How A Taste For Chinese Tea Minted America’s First Millionaires

“China, China, China,” rants Donald Trump, the presidential hopeful
who loses no opportunity to blame America’s economic woes on China and
its “unfair” trade policies. But how did the fortunes of the free world
and the Middle Kingdom become so inextricably intertwined? What started
it all?

The roots of U.S.-China trade can be boiled down to one
fragrant little word: tea. The history of the tea trade is a
fascinating story of wealth, adventure and cultural exchange, but also a
tragic one of human suffering and cruelty.

Although many
Americans gave up tea as an unpatriotic beverage after the Boston Tea
Party in 1773 and turned to coffee, the majority still craved it. And it
was this overwhelming demand for tea that motivated the newly
independent United States, finally free from the monopolistic clutches
of Britain’s East India Company, to sail to China in search of it.

On a beautiful February morning in 1784, the first American trade ship
to China, Empress of China, set sail from New York. To pay for the tea,
its holds were filled with 242 casks of choice New England and
Appalachian ginseng, for which there was an enormous demand in China.
Everything about that maiden voyage was symbolic: Feb. 22 was George
Washington’s birthday; a 13-gun salute was fired to represent the 13
states; the two goods being bartered were indigenous to the two

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