This introductory chapter provides a background of Chinese and Indian tea. It was in early imperial China where tea was first ritually imbibed as a medicinal and religious drink, and it was eighteenth-century Chinese merchants who helped popularize it as a global commodity, enabling it to become the most consumed commercial beverage in the world today. And yet, over the course of the next century, the Indian tea industry—operated by British colonial planters and based in the northeast territory of Assam—suddenly overtook China as the world's top exporter. British and, later, Japanese propagandists seized upon this inversion in the global division of labor. Propagandists dismissed Tang- and Song-era (618–1279) records of tea in China as unreliable, asserting instead that the true “birthplace of tea” must have been in India or Japan. This book presents the histories of Chinese and colonial Indian tea as a dynamic, unified story of global interaction, one mediated by modern capitalist competition. Their implications challenge many of the conventional assumptions about capitalism in China and India—or its absence thereof—and in so doing, they provocatively contribute to a more global conception of capitalism's history as a whole.
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