Theses Doctoral

The two tea countries: competition, labor, and economic thought in coastal China and eastern India, 1834-1942

Liu, Andrew B.

This dissertation explores how the tea-growing districts of China and colonial India were integrated into the global division of labor over a formative century of boom-bust expansion. I explore this history of competition by highlighting two dimensions of economic and intellectual change: the intensification of agrarian labor and the synchronous emergence of new paradigms of economic thought. As tea exports from China and India soared and competition grew fiercer, planters, factory overseers, peasants, and government officials shifted their attention from the wealth-creating possibilities of commerce to the value-creating potential of labor and industrial production. This study also historically situates two older, teleological assumptions in the field of Asian economic history: the inevitability of industrialization and of proletarianization. Both assumptions emerged from social and economic transformations during the nineteenth century. In particular, periodic market crises compelled Chinese and colonial Indian officials to seriously question older "Smithian" theories premised upon the "sphere of circulation." Instead, both regional industries pursued interventionist measures focused on the "abode of production." In India, officials passed special laws for indentured labor recruitment. In China, reformers organized tea peasants and workers into agrarian cooperatives. Finally, colonial officials and Bengali reformers in India agreed that they needed to liberate the unfree "coolie" from the shackles of unfree labor. And in China, reformers articulated a critique of rentier "comprador" merchants and moneylenders who exploited peasant labor. Thus, although the "coolie" and "comprador" became twentieth-century symbols of Asian economic backwardness, they were each, as concepts, produced by profound social and economic changes that were dynamic, eventful, and global in nature.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McKeown, Adam M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 23, 2015