The American revolution was not the only war fought over tea. Britain also fought two separate wars with China in the 19th century, over trade disputes about obtaining tea. The first Opium war lasted from 1839-1842.
China was reluctant to trade with Britain, having seen what happens to most of the other nations which opened themselves up to trade, which is to say, imperialism, colonialism, and general exploitation. Their economy was pretty self-sufficient, and they frankly didn’t need what the English offered. However, the Chinese did open themselves up to a limited amount of trade, only to the British, only through the port city of Canton, and only after a great deal of diplomatic pressure.
This almost immediately caused problems. The British didn’t have much that the Chinese needed, and so a massive trade imbalance ensued. The British were able to trade silver for their tea, however, there’s a limit to how much silver it is actually useful to have lying around. (This is why you should always gift friends things which they will use up, rather than things which will clutter their homes. Like tea. Okay, I’m done now.) However, the British also traded opium for silver in nearby India. This meant that Chinese traders could trade tea for silver, and then trade silver for opium, and, in a slightly roundabout way, bring huge amounts of British-owned opium (which was actually grown in British colonized India.) into China.
In 1839, the emperor decided that he was not at all okay with this, and seized an enormous quantity of British opium. This led the British to start sending war ships alongside their merchant ships, which led the Chinese to start sending their own warships to meet those warships and war happened. The British had significantly better warships, given that subduing other countries and forcing them into unfair trade agreements was basically national policy. So the Chinese were forced to signed the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. This treaty was so unfair that the Chinese name for it literally translates to “the Unfair Treaty”. It said that China would open up 5 ports to British trade, rather than just the one, would pay for all of the opium which they had confiscated, and would just hand over Hong Kong to the British.
The second Opium War lasted from 1856-1860. The British, by this point, had decided that the unequal treaties were not enough, and that they instead wanted to open all of China to British trade, and legalize the opium trade. At some point, France decided that this was a great deal, and allied itself with Britain, in the hopes that they would both have free reign in China as well. The war was raucous enough to result in the destruction of the Summer Palace, which was full of culturally important and valuable art. There was also discussion of destroying the Forbidden City, but it was decided that that would be a bit much.
How much does your tea matter to you? Enough to start a war over it? Do you know what kind of tea all the fuss was over?
Take a Look at these Tea Accessories Inspired by Chinese or English culture!