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Tea Packaging : Tealeaves are to be packaged before being shipped abroad. The workers are seen stamping on tealeaves in boxes to squeeze out air among leaves to avoid dampening during shipping. At the bottom left corner is a foreign merchant, which indicates the tealeaves will be sold abroad.

From the 17th century, Chinese tea began replacing Chinese silk as the most popular export among Europeans. Accordingly, paintings depicting tea cultivation were offered by tea merchants as giveaways for the promotion of tea products. With the adoption of Western perspective techniques in China, a large number of Chinese artists painted scenes from the tea growing industry to help with exports. Among them is the following set of paintings from Guangzhou. The paintings not only reflect the scenery of the ancient trading port of Guangzhou, but they also give viewers a vivid record of the history of Guangzhou’s tea trade as well as tea processing and packaging procedures around Guangzhou in the 19th century. Tea trade paintings offered Europeans a glimpse into the life of a distant and exotic place—China.

Hoeing: Tea garden workers making rows of pits by hoe in preparation for seeding.
Seeding: About 6 to 12 seeds are placed into each hole which is then covered with about 3 to 5 inches of soil. The process from germination to harvesting is three years.
Watering : Tea shrubs thrive in dry and fertile land that is high in altitude. In dry seasons, water used to wash rice is preserved for watering tea plants as a kind of fertilizer.
Tea-plucking : The time to pluck tealeaves varies with local weather. How tealeaves are processed changes the flavor of the tea.
Tea Sorting : Tea stalks must be sorted before tealeaves are dried under the sun.
Sun-drying : Newly picked tealeaves are softened under the sun.
Tea Sifting : Two women use sieves to sift the leaves and sort them by size.
Tea Pounding : Some kinds of tealeaves need to be pounded into powder to be packaged and transported to Guangzhou.
Crating Tea : Workers making crates, while others crate the tealeaves. The man in a blue robe and with a pipe in his hand must be the tea owner or a customer of the harvested tealeaves.
Tea Shipping : A tea warehouse where tealeaves collected from tea gardens will be shipped to tea distributors in Guangzhou.
Tea Stir-frying : After tealeaves are shipped to Guangzhou, tea merchants still need to stir-fry them in order to dry off moisture from tea leaves or to process tea leaves to meet the demands of foreign merchants. For example, different types of leaves will be mixed and stir-fried together or added with a floral flavor to produce unique teas.
Tea Packaging : Tealeaves are to be packaged before being shipped abroad. The workers are seen stamping on tealeaves in boxes to squeeze out air among leaves to avoid dampening during shipping. At the bottom left corner is a foreign merchant, which indicates the tealeaves will be sold abroad.

Even though you might not think tea a necessity, it was nevertheless such an attractive commodity that since the 17th century many Europeans – including Britain, the Netherlands, and Russia – have been drawn to China. They used different modes of transportation including ships and caravans to import tea from China. Tea became so popular that British exports to China equaled only one-tenth of the cost of tea imported so they also attempted to grow it themselves in their various colonies.

In the 18th century, tea imports soon became the largest single item in Britain’s trading account. When the imbalance between Britain and China widened, Britain sought alternative commodities to pay for the tea imports to compensate for the loss and to bring in a profit. They discovered opium, a highly lucrative commodity. By the 1830s, opium flooded the entire black market in China.
Realizing the damage of opium to the people’s health, a Chinese official in Canton, Commissioner Lin, ordered the confiscation of some 20,000 chests of opium from English ships which triggered the first Opium War in 1840. The two-year war ended with a treaty which caused Hong Kong to be ceded to the British Crown for 150 years and the five Chinese ports at Canton, Amoy(Xiamen), Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai to be opened to foreign traders. The powerful Middle Land was forced to open, and 5000 years of history took an abrupt turn.
In a sense, tea played an important role in the history of the pre-modern world.

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