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UNIT 16: Food, Demographics, and Culture

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Diets, Population, and Trade: China

This segment explores the profound social and cultural changes that occurred in China as a result of the interconnected phenomena of global trade, shifting dietary patterns, and population growth.

Europeans had long desired to increase their trade with China for a variety of luxury goods, but one commodity stood out above all others — tea. By the eighteenth century, tea was the most important part of European commerce with China, partly because European workers learned to combine it with sugar as a way to fuel them through long work days. Europeans found the trade in tea expensive, however, because there were few European goods the Chinese wanted in return.

But by the nineteenth century, Europeans discovered that Chinese merchants would buy illegal opium at favorable rates. And while the opium/tea trade enriched many European merchants, it proved devastating to Chinese culture and to the Chinese state.

In the meantime, however, global trade had brought new food crops — especially potatoes, corn, and peanuts — to China from the Americas. The cultivation of these new crops led to a massive population boom between 1500 and 1650. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, foods from the Americas had become integrated into Chinese culture and into the regular diets of most people. Partly as a result of these cross-cultural culinary connections, by 1800 China accounted for more than one-third of the earth's population.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, UNLOADING A CARGO OF TEA (1871). Courtesy of The Image Works.

Anonymous, WORKERS IN TEA FIELD (n.d.). © Getty Images.


Anonymous, TRANSPLANTING AND IRRIGATING RICE IN CHINA (n.d.). Courtesy of Northwind Picture Archives.

Anonymous Chinese, [SONG DYNASTY] PALACE BANQUET (c. 980-1200). Courtesy of WorldArt Kiosk/Kathleen Cohen.



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