Asia in the 19th - 20th c. Global Economy of Capitalism

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Asia in the 19th - 20th c. Global Economy of Capitalism: Andrew Liu on his recently published "Tea War: A History of Capitalism in China and India" with comments by R. Bin Wong on the book's place in the historiography of the modern global economy's origins and development

Tea today remains the world's most consumed commercial beverage. Throughout its modern history, it has connected the fates of growers, workers, and managers across Asia and the postcolonial world, especially those in coastal China and eastern India. Tea War* examines the history of competition between the Chinese and colonial Indian tea industries across the past two centuries, leveraging the story of its production, consumption, and global circulation to offer a fresh and compelling account of capitalist accumulation.

This book challenges past economic histories premised on the technical “divergence” between the West and the Rest, arguing instead that seemingly traditional technologies and social practices were central to modern capital accumulation across Asia. I also show that competitive pressures compelled new forms of abstract economic thinking. Many of our familiar characterizations of China and India as premodern backwaters, embodied in the figures of the "comprador" and "coolie," I argue, were themselves the historical result of new notions of political economy adopted by Chinese and Indian nationalists, who discovered that these abstract ideas corresponded to concrete social changes in their local surroundings. Together, these stories point toward a more flexible and globally oriented conceptualization of the history of capitalism in China and India.

*publisher discount code YAB99 for 25% off.


Andrew Liu is an assistant professor of history at Villanova University near Philadelphia. His interests include modern China, transnational Asia, and the history of capitalism and political economy.

R. Bin Wong, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA. Wong's own research has examined Chinese patterns of political, economic and social change, especially since eighteenth century, both within Asian regional contexts and compared with more familiar European patterns, as part of the larger scholarly efforts under way to make world history speak to contemporary conditions of globalization.

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Published: Thursday, January 21, 2021