The Birth of a Noble Tea Country: on The Geography of Colonial Capital and The Origins of Indian Tea

Liu, Andrew B.

This paper looks at the origins of the British tea industry of India from the standpoint of colonial and semicolonial involvement in, respectively, British India and Qing China. The imposition of the tea industry in Assam was integrally tied to the wars in East Asia fought in order to open markets for the movement of opium and other commodities. British officials championed both policies in the name of modern economic progress, liberalizing trade with the Qing and establishing a productive industry in Assam. The agricultural science of political economy aimed to extract the value of various objects which could then be united in a land hitherto considered a wasteland. Plants, soil and labor were each viewed as isolatable things whose values were objective and calculable. Such static representation, however, was already belied by the dynamic process of gathering and transporting these “things” across the vast and unevenly developed regions of Asia, ultimately valorizing them as a breakfast drink commodity enjoyed worldwide. The origins of the Assam tea plantations, mirroring developments elsewhere, relied upon spatio-economic connections that force us to reevaluate how the specific histories of British India, Qing China and Southeast Asia are inseparably linked.

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Journal of Historical Sociology

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March 20, 2013