Vol. 8, No. 2 (2012): 73–94.
In the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, tea and opium were inextricably linked through what was known as the China trade. As significant stimulant commodities on the global market, they were extremely profitable and also capable of introducing foreign cultural behaviour and social effect into their respective foreign markets. British traders, merchants and consumers regarded the exchange and circulation of commodities between Britain, British India and China not only as a means of accumulating objects and wealth, but also as a possible source of contagion—a vector for the spread of cultural and indeed, economic pathologies. In Britain, Chinese tea imports fueled an economic conflict which revealed concerns about how trade practices could potentially influence and alter national culture. An interesting correlative argument appeared in a Chinese debate which emphasised the importation and consumption of opium, as well as the British influence that accompanied opium smuggling from British India into China. The social effects of commodity exchange—thing both exported and imported—became a contested issue within the British-India-China trade and certainly still resonate in today’s global economy.
Kristin Bayer is an assistant professor at Marist College where she teaches in the history department. She is the sole Asianist and teaches Traditional and Modern Asia and China courses. She also teaches undergraduate classes in military history, consumption studies and the global drug trade, and women, gender and sexuality classes. She writes on nineteenth-century global capitalism and the opium trade in addition to foreign perceptions of China.