Tag Archives: india

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.

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.

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.

New Core Asian Realiagnment

The Bush Administration has been brilliant in building good relations with the New Core of Asia — countries like India and China. Indeed, this success is far more important over the long term than failures anywhere else in the world. We’ve become so accustmed to good news from the Asian New Core that it’s easy for it to fall between the cracks. So here are two stories with brief descriptions:

Indian government wins confidence vote
The Indo-American Nuclear Pact will not only allow nuclear technology to be shared among the two greatest democracies in the world: it also essentially recognizes India as a genuine nuclear power. The left in both countries oppose this… in India because their Left is anti-American, in America because our Left is anti-Bush. Fortunately, India’s government passed a confidence motion, which clears the way for New Dehli ratifying the agreement. Now as long as America’s Congress agrees, it is smooth sailing.

China and Russia’s Geographic Divide
Historically, Russia has been a west-Asian state with only marginal influence on European affairs. When Peter I and other Russian autocrats changed this, Europe began suffering from an infusion of Russian ideals, customs, and habits. Fortunately, the Russian state only exists as long as it has wealth to leach off of, and naturally runs itself down. Traditioanlyl Russia would reinvigorate itself through aggressive wars, though nuclear weapons appear to prevent this from happening against. Thus, Russia slowly falls back into its old role as a west-Asian state, a supplier for Chinese needs with as much freedom of movement as, say, Kazakhstan.

The Rise of India and China, along with the decline of Russia, may be the greatest story of the late 20th and early 21st century. And it’s a very happy story.

The Post-Zakaria World

As I noted in my review, Fareed Zakaria is generally a good writer, generally derivative of Tom Friedman. Too bad he’s a shill for Obama.

The latest howler (Zakaria’s book has the unfortunate habit of getting increasingly ridiculous the more one learns) is that, in spite of Bush being the most pro-India President in United States history, he squandered political good will in India.

Of courese given Bush’s high approval rating in India, perhaps Zakaria is holding Bush to an unspecified and impossible to reach standard?

s for the nuclear deal, Indians’ blithe faith in its chances may stem from something else altogether. The Pew Research Centre found that Mr Bush’s approval rating in India was “still astonishingly high” at 55%. In fact, Indians were the only people sampled who rated Mr Bush more highly than they did Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. So, perhaps they know something the rest of us don’t

Zakaria’s book can do some real good if it flatters an American left that’s in love with Obama, derisive towards Bush, and against American power, into supporting globalization.

But as a reporter of facts or trends, you just as well watch the Discovery Channel.

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…

A Good Nuclear Day

Two recent events, within twenty-four hours of each other, give hope to us all. First, India and the United States signed a nuclear accord which will allow that Republic to develop technology to deter deter an unseemly neighbor (Pakistan) and a neighbor that should be deterred from war as much as possible (China). Meanwhile, North Korea continues to show obstinance in her nuclear talks, which encourage Japan’s nuclearization. This encourages Tokyo to develop technology to deter an unseemly neighbor (North Korea) and a neighbor that should be deterd from war as much as possible (China).

Sometimes, proliferation is grand.