This is a somewhat common saying and rhetorical question that some people use to make the point that the last statement made in the discussion is off-topic and not related to the issue at hand. I however, am one of those people who always have to wonder and wander and often chase rabbit trails, so… what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? And what does the price of tea in China have to do with anything.
I doubt very much that this is a Chinese saying. There is a note of sarcasm and bluntness to it that is absent from most polite Chinese conversation and especially business conversations. So I’m going to blame the British instead. If you want blunt sarcasm, you will be hard pressed to find people wielding it with more expertise than the BBC, where banter is a sport like the NFL in the US.
I think there is an underlying point to this though. If we wind the clock back a century, we would discover the time when it was boasted that the sun never set on the British Empire. All across the globe, they had colonies and nations purchased by blood and gold. One of the more important places was China, which, along with India and other places in Southeast Asia grew an enormous amount of tea. This tea was then shipped off to Europe and England specifically, to supply millions of residents during their obligatory tea-time each day.
That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course – I’m sure there were many people whose jobs did not afford them a “tea time”. But perhaps not. As you may recall, Boston Harbor, in 1776 was not filled with British oil or lumber, nor the native corn, blueberries, or pumpkins. They filled it with tea – most of which was probably not grown in England at all, but came to the colonists by way of some of those Asian countries who so expertly produce it. The price of tea went up (through some political taxes levied) and suddenly we have the birth of a new nation. So, the price of tea in China really does matter.
We’ve been told that we live in a global economy today, and that globalization seems to grow with each passing year. England did not invent this. The Roman Empire had this going 2000 years ago and the Persians and Babylonians dealt with this in their own ways before that. Ironically, it was Great Britain that decided to leave the economy last year with the popularized (Brexit) from the European Union, months after they denied Scotland the right to independence from the United Kingdom. Looking through history, it seems that those who have power want everyone to be unified, while those who are without want to be left alone. No one wants to be controlled, but many will jump at the chance of being the Controller themselves.
Jesus has some clear teaching on how we are to interact with this globalization within His Kingdom. In John 17, Jesus prays:
““My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:20-23 NIV
We hold that desire of Jesus for unity in line with Paul’s teaching to the Church in Corinth when he writes to them:
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I donʼt need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I donʼt need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 NIV
The biggest issue we face in a globalized economy is the issue of control. Who is in control? Are all parties being treated fairly (because equally is not always the same as fair or right)? Are all parties being supported? This question is at the heart of our trade politics, our immigration policies, and the recent changes (as well as the former changes) in healthcare insurance. Are we living up to the biblical standard in Christ’s Kingdom? Are we trying to?
- What group of people do you have authority over in your life?
- Do you weep with them when they weep and rejoice with them in their celebrations?
- What do you need to do or who do you need to support for God to be glorified more in the body of Christ?