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Tea WarA History of Capitalism in China and India$
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Andrew B Liu

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780300243734

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300243734.001.0001

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A Crisis of Classical Political Economy in Assam

A Crisis of Classical Political Economy in Assam

From Economic Liberalism to a Theory of Colonization, 1834–1862

(p.81) 3 A Crisis of Classical Political Economy in Assam
Tea War

Andrew B. Liu

Yale University Press

This chapter discusses the initial failure of British colonial officials to profit from tea in colonial Assam from 1830 to 1860, and presents a reexamination of classical political-economic principles. After colonial schemes to lure “free migrant” families from China failed, the bureaucrat W. N. Lees implored the colonial Government of India to dispense with liberal Smithian ideals and instead embrace the “colonization” schemes of Edward G. Wakefield, drawing upon historicist, paternalistic theories that were popular in the late nineteenth century. This debate introduces classical political economy's concept of “value” as a key category for the rest of the book. The chapter then recounts how, starting in the 1860s, officials legalized penal labor contracts that prevented migrant Indian workers from leaving employers under threat of prosecution. During the last decades of the century, the system shepherded nearly half a million migrant workers into Assam, a boon of cheap and immobilized labor critical to the industry's success. Assam tea thrived, in other words, based upon an economic strategy that stood opposed to the principles of liberalism espoused at its outset.

Keywords:   British colonial officials, colonial Assam, political economy, W. N. Lees, colonization, value, penal labor contracts, migrant Indian workers, Assam tea, liberalism

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