When the West Was Stealing China’s Intellectual Property

These days there's a lot of news about China stealing, or trying to steal intellectual property from the West. But there was a time when it was the West who was desperately trying to get their hands on trade secrets from China.

I was listening to the China History Podcast (which is an excellent podcast by the way) about the history of silk. 

“Silk, tea, porcelain. Long before you could fit the world in the palm of your hand, there was nothing that evoked the idea of China, Cathay, like those three products.”

“The magnificence of these three product alone gave face and prestige to China that was universal among users of these three manufactured products.”

There was a time when China essentially held a monopoly on these 3 exports and the West was willing to do anything to get their hands on the trade secrets.

"They had to send Robert Fortune to China in 1846 to go dress up like a Chinese Mandarin and sneak into tea producing region of Anhui and Fujian to steal seeds, plant cuttings, know how, and a few consultants. They brought all this back to the companies experimental farms up in the hills of Northern India and with all the secrets he had surreptitiously secreted away from China, he helped kick start the tea industry in Northern India."

"And it took Europeans, fresh out of the Renaissance with all those brilliant minds and new learning, until Böttger in 1709 to figure out how to make porcelain the way the Chinese did it."