The East India Company Director sighed. He took off his glasses and set them on the dossier. “Is it really as bad as all that?”
“I’m afraid so, sir,” said Briggs. “In fact, it’s actually worse. The Chinese are well aware of our vulnerability, especially regarding tea. The tonne price is increasing almost daily.”
“What of all the opium we supposedly don’t sell them?” asked the general. “Why not increase that price in turn? They need that worse than we need tea, I expect.”
The magistrate shook his head. “The Emperor has declared the trade illegal, punishable by death. He ordered the Macao warehouses burned.”
“I suppose this means war,” said the general. He almost sounded pleased.
“One other thing, sir,” said Briggs. “I have a report from Mr. Jameson, a botanist. He’s surveyed a valley in Kashmir and believes that it will support tea production. Our own supply.”
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there was tremendous demand in Europe for Chinese tea, silks, and porcelain pottery, but very little demand in China for Europe’s manufactured goods and other trade items. Consequently, Europeans had to pay for Chinese products with gold or silver.
The British struck upon an ingenious way to reduce a huge trade deficit. Their merchants bribed Chinese officials to allow entry of chests of opium from British-ruled India, though its importation had long been banned by imperial decree.
The production of tea in India by British concerns in Darjeeling and Kangra did much to alleviate this deficit since tea was the one thing that was impossible to find outside of China.