British Spy Stole Tea Seeds in China after Opium War
Prior to the Opium War, the Chinese Qing government had been enjoying a huge surplus in the trade with European countries. The British government had to dig silver mine in Mexico to collect money in order to buy tea, the Qing government’s main export product.
After the Opium War, the Qing government signed the Treaty of Nanjing, ceding territory, paying indemnities, opening treaty ports and conventional duty, with the British government. The British grasped the initiative in trade with China owing to the conventional duty in the treaty and reversed its situation of trade deficit through opium trade.
The opium trade
In 1848, the East India Company sent Robert Jones, the experienced manager of Greenhouse Department of the Royal Botanic Gardens, to China. After his arriving in China, Jones didn’t start the tea thing directly, instead, he spent all his time traveling and exploring and made friends with Chinese people.
However, none had noticed that the places where Jones had gone were all famous tea-producing areas in China, so Jones became aware of several valuable and rare kinds of tea like Yunnan Pu’er, Xinyang Maojian and Nanjing Yuhua.
As the Qing government took a strict guard on tea management at that moment, Robert had no way to get tea seeds. Then he went to Beijing to have an audience with Emperor Daoguang. The emperor asked where Jones was come from, and Jones answered that he came from Scotland.
As he knew that the Treaty of Nanjing made the Qing government extremely angry with England, he said, “Scotland is thousands of miles away from England, and the two countries had fought for several hundred years without any connection.”
Hearing what Jones said, Emperor Daoguang took him as his friend. He thought that England would never get tea seeds though it went to great pains, but he would give them to his friend Jones, England’s enemy. So he ordered that all tea mountains and industries open to Jones.
By doing so, Jones did not have any difficulty taking away tea seeds under strict supervision and recording the ways of tea planting. In 1852, Jones went back to the East India Company accompanied by eight tea workers and planters, and started to cultivate new sort of tea. Since then, Indian tea took the place of Chinese tea on the world trade stage. In 1890, Indian tea occupied 90% of British market share. Until then, the Qing government began to know that Jones was a British spy.