HY330GC      Half Unit
From Tea to Opium: China and the Global Market in the Long Eighteenth Century (Spring Semester)

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ronald Po, SAR 2.18


This course is available to General Course ‘Spring Semester’ 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.

In this seminar 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 study a series of commodities that each fits under different featured themes, such as 'When Silk was Gold,' 'Fur and Nature,' 'Camphor and Taiwan,' and 'Opium and Power'.


Students will engage with class content in large and small group meetings. Learning engagement will include live sessions, small group meetings, asynchronous Moodle posts, video clips, and short presentations.

There will be a reading week in the Lent Term.

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 summer exam period.
Essay (35%, 4000 words) and presentation (15%) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Capped 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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