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

Can you believe that this is the last week-and-a-bit of discussion already!?!

Here is the place where we can start discussing For All the Tea in China, Chapter 15 through end. I also think it is now safe to start discussing the book as a whole! With that in mind, here are the questions for the book that are on Sarah Rose’s website:

(http://sarahrose.com/reading-guide/)

1. What lessons does For All the Tea in China teach us about today?

2. “The greatest service that can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture,” Thomas Jefferson said. Discuss how the movement of plant life changed the colonial British Empire.

3. One of the first times we meet Robert Fortune, he dresses his Chinese shipmates in Western clothing to project force. How does this impact his understanding of difference and culture?

4. What is the importance of tea throughout the book? What does it reveal about the British and Chinese Empires?

5. Robert Fortune has been called the “Indiana Jones” of tea. How does geography affect Fortune’s identity? How does he feel about traveling in China?

6. Fortune continually runs into trouble created by his Chinese body men and guides. How does this affect his perception of the Chinese people? Do you agree with him?

7. Aside from tea, what does Fortune gain from traveling in China? Does he give anything back to China?

8. Was there any point during the book when you wanted to tell a character something? Words of advice, warning, or reassurance, for example? When?

9. What did you expect to happen when the tea seeds arrived in India? Were you surprised? Disappointed?

10. Tea is the most popular drink on earth, next to water. How did Robert Fortune’s trips change the Western world’s perception of tea?

11. The East India Company was one of the first multinational corporations. How is the company’s story echoed in today’s business news headlines?

12. Today, Chinese intellectual property theft is in the news, but the British Empire enacted the largest theft of trade secrets in history when it stole tea seeds, plants and recipes from Imperial China. Why didn’t this create a scandal in Fortune’s day? What has changed?

Again, this is just a jumping off point. Add anything you feel like discussing, and get ready for our author discussion on JUNE 1 and 2!!! I’ll post something next week to start collecting comments and questions!

20 Replies
Janefan said

I am reading but am a few weeks behind the discussion and doubt I’ll be finished in time for the author chat.

I just saw this link on Victoriana magazine’s website and had to share! There is some god info and images of Victorian Wardian cases/terrariums for home display of ferns, and exotic plants. There’s also a link at the end to a site that sells an impressive array of modern-day ones!

http://www.victoriana.com/victoriangarden/wardian_cases.html

Beautiful and amazing! I swooned when I saw the cases for sale at H Potter – thank you so much for posting!! Some of them are really reasonable and I would LOVE to get one!!

One of the things I do each year is save cuttings from my coleus and overwinter them which was a great past time of the Victorians. This winter was so cold that even though I had them indoors in my studio, they did not survive :( I started some from seed this year and maybe with the help of a Wardian Case I will not have that problem again!

Janefan said

There’s also a book with more detail on creating a Victorian-style terrarium garden. Looks like it would be good for a novice like me!

http://www.victorianamagazine.com/archives/3998

Lori said

Those terreariums are beautiful…

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With regard to the last two questions, the East India Company seems pretty unique in that it operated more like a nation than a business, raising armies and such. But its strength seemed to lie in its monopoly status. When it lost that status, it couldn’t compete effectively because as a monopoly it hadn’t had to. On the IP issues, do we know for a fact there wasn’t a scandal? If there wasn’t, it was probably because of a number of factors. First, news didn’t travel as fast in those days. It apparently wasn’t until the tea making in India became successful years later that the Chinese even discovered what had happened. Second, language barriers were steeper. Third, the aggrieved party was the Chinese government, and English speaking newspapers would have had to have been interested in breaking the story from the Chinese perspective. Fourth, the English didn’t seem to perceive it as stealing. They paid a lot of money to send Fortune there at great risk to his personal safety, and to ship back the plants. Once he was in the interior, no one seemed very interested in keeping him from taking the plants. The tea makers who left to go to India also didn’t seem to view this as stealing, but rather as an opportunity for economic gain.

Lori said

Agree 100%.

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1. change can’t be undone, the faster ships and moving of tea changed the world, it just kept plucking forward. I felt bad the US stiffed him on starting up tea in the south though :(

2. Plants brought in tons of money! i wonder how much the world would have changed if the scientists hadn’t had the time and desire to study botany as they did (the money of course coming from prior plant finds)

4. Apparently they couldn’t’ live without it! I am amazed it counted as their calories, and invigorating the workforce. I always knew boiling your water was good for you, but that brings up the point hot unflavored water is not appetizing.

and off to sleep, tackle more in the AM

Lori said

And don’t forget tea >>> beer!

5. Robert Fortune has been called the “Indiana Jones” of tea. How does geography affect Fortune’s identity? How does he feel about traveling in China?

Well he had to be at the right place (UK) at the right time (height of east india company, the need for tea, slow enough shipping it was a challenge) he seems more like a professor trying to be a spy than a whip toting indiana jones to me

6. Fortune continually runs into trouble created by his Chinese body men and guides. How does this affect his perception of the Chinese people? Do you agree with him?

From his experience it seems this was common, the squeeze, and the importance of face. it did make him think of everyone as more thuggish i think, and troublesome, but he also failed to grasp the face concept

7. Aside from tea, what does Fortune gain from traveling in China? Does he give anything back to China?

he gets wealth (things to sell) knowledge (which he shares and turns into books) about the plant life, but surprisingly little of the culture (he sees things but doesn’t get them), he sells china and art too, amazing how much he was able to leave with unchecked.

I don’t think he manages to give anything back IMO

10. Tea is the most popular drink on earth, next to water. How did Robert Fortune’s trips change the Western world’s perception of tea?

it got us to stop drinking green tea and turn to black, it enaled us to have darjeeling and assam teas, it made us aware how important and differentiating the processing is. It also made it finally affordable i think

11. The East India Company was one of the first multinational corporations. How is the company’s story echoed in today’s business news headlines?

well they got too big, and failed, things don’t seem to be permitted to fail now, they also seemed more a country than a company

12. Today, Chinese intellectual property theft is in the news, but the British Empire enacted the largest theft of trade secrets in history when it stole tea seeds, plants and recipes from Imperial China. Why didn’t this create a scandal in Fortune’s day? What has changed?

I bet there was anger on the Chinese side, but they weren’t writing the history, also as pointed out news goes slower and so the full ramifications were only felt when it was too late

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I just finished this book and my train ride home from work and loved it. It really is amazing how much one plant changed world history. I wonder if the Bigelow plantation has any that were grown from Fortune’s seeds?

Janefan said

That’s a good question! Sounds like it’s quite possible/probable. But according to this there were at least rumors of some tea plants growing native in some parts of the eastern US!? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_production_in_the_United_States

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I notice that not many of us are responding to this final week of discussion. If you are like me, you don’t want it to end. The adventure was exciting and I could not wait to see what happened next!
I loved this book. History and all. I agree with HorseNcl about how amazing that a simple Camellia sinensis plant could cause such an impact on history. Now, when I drink tea I am thankful that Fortune was the adventurous type. Most people would not have wanted to do something so dangerous!

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Lori said

I bet people are just getting behind in the reading. That would explain the fewer responses……

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Lori said

One other point- comparing the tea/East India history to modern times. Tea was a convenient food beverage source for the Brits (boiled water fewer contaminants, milk and sugar are calories and preferable to beer). And now, we have that high fructose corn syrup – corn is plentiful in US ,sooo let’s spike the food w/it.

oh wow, excellent point, i would not have made that connection!

Yes! I also read that there was a sugar glut from England’s colonies so they really pushed tea with sugar for that reason as well. The parallel you mentioned is so spot-on!

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this book was wonderful, it didn’t seen like non-fiction at all

I was continually amazed at how fast things change (as shipping got faster so did plant theft) and how many things i assumed started in Britain were really from China.

I honestly think each chapter contained a new bit of history or connections i had never known about, like tea in the US!

amazing how one little plant can influence so many people and things, it also points out how in a few scant years all that happened could not happen again – how technology changes things permanently!

Lori said

True!

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Good morning all!

First off, I have to thank you all for reading my book and for your many kind comments. This is really one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had with FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA – to lurk here while you read and to see what was going on as you got through the book. I’ve learned a lot – and made notes for the paperback!

Things that have popped up — the Chinese didn’t write the history, the Brits did. This is so true. I tried hard to give voice to the voiceless, to weigh in on how the Chinese side of the equation felt about Fortune, the West, and the tea theft. But I know in the end it’s not a wholly balanced look. In no small part, the majority of the documents are from the British side since little from late Qing survived the Nationalist and Communist revolutions.

The link between cheap calories – milk and sugar in tea vs. high fructose corn sugar. BRILLIANT! I’m using that in my next talk!

The Bigelow plantation in SC — I knew about this vaguely when I was researching and it’s come to the forefront of discussions since the US release. Only a DNA test could tell if these were the daughter plants of Fortune’s theft. But it’s an exciting thought.

So I’ll be here for the next two days, load me up with questions. I’ve loved being a silent witness and am eager to engage your questions and comments.

All best,

Sarah

Hello and welcome!!!

I made a special place for questions entitled:

STEEPSTER BOOK CLUB: For All the Tea in China, AUTHOR DISCUSSION with SARAH ROSE!!

and we have lots of questions and comments for you. Thank you once again from all of us here on Steepster! We are thrilled to have you here!!!!

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