From Tea to Opium: China and the Global Market in the Long Eighteenth Century

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Chung Yam Po SAR.2.18


This course is available on the BA in History, BSc in Government and History and BSc in International Relations and History. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

Did China foster or resist the early wave of globalisation? How should we situate China within the global context prior to the First Opium War? Compared with the Dutch and the British, in what ways did the Chinese interact with the world that had been created by global trade? Had China already become the world factory in the eighteenth century? Using both primary and secondary sources, this seminar examines these questions by looking at the production, circulation and consumption of a variety of commodities that were exported from and imported to China. If we agree that a commodity has its own social life and history, then we can also examine its story in order to complicate our understanding of China's role and significance in the global market throughout the long eighteenth century.

This seminar is divided into two parts. In Part I (the first five sessions) we will historicise the political, social and economic background of the Qing dynasty in the early modern period. From week to week, we will identify remarkable watersheds that changed or transformed the way that China engaged in or became disengaged from the global market, covering the China Seas, Indian Ocean, Atlantic and Pacific. We will also focus on port cities in China and Southeast Asia, so as to illustrate exactly how peoples and places facilitated the flow of commodities on a global scale. In Part II (the remaining sixteen sessions) we will study a series of commodities that each fits under different featured themes, such as 'When Silk was Gold', 'Pepper and Parley', 'Camphor and Taiwan' and 'Opium and Power'.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

Weekly two-hour seminars. There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas Term and the Lent Term and a revision session in the Summer Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

Kenneth Pomeranz, Steven Topik, The World that Trade Created (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

Frank Trentmann (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

John E. Wills, Jr., Pepper, Guns, and Parleys (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1974).

Gang Zhao, The Qing Opening to the Ocean: Chinese Maritime Policies, 1684-1757 (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2013).

Maxine Berg (ed.), Goods from the East, 1600-1800: Trading Eurasia (Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Peter J. Kitson, Forging Romantic China: Sino-British Cultural Exchange 1760–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Sucheta Mazumdar, Sugar and Society in China: Peasants, Technology, and the World Market (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1998).

Jean McClure Mudge, Chinese Export Porcelain for the American Trade, 1785-1835 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1981).

Sarah Rose, For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire, and the Secret Formula for the World’s Favourite Drink (London: Hutchinson, 2009).

Shelagh Vainker, Chinese Silk: A Cultural History (London: British Museum Press, 2004).

Carol Benedict, Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

Zheng Yangwen, The Social Life of Opium in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the LT.
Presentation (15%) in the MT and LT.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Capped 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills