Tea and the Industrial Revolution

A Cambridge professor says that a change in drinking habits was the reason
for the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Anjana Ahuja reports


1Alan Macfarlane, professor of anthropological science at King’s College, Cambridge, has, like other historians, spent decades wrestling with the enigma of the Industrial Revolution. 2Why did this particular Big Bang - the world-changing birth of industry - happen in Britain? 3And why did it strike at the end of the 18th century?


1Macfarlane compares the puzzle to a combination lock. 2‘There are about 20 different factors and all of them need to be present before the revolution can happen,’ he says. 3For industry to take off, there needs to be the technology and power to drive factories, large urban populations to provide cheap labour, easy transport to move goods around, an affluent middle-class willing to buy mass-produced objects, a market-driven economy and a political system that allows this to happen. 4While this was the case for England, other nations, such as Japan, the Netherlands and France also met some of these criteria but were not industrialising. 5‘All these factors must have been necessary but not sufficient to cause the revolution,’ says Macfarlane. 6‘After all, Holland had everything except coal, while China also had many of these factors. 7Most historians are convinced there are one or two missing factors that you need to open the lock.’


1The missing factors, he proposes, are to be found in almost every kitchen cupboard. 2Tea and beer, two of the nation’s favourite drinks, fuelled the revolution. 3The antiseptic properties of tannin, the active ingredient in tea, and of hops in beer - plus the fact that both are made with boiled water - allowed urban communities to flourish at close quarters without succumbing to water-borne diseases such as dysentery. 4The theory sounds eccentric but once he starts to explain the detective work that went into his deduction, the scepticism gives way to wary admiration. 5Macfarlane’s case has been strengthened by support from notable quarters — Roy Porter, the distinguished medical historian, recently wrote a favourable appraisal of his research.


1Macfarlane had wondered for a long time how the Industrial Revolution came about. 2Historians had alighted on one interesting factor around the mid-18th century that required explanation. 3Between about 1650 and 1740, the population in Britain was static. 4But then there was a burst in population growth. 5Macfarlane says: ‘The infant mortality rate halved in the space of 20 years, and this happened in both rural areas and cities, and across all classes. 6People suggested four possible causes. 7Was there a sudden change in the viruses and bacteria around? Unlikely. 8Was there a revolution in medical science? 9But this was a century before Lister's revolution. 10Was there a change in environmental conditions? 11There were improvements in agriculture that wiped out malaria, but these were small gains. 12Sanitation did not become widespread until the 19th century. 13The only option left is food. 14But the height and weight statistics show a decline. 15So the food must have got worse. 16Efforts to explain this sudden reduction in child deaths appeared to draw a blank.’

*Joseph Lister was the first doctor to use antiseptic techniques during surgical operations toprevent infections


1This population burst seemed to happen at just the right time to provide labour for the Industrial Revolution. 2‘When you start moving towards an industrial revolution, it is economically efficient to have people living close together’ says Macfarlane. 3‘But then you get disease, particularly from human waste.’ 4Some digging around in historical records revealed that there was a change in the incidence of water-borne disease at that time, especially dysentery. 5Macfarlane deduced that whatever the British were drinking must have been important in regulating disease. 6He says, ‘We drank beer. 7For a long time, the English were protected by the strong antibacterial agent in hops, which were added to help preserve the beer. 8But in the late 17th century a tax was introduced on malt, the basic ingredient of beer. 9The poor turned to water and gin and in the 1720s the mortality rate began to rise again. 10Then it suddenly dropped again. 11What caused this?’


1Macfarlane looked to Japan, which was also developing large cities about the same time, and also had no sanitation.  2Water-borne diseases had a much looser grip on the Japanese population than those in Britain. 3Could it be the prevalence of tea in their culture? 4Macfarlane then noted that the history of tea in Britain provided an extraordinary coincidence of dates. 5Tea was relatively expensive until Britain started a direct clipper trade with China in the early 18th century.6By the 1740s, about the time that infant mortality was dipping, the drink was common. 7Macfarlane guessed that the fact that water had to be boiled, together with the stomach-purifying properties of tea meant that the breast milk provided by mothers was healthier than it had ever been. 8No other European nation sipped tea like the British, which, by Macfarlane s logic, pushed these other countries out of contention for the revolution.


1But, if tea is a factor in the combination lock, why didn’t Japan forge ahead in a tea-soaked industrial revolution of its own? 2Macfarlane notes that even though 17th-century Japan had large cities, high literacy rates, even a futures market, it had turned its back on the essence of any work-based revolution by giving up labour-saving devices such as animals, afraid that they would put people out of work. 3So, the nation that we now think of as one of the most technologically advanced entered the 19th century having abandoned the wheel’.


Questions 1-7

Reading Passage 1 has seven paragraphs, A-G.

Choose the correct heading for each paragraph from the list of headings below

Write the correct number, i-ix, in boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet.

List of Headings

i. The search for the reasons for an increase in population
ii. Industrialisation and the fear of unemployment
iii. The development of cities in Japan
iv. The time and place of the Industrial Revolution
v. The cases of Holland, France and China
vi. Changes in drinking habits in Britain
vii. Two keys to Britain’s industrial revolution
viii. Conditions required for industrialisation
ix. Comparisons with Japan lead to the answer

1  Paragraph A

2  Paragraph B

3  Paragraph C

4  Paragraph D

5  Paragraph E

6  Paragraph F

7  Paragraph G


Question 8-13

Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage?

In boxes 8-13 on your answer sheet, write

TRUE              if the statement agrees with the information

FALSE            if the statement contradicts the information

NOT GIVEN    if there is no information on this

8  China’s transport system was not suitable for industry in the 18th century.

9  Tea and beer both helped to prevent dysentery in Britain.

10  Roy Porter disagrees with Professor Macfarlane’s findings.

11  After 1740, there was a reduction in population in Britain.

12  People in Britain used to make beer at home.

13  The tax on malt indirectly caused a rise in the death rate.



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