Monday, January 26, 2015

It's a long way from St. Louis to all the tea in China

Born in 1905, Emily Hahn earned a degree in mining engineering from the U of Wisconsin. She went on to study mineralogy at Columbia and anthropology at Oxford. After which she wrote Seductio ad Absurdum: the principles and practices of seduction in 1930.

Naturally she then moved to the Belgian Congo where she lived with a tribe of Pygmies for two years. That produced two more books, before she moved to China in 1935, where she lived for nine years. There she earned her living in journalism in Shanghai and Hong Kong. After being captured by the Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbor, she was swapped for Japanese POWs in 1943. That period of her life provided material for numerous books on China and its history, Chiang Kai-Shek, the Soong Sisters (Mesdames Sun Yat Sen, Chiang and Kung), and Chinese cuisine.

She also found time to learn a little economics, as this from page 16 of China Only Yesterday shows;
The West had taken kindly to tea-drinking, even when a high tax made it a costly pleasure. The more tea that was brought out of Canton, the more other people smuggled it into England, until in self-defense the legitimate importers persuaded the government to lower the tax and put the smugglers out of business. The smuggling did stop as a result of this action, and though for a while it went hard with the revenuers when they lost a large part of the tax income, consumption of tea promptly increased. In Canton thousands of chests were bought and loaded and sent back to England, and thousands of taels [Chinese ounces] of silver ... went to pay the exporters of China.... There was so much tea buying that the Western merchants found themselves in need of silver and coins with which to pay. The situation lent fresh vigor to their chronic complaints of restraint of trade. If only they could get into the country and stimulate public desire for the things they could supply from Britain! ...the inhabitants of Chihli and Shensi and Shantung would love woolen cloth, once they'd tried it out, and there were other products as well that the Western merchants were sure they could sell, if only they could get a chance. They could not believe that the Emperor really understood what they were after.
Which led the British merchants to finally discover something that they could smuggle into China that was in high demand; opium. Which produced a war. And when that war was ended with the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the foreign traders got their entry into China. In five treaty ports at Canton, Amoy, Ningpo, Shanghai, Foochow as well as ownership of the island of Hong Kong.

Therein lies a tale....

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