In Search of Better Stories

Greed, Arrogance, Stolen Tea, and the Destruction of Ukraine

England was hooked on tea
China had the monopoly

Such a splendid drink, but what a cost!
British supremacy could be lost.

The East India Company hatched a plan.
They need a spy, thief, & botanist to be their man.

Robert Fortune volunteers to look and see.
Is there a way to steal the tea?

With spotty language skills and flimsy disguise.
He penetrates China on a web of lies.

He grabs the tea and the secrets of the trade
If they catch him, he will be filleted!

Back to the coast then shipped safely in Wardian case
Tea grows as it travels to the English India place.

The heist and transplant of China tea.
Crushes forever Chinese monopoly.

So successful was the theft that today Himalayan-grown India tea is what the world wants. Chinese tea is not even remotely competitive. The gold standard for premium teas comes from India.

Thanks, Sarah Rose for this fascinating snippet of history.
  • The Reason Why England Justified the Theft and Drinks only Black Tea — When Fortune was slinking around China, he discovered that the dye used in making green tea was made from arsenic. The Chinese had been infusing their #1 export to the world with poison! Hasty letters from Fortune back home convinced an entire empire almost overnight that they would be black tea people and not green. This also justified the theft. British people needed British tea. The Chinese couldn’t be trusted.
  • Turn-about-is-fair-play — China lost the battle for tea supremacy, and they were doubly cursed for a time. They had been robbed of their #1 export, and their #1 import from the East India Company was opium. Widespread opium abuse in China and two wars lost to prevent its import destroyed China for a time. But the Chinese are an industrious and clever people. They snuck into British India and stole the trade secrets and plants that went along with the opium industry. They were so successful that British Indias Chinese market for Opium was undercut entirely within a few decades.
  • What’s the Moral Line? — Was Fortune a villain or a hero? Was his theft just business? Should one people group have exclusive rights to a plant? It seems that the whole point of capitalism is greed. Wealth and power were the end game for the heist. China responded by theft of their own, but their motivation wasn’t capitalism as much as national pride. Restoring the power and prestige of a superior people motivated their exploits. “The white devils,” as the Chinese called the English, needed to know their place. A place resolutely beneath them.

Greed and Arrogance, such a deadly combination. But how are they to be avoided? Is it not greed and arrogance that are destroying Ukraine right now?

  • Somehow capitalism needs to be “de-greeded” We all work hard to make ends meet, but never to a point where our successes crush or ruin someone else.
  • Somehow nationalism needs to be “de-arroganced” We love our countries and take pride in our various homelands but never to a point where we think we are superior to another people or nation.

It is only in the realm of belief that we have even the slightest chance of preventing these two death bringers from overcoming us.

  • If I believe that the world is a gift from God to be appreciated and shared, then maybe I won’t be so greedy.
  • If I believe that we as humans are intrinsically valuable because we are created by a loving God who wishes us peace and equality. Then maybe the allegiances I feel that come to me through my nationalist impulses will be less like to translate into life-crushing arrogance.

These are two pretty big maybes, but I think they are the best maybes we have. Even still, it’s hard not to see how the greed that leaks out of capitalism and the arrogance that flows from nationalism won’t, in the end, destroy us all. But I want to believe in this different story, which lives in opposition to greed and arrogance. If enough of us do, then perhaps the tide will turn.

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