Frontiers of History in China

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 86–105

The roles of tea and opium in early economic globalization: A perspective on China’s crisis in the 19th century

Research Article


Alongside military conquest which characterized great part of globalization during the 19th century, the globalization of markets no doubt was its main manifestation. Addictive consumption goods played a leading role during this process, as observed in the case of China, tea and the opium trade had the largest impact. Owing to the importance of Britain’s growing demand for tea and its concomitant tax revenue, Anglo-Chinese trade became the dominant trade that Britain had in the East. To make up the trade deficit with China, Britain took advantage of its Indian colony and did its best in expanding its opium trade. Within this triangular trade scheme, Britain was the master, India was the instrument, and China was the ultimate victim. Confronted by the irresistible trend of globalization, China was ill prepared when facing this challenge leading to a complete failure in both military and commercial warfare and later on to an overall crisis in the 19th century.


tea trade opium trade globalization 19th century addictive consumption goods 


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina

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