Eat, Drink & Be Merry? The Politics of Food & Drink: Tea

Marian J. Barber's picture

Please join the British, Irish and Empire Studies Program at the University of Texas at Austin on Tuesday, October 18, at noon Central, 6 p.m. UK time, for the next event in our virtual speaker series, "Eat, Drink and Be Merry? The Politics of Food and Drink." This week's theme is "Tea." Syracuse University's Romita Ray will speak on "A Tiger in My Teacup: Wild Animals and the Landscapes of Tea Cultivation." She will be joined by Andrew B. Liu of Villanova University, whose topic is "Tea War: A History of Capitalism in China and India." Erika Rappaport of the University of California, Santa Barbara, a scholar of gender and consumer cultures in Modern Britain and its Empire, will chair.

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Ray and Liu offer more on their discussion:

"My presentation will focus on the paradigm of the jungli (wild) that was used to characterize Thea assamica, the indigenous species of Assam tea that in the 1820s was found growing in the forested regions of northeastern India," says Ray. "Widely considered a wild species of tea, the economic value of Assam tea would be determined by its cultivation as a colonial product. These mediations, I will demonstrate, would become enmeshed with the systematic erasure of the jungle to create tea plantations in the 1840s, and with the rearrangement, re-packaging, and re-imagining of wild animals with which plantations would remain enmeshed well into the twenty-first century."

Liu adds: "This talk draws upon my published book (Yale University Press, 2020) on the history of competition between the Chinese and colonial Indian tea industries of the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular, I will explore a comparative analysis of tea production in the commercial regions of coastal China and eastern India and argue against civilizational 'divergences' in terms of economic practices and modes of accumulation. By focusing on questions of labor intensification, mechanization, and ethnic and gendered specialization, I argue that the two regions were in fact united by the overarching goal of accumulation for transnational circuits of value, part of a broader history of capitalism in Asia as a whole."