At its height sometime during the 18’th century Britain was considered the most powerful Nation in the world as it encompassed a fifth of the world’s surface and contained a quarter of its population (p.
175). Despite losing it’s hold on the America’s via the American Revolution Britain continued to expand its sphere of influence through areas such as India, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, establishing Britain as the first Global superpower. Tea, standage argues linked this colonial and industrial power together (p. 176).Tea associated as it was with civilization and culture was a perfect drink for the Industrious British Empire, as it was commonly associated as a drink for the working man and fuel for workers who operated in the Newly built factories (p.176).
Tea, was supposedly invented by Chinese emperor Shen Nung, sometime during 2737-2697 BCE. He was said to have invented the plow and other agricultural tools along with discovering many medicinal herbs. Tea having started out as a religious and medicinal beverage spread throughout China and became a national beverage beloved by all during the time of the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) and is associated with the golden age in Chinese history, it holds great cultural significance in Chinese culture. Tea helped bring about large amounts of trade between many Asian nations and became a common drink between many of the nations including India, Japan, and Korea. This helped forge political bonds between many of the nations that have lasted for hundreds of years. Tea also heavily impacted the economy as the frequency of trade regarding tea increased exponentially as more and more people began to drink it, and it was even used as a form of currency. In 1771 Richard Arkwright constructed a large building at Cromford in Derbyshire.
He started gathering human hair, dyeing it, and created wigs out of the hai. His business was extremely successful and in 1767 decided to embark on a new entrepreneurial journey, and created the “spinning frame” a tool used for spinning thread in preparation for weaving. Two wealthy business were impressed at this new invent and gave Arkwright funds to build a new Spinning frame on a larger scale powered by horses, and then one powered by a water wheel. This pioneered the first steps into the industrial revolution and is considered the first modern factory.
Standage argues that the Industrial Revolution depended on technological and organizational advancements (p. 199). Similar to how working men took to drinking coffee during working hours in the 17th century so to did working men take to tee in the the late 17th century. “Tea breaks” as they were so aptly named were given to workers so they could sharpen their mind and not slow in their work and were widely used in factories when workers could not take breaks or otherwise risk something breaking.
This helped increase production efficiency and production retention. The economy, and the popularity of the Industrial Revolution were also boosted to new levels as tea caused an exponential growth of trade and commerce by boosting the demand for crockery and creating a new industry out of nothing. This new industry gave rise to a new cultural idea where in ones statues was determined by the ownership of a fine “tea service” whether you were rich or poor. Wedge was one such man of culture and coincidentally a pioneer of mass production, and an early adopter of steam engines (p.
201). He adopted a policy where workers would not focus on being generalized craftsmen but specialized craftsmen where one would focus on becoming skilled in making just one product. He also is thought to have intended the world’s first commercial logo that’s still in continuous use. This marketing practice Standage argues laid the groundwork for the mercantile concept of consumerism. For up to a century Britain remained above all other Western nations in terms of Industrialization because of their geographical advantages, religious work ethic, and scientific culture.
Around this time the Political power of the British East India Company began to grow exponentially even able to give the company direct control over some British policies. They were also able to establish a monopoly on smuggled tea in America which lead to a boycott of British products by the Americas. This eventually led to the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773 which was an integral part of the beginning of the American Revolution. In 1784 the East India Company’s coffers were full and were doing quite well for themselves when the duty on tea imports to Britain were halved which Standage states lowered the price of legal tea (p. 206-7). Which at that point the company was under scrutiny and was placed under a Board of control and had to answer to parliament.
Where many monopolies on China and India were removed from the company. As new competition began to enter the playing field smuggled tea was rendered useless when tea prices dropped even further resulting in competition becoming much more powerful and began to wrestle control from the East India Company. At the time the company began to focus on China and the opium trade which opened up many new pathways to capital.
Opium at the time as a banned narcotic in China took a lot of work to cover up so the East India company bribed and bullied their way into the industry and began to trade extremely large amounts of opium in the 1830’s. Chinese officials upon discovering this and it’s link to British businesses cut off the British from China which created the Opium war of 1839 lasting 3 years up until 1842. The war was extremely one sided with British wielding war ships and muskets while the Chinese wielded Medieval style crossbows and galleons. Standage states that British troops occupied several cities including Hong Kong, as a result the Chinese were forced to sign a peace treaty and pay reparations of war to the British in Silver. The opium trade was so important to Britain that it started a three year war in which multiple cities were seized and under British occupation.