The Great Lie of the Tea Trade

Other than water, tea is the most popular beverage in the entire world with an estimated 289 billion liters consumed in 2020 alone. Its history is one of the longest and most dangerous of any commodity, millions of innocents were enslaved for its production, drug trafficking was started for its continued trade, and even brutal wars were fought over this plant. However, the way this commodity’s trade was shown in images, paintings, and others as a polite economic mission shows a great disparity from reality, and in my research, I will be trying to discern why this disparity was the case, and what impact it had on the portrayal of tea towards the British public. 

The tea trade was not at first handled by the British government or crown it was chartered out of one single company to compete with other European powers and as result, the British East India Company was formed. Knowing this adds another layer into my research of the effect of private companies in the tea industry portrayal to the public and figuring out what their end goal ultimately was. My research scope would stretch from the beginning of the charter of the British East India Company and its first footholds in India and China to its eventual nationalization in 1858 by the crown; this gives ample time to examine the changes and evolution that the British East India Company went through during its lifespan. 

To more wholly answer my research question of what role did private companies such as the British East India Company play throughout its history to influence the perception of the tea trade with India and China towards the British public I will be using a mixed methodological study that combines visuals such as letters, prints, art, and financial reports to provide a more in-depth analysis. I hope to use these sources to answer my hypothesis that the perception of the tea trade was bent towards a positive light by the British East India Company to maintain profit margins while the reality was much more sinister. This goes hand in hand with my argument that the British East India Company played a great role in trying to maintain its public image and was very careful on what it showed toward the general public to maintain its lucrative trade and stay in good faith with the British government. 

My plan in organizing these visuals onto the Omeka site is to have it split into two parts: the first showing the portrayal of the tea trade from the politicized perspective of the British East India Company which is a series of prints and etchings along with art that shows its history in a very polite and positive manner, this will be supported by my secondary research sources providing a more in-depth scholarship that would support my argument. The other half of my Omeka site exhibit would then counter this by using scholarship that portrays accurate representations of the British East India Company and the reality of living and working for the tea trade on these settlements in India and the relationship with China. The visuals for this section would include financial reports, letters, and maps supported again by secondary source scholarship to advance my argument and hypothesis. 

With these methods laid out for my Omeka site exhibit, I hope to fully support my argument and research that the British East India Company as a private firm played a large role in manipulating the tea trade as something honorable towards the British public and government to maintain profit margins and avoid unwanted scrutiny towards their operations. 

Prev Next