deaths only account for a fraction of India’s 1.1 billion people. The U.S. National Counterterrorism Center reported 3,674 deaths from January 2004 to March 2007, second only to Iraq.

The partition of British South Asia, by removing a great number of Muslims from the Union of India, may be paying off. While we cannot roll-back history, it’s easy to see how disastrous life would be in India if it had 170 million more Muslims! In this way, the partition of British India reminds one of the end of the Cold War, where the European nations best suited to globalization (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, etc.) leaving the dead-weight of Russia behind.

Of course, this progress may be reversed. In Europe, weakness to Russia may encourage Russian diplomatic, financial, and economic control over Europe, retarding economic growth and helping pull west Eurasia off-line. In South Asia, Pakistan is relatively weaker, but >certain psychopathic proposals such as encouraging mass (non-token) people movement from Pakistan to India would only make the situation worse.

One of the breakthroughs of work on the Core and the Gap is that there is techniques that work perfectly well with the Core do not work in the Gap, and a focus on “justice” (which is part of the normal judicial process in the Core) only drags the Gap deeper into a self-referential spiral of despair.

The future, not the past, is the watch-word of the Core. When the Gap speaks, we close our ears, as we must. When the Gap attacks, we ignore when we can, we destroy what we must, and firewall the rest. When we integrate the Gap, it is on the basis of profit, not justice.

The Core’s War for Pakistan

Surprisingly to many (including myself), the War against Terrorism is being revelaed to be a War for Pakistan.  We’re fighting in Afghanistan.  India is fighting in Kashmir:

SRINAGAR, India — Indian and Pakistani soldiers traded fire across the heavily armed Kashmir frontier for more than 12 hours overnight and into Tuesday in what the Indian army called the worst violation of a 2003 cease-fire agreement between the neighbors.

The night-long gunbattle came after one Indian soldier and four Pakistanis were killed Monday along the frontier that divides Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, the Indian army said. No further casualties were reported Tuesday.

Indian, Pakistani Soldiers Trade Fire Along Kashmir Border –

Either destroying Pakistan’s pro-Taliban “ISI” or breaking Pakistan’s ability to conduct an independent foreign policy are worthwhile golas.  Let’s hope the Core steps up its efforts to pursue them.