In The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, author and history professor Paul Kennedy claims that China’s power peaked around 1600. Meanwhile, Western Europe was rising and surging, thanks to the Renaissance, scientific breakthroughs, and empire-building around the world.
Historical facts, however, do not agree with Paul Kennedy where the decline of China is concerned.
In 1800, the Middle Kingdom was still the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. Globally, as much as one-third of all goods came from China (28% in 2018).
Chinese porcelain earned America's envy. Chinese tea filled Americans’ pots. That’s why the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, was such a big deal to Americans from all walks of life, who fiercely opposed tea tax and monopoly imposed by the British. Chinese tea, in a sense, was a catalyst for the American Revolution. As a matter of fact, the tea dumped into Boston Harbor’s cold water was shipped from Xiamen, Fujian, a busy trade port in southern China.
The Boston Tea Party was actually a Chinese Tea Party.*
Chinese tea and porcelain symbolized as much as substantiated Americans' wealth and status at the turn of the 19th Century. Before that, bragging rights went to any American household having more chairs than its immediate neighbors.
Newly-independent America had a crush on millennia-old China. This was puppy love on the part of the Yankees, however. When America became more mature and much more powerful as a nation, it started wondering if China was really an ideal object of its love.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Once the beholder changes, so will beauty.
Still, as Chinese tea had never really left a bitter taste in America's mouth, the Middle Kingdom's seductive fragrance lingered on. Before long, America would romance China again. Old flames die hard.
*It is a popular myth that American colonists, in defiance of their British overlord, switched from tea to coffee overnight following the Boston Tea Party. Truth be told, in 2014, 80% of American households still had tea in their kitchens (The Washington Post, September 3, 2014).
--- Lingyang Jiang
The Boston Tea Party of 1773