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STEEPSTER BOOK CLUB: For All the Tea in China, Week THREE Discussion HERE!

Here is the place where we can start discussing For All the Tea in China, Chapter 11 through Chapter 14.

Here are a few questions to get you started thinking and discussing the chapters. I am hoping you all will post more questions too :)

1. What do you think about Sing Hoo? :)

2. Did you learn anything interesting about China’s history/politics/culture in these chapters?

3. Has your opinion of Fortune changed at all? How? If you had to pick what kind of tea he reminds you of, what would you choose?

4. What did you think of the analysis on how to prepare a cup of tea on pages 160-164?

5. We learn more about opium in China. What stood out to you?

As always, this is just to wet our feet! Any and all questions and comments welcome!

15 Replies

1. I loved Sing Hoo’s “magic flag” and the story about how skeptical Fortune was that it would work. But it did! He was a character, with his scary stories. He was obviously important to the expedition because he spoke the local language, but he seemed to cause a fair amount of trouble and having to be rescued from his own wrongdoing by Fortune was pretty humiliating for him.

2. I really enjoyed the description of the Buddhist influence on tea-making in chapter 12.

3. I still think he’s an interesting character and he becomes somewhat more appealing as he becomes more “Chinese.” Gosh, I don’t know what type of tea he’d be. (Maybe Barbara Walters would? Lol.) Some form of oolong, I think. Probably amber.

4. It seems pretty much the conventional wisdom even now. :-)

5. I’m reading James Norwood Pratt’s book now and he comes right out and states the irony in a way that wasn’t quite as blunt in Rose’s book:

“It is instructive to reflect that the beverage John Wesley, the Methodist evangelist, was urging on his flock in the name of temperance in England was purchased at the price of drug addiction on the other side of the world. … ‘But,’ to quote J.M. Scott again, ‘the point here is this: of the tea being drunk in the West — at Methodist and antislavery meetings, in fine drawing rooms and poor cottages — nearly all of it was bought with opium.’”

This is a really stark statement that crystalizes the gist of what Rose was saying, but is more willing to state it outright in no uncertain terms. Here’s another, similar quote: “… it was cynically premeditated British policy that made ever more millions upon millions of Chinese opium addicts, creating a corrupt and demoralized society and hyperinflation in China’s economy.”

That’s so funny – I felt that he was an oolong too! I was thinking he was Samovar’s Wuyi Oolong because he is strong, he does not require milk and sugar, his is good for multiple infusions (many trips to China!!), he is not much for subtleties, but he is a complex one. I feel that he is definitely a Chinese tea (even though he basically made possible the whole Indian tea industry).

Those quotes from the James Norwood Pratt book are chilling!!! Again, makes me think of today, and makes me feel my complicity when seeing, say, the Gap label in my jeans and knowing they’ve been involved in hiring sweatshop labor.

Lori said

I love your comments- Morgana- and true JacquelineM about the Gap jeans and sweatshop labor.

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I think we all have met at least one Sing Hoo in our lifetimes – larger than life, crazy, troublemaker, storyteller, gets you in scrapes, but every once in awhile does something so amazing that it makes all that drama worthwhile :)

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Before I even read Morgana’s response, I thought Fortune would be an oolong, ever changing, don’t quite know what to expect next. I was glad to see that he finially “lost his gravity,” I was beginning to think he was really cold hearted stealing all those precious tea plants not really knowing if they were going to be able to grow in India at all due to climate and soil conditions. I was glad to see that he made notes about the elevation, climate and soil conditions. From the very start of this book, I have been thinking that the Indian tea company that hired Fortune was really being arrogant at thinking that plants that excel in China would excel in India…is the climate in both places that much the same?
It amazes me that he is getting away with this charade! Since China was basically closed at the time to outsiders, you would thought he would have met with more trouble, but everyone seems willing for him to rip the tea plants from the ground and run.
I agree, I have known Sing Hoo’s in my lifetime that would bring out the best and worst in me!
The opium trade has been startling to me…I wonder how much stuff that we enjoy has been gotten due to drug traffic? I would probably be appalled. I am beginning to realize how sheltered I have been in my life, I have been very lucky. I look at some of my students and they are so worldly when it comes to drugs…sad. I did enjoy reading the quotes from James Norwood Pratt. At one point in the book, I can’t remember where, it said something like it if weren’t for the opium trade, India would not have flourished…I have really messed this point up…but with the bad comes the good.

Britt☮ said

It does sound incredulous that all Fortune has to say is “I’m from a distant province” and no one questions it, but I’m actually not surprised he’s gotten away with it. I think it’s precisely BECAUSE China is so closed to outsiders that it’s made it easier for him. If China was open to outsiders and people knew what westerners looked like, Fortune wouldn’t have been fooling anyone.

I live in a very rural area of Japan, where many people have never seen a foreigner. I’ve seriously been asked twice if I’m Korean (and I’m African-American, so… wow). So I can see how Fortune, in a country where many people don’t know what a foreigner looks like, is easily fooling everyone.

Britt – your experience really helps me understand how he could have gone through China without (too much!) trouble. Thank you for sharing that!!!

I have funny opposite experiences when in France and Italy. I don’t look very American so I always have Americans asking me in loud half-foreign-from-the-guidebook languages for directions! They are always surprised when I say in plain English that I’m from America and I have no idea where I am either!!

Awesome insight Britt. Thank you!

Lori said
The one point about the book that mystified me is how were the Chinese fooled by Fortune so Britt your insights made perfect sense. From your picture, it is hard to believe they would mistake you for Korean. And in fact, about 10 years ago, I went to China for work, when we were in a rural area, that was the first time, some of these Chinese farmers had ever seen a Westerner! Soo, in the 1800s, without TV, newspapers, etc- how would they even know what someone from a faraway province looked/sounded like? So – yes that part is now believeable to me…

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Britt☮ said

I didn’t know the bit about prewarming the cup. That was pretty interesting.

Though it was mentioned in passing, one thing that surprised me was the six- or seven-year-old novice monk at the temple where Fortune and Sing Hoo stayed. I teach six- and seven-year-olds. It’s an accomplishment just to get them to sit still! I can’t imagine someone that age having the dedication and discipline to meditate and do whatever else monks do.

It irked me a bit when the author used the word “Chinaman.” Up until now, I believe she has only used it when directly quoting Fortune or someone else who said it. It’s a derogatory term, and I think using it herself wasn’t cool. I don’t know the page number, since I’m reading it on my Kindle, but it’s in the tea-preparing analysis under the “Add Dry Leaf” section: “Oversteeping tea makes it ‘stewey,’ in the words of the trade. No self-respecting Chinaman in Wuyi Shan would dream of letting a hand-picked brew longer than it ought.”

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1. What do you think about Sing Hoo? :)

Oh man, so full of himself, and such a storyteller, i was waiting for him to get knocked down a peg, it could have been worse, at least he was useful at times as well

2. Did you learn anything interesting about China’s history/politics/culture in these chapters?

So much about the opium trade, tea making, politics (the rebels), the monks, just so jam packed with information! this is think was the most informative set yet!

3. Has your opinion of Fortune changed at all? How? If you had to pick what kind of tea he reminds you of, what would you choose?

not really, still seems kinda nose in book bumbling scientist lucky.

strong, penderous, perhaps a nice plain earl grey

4. What did you think of the analysis on how to prepare a cup of tea on pages 160-164?

ha! we haven’t changed it much (except now the machines do it sometimes and we don’t need to pay as much attention)

5. We learn more about opium in China. What stood out to you?

How the rich saw it as beneficial, but it became bad only when their workers indulged. how expensive it was. how critical it was to the downfal of china and rise of england. I would never have suspected!

I wondered how much was lost with that wet humiliating walk from the opium den.

I am so glad to hear the black tea fared better than the poor green!

i adored hearing about the red robe tea myth, makes me want some

Lori said

Yes, Fortune is plain and ponderous…

I also like the monkey stories and their tea picking…

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Lori said

There was one scene w/Fortune that stood out to me: when he was in the Wuyi Monastery and the monk w/the elaborate robes continually bowed in Fortune’s presence. He finally felt some sort of “guilt” about his thievery…I still can’t get a personal feeling about this guy.

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Lori said

And to think opium still has an influence today: aren’t we in a war w/Afghanistan? And one of the reasons is related to its opium trade? And in a bigger picture, drugs still play a huge role in politics and economics..

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