STEEPSTER BOOK CLUB: For All the Tea in China, Week TWO Discussion HERE!
Two things that I meant to question at this point, but forgot which portion of the book we were discussing, were related to how much secrecy was required, and how much was possible, when he was working with the tea.
He went to the Wang’s home and went out from there to harvest tea seeds. Was it ok for anyone to just go out and gather seeds? Was this an illustration of the lack of concern for property rights over the seeds? Was it not a concern for them because they couldn’t see the value of the seeds, or imagine someone wanting to start a new tea plantation when there was so much tea already producing? Was it considered a bizarre affectation by this odd ‘mandarin’ and tolerated because of his status? What did the Wangs think? What did Wang tell them about the tea quest? Wondering here if there are any sources from the Chinese side, of memoirs that mention this strange visitor and what locals thought of him. And then, he’s sprouting and working with tea seedlings, carrying them in the glass cases across the country—didn’t that attract attention?
Once he’s got the seeds to the Dent & Co grounds, he’s able to plant them and work with them for weeks or months without any Chinese official noticing? Were they that secure from inspection in their private holdings? Or did they simply lie to ignorant local inspectors & officials who perhaps never had seen a young tea plant?
These are good questions!! I would love it if you would present them to the author Sarah Rose when we have our discussion with her on June 1 and 2 :)
I love your questions! I was thinking the same things about the theft of the tea seeds. Why did the Wang family allow that especially since China restricted access to most of the country to foreigner’s..Did they really believe /convinced Fortune was Chinese from a farflung province? And it is really hard to believe that Dent as an importer/exporter of primarily TEA would be OK with sending tea plants to India?
wow, OK that made me step back and think, you are spot on! i forgot that the place he was staying was the competitor! I assumed the amount of time needed to grow a tea bush and his status (class) is what kept the locals / wang’s not nosey
1. There is quite a bit of information about tea processing in these chapters. Did anything stand out to you? Surprise you?
The clarification of the term “fermentation” was helpful; also the fact that tea processing is part art, part science
2. We learn more about Chinese culture in these chapters. What did you learn about the culture through the Wang family? The ongoing “squeeze?” The references to Confucianism?
Peasant families were very close (literally) – whether through cultural reasons or just financial necessity.
I wonder how much of the “squeeze” was just normal business, and how much was taking advantage of a foreigner. At any rate, it doesn’t seem like the rates charged bankrupted the British, nor were they enough to make Wang a rich man, I think (maybe that’s covered later?)
3. We meet some real characters in India! What did you think of Falconer? Jameson? What did you think of the descriptions of India?
Sounds like a place where great beauty and horrifying squalor were often juxtaposed. The description of the smell of rotting bodies on the river really drove that home…
4. How did you feel after reading about what happened to the seeds!?
Disappointed but not terribly surprised. I figured the odds were that something would happen, but was dismayed that avoidable human error was the culprit. Clearer instructions should have been given to all parties (or written on the cases themselves?). They should have been made very difficult/inconvenient to open so that no one would bother