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Shanghai and Tea: An introduction

Despite the brevity of Shanghai's almost 'pocket-sized' history, tea has played an intriguing role its emergence, contributing both directly and indirectly to its transformation into one of the world's first modern, truly global, cities.


Thanks in part by its proximity to some of China's most fertile tea terroirs, and stimulated by the lucrative European tea markets, Shanghai became a crucial centre of tea commerce in the early 20th century.


The transformation of Shanghai into an international city was only possible due to the British defeat of the Qing Dynasty in the First Opium War; a conflict, triggered as much by the unquenchable British thirst for Chinese tea, as it was by the illicit trade of Opium. It is arguable that no other Chinese city was more affected by the aftermath and political settlement of the Opium Wars than that of Shanghai, triggering breakneck modernisation into an international trading hub, a place where fortunes were made from vice and trade, and where new possibilities existed for socialites, the intellectual classes and foreign adventurers. Amidst this backdrop, tea houses evolved in ways that reflected the changing composition of this bona fide global city.

 1920 Shanghai - The Bund

 More from our Shanghai tea house series.

1. Shanghai Tea Houses: A timeline

2. Brief Introduction

3. Shanghai Emerges from Aftermath of Opium War.

4. Emergence of the teahouse in Shanghai

5. Speaking Tea - a function of tea houses in Shanghai.

6. Early 20th Century Tea houses.

7. Afternoon tea and Cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 30s.

8. Teahouses in Contemporary Shanghai

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