Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

All the Tea in China

A friend sent me this. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Fast Company Magazine. It's about on corporate espionage ... in the 1800s. The full article may be read here.

How Scientist Robert Fortune Fueled Britain's Expansion by Stealing the Secret of Tea

BY Jenara NerenbergToday
Sarah Rose, author of a new book about how tea forged historical relations between China, India, and the West, says that industrial espionage in the 1800s shaped the world much the way it does today. 
Sarah Rose is the author of For All the Tea in China, which tells the true story of how tea and industrial espionage fueled the great expansion of the British Empire and the East India Company in the 1800s. The book focuses on one central character, Robert Fortune, who was a scientist sent by the British government to literally steal the secret of tea production from China, plant the Chinese tea in Darjeeling, and thus make the British Empire less reliant on trade with the Chinese and more self-sufficient by harvesting its own tea in colonial India. 
How did you choose the subject of industrial espionage and tea?
An ex-boyfriend said to me, "I heard one guy stole tea from China. You should look into that…" Reading plant hunter Robert Fortune’s memoirs, he describes fighting off Chinese pirates and traveling into the interior of Imperial China while dressed up as a Chinese Mandarin. Pirates? Traveling in Chinese drag? The greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of the world? I can work with that, I thought. When we say “for all the tea in China,” it expresses inestimable value, tea was everything to the British Empire.

For All the Tea in China has a decidedly enterprising tone, echoing the time in which the book is set. Will the world ever see another period like that?
I think we’ve seen Robert Fortune’s kind of improvisation and pluck in very recent memory--the geeks at Xerox PARC were just as independent and their technology was just as world-changing. We’ve also seen massive multinational corporations brought down by overconfidence and over-extension, just like the East India Company.

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