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             ----Judy Bonavia

  The handsome, full-sailed tea clippers which plied the high seas between China and Britain from the 18th to the 19th century were initially confined to the coastal ports--first Canton, then shanghai and eventually Fuzhou. As the British Fast lndia Company 1ost its monopoly and the tea trade gathered momentum, so did the competition between shipping companies, particularly as the quality of the tea could deteriorate on a long sea journey. The fastest ships charged the highest freight rates in this Lucrative trade. This was the origin of the annual China Tea Races, first in elegant clippers and later in the early steamships.

  Following the opening of the Yangtze River cities to foreign trade after the 1858 Treaty of Yangtze RiverTientsin (Tianjin), the first tea clipper, the Challenger, reached Hankou in 1861.
The introduction of the steamship in the middle of the 19th century saw an end to these romantic sailing ships, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 grcatly reduced the sailing time. Nevertheless, the Hankou (Hankou) Tea Races continued. Each May, tea buyers, known as chazi, came to Hankou as the ships began to arrive from England, Russia and America. The Hankow (Hankou) Club, sprang to life, with the Russian chazi drinking only champagne through-out the season. As many as 16 or 17 vessels would make up the British fleet, of which only two or three would be hot favorites and allowed to charge the highest freight rates.

  Loaded with their cargo of black and green tea, the race began. The first leg from Hankou to the Red Buoy at Wusong (near Shanghai) could take as little as 36 hours if the ships did not run aground, then down the South China Sea to Singapore, where time was always lost in stockpiling coal for the last leg to London. In the 1877 race, two ships passed the Red Buoy together and reached Singapore with only I hour and 40 minutes between them. One ship lost six hours in port and arrived in London only 23 hours behind the winner after an exciting voyage of 31 days.

  As the first ships were sighted in the English Channel, word was sent to the London brokers who would rush to the docks as the vessels berthed. in great excitement the tea chests were broken open for samples which were hurried off for inspectionby the various buyers.
By the late 1880s lndia had moved into the lead of tea--exporting countries. The collapse of the China tea market brought about the end of a romantic era.

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• The Hankou Tea Race

A Hankou Flood

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