Raghav Bahl: Colonial Hangovers

From an editorial in the Hindustan Times:

Has China’s more turbulent British colonial history and India’s more ‘civilising’ one given the former the edge over the latter in the 21st century?

On December 31, 1600, a group of London businessmen banded together to create a quaintly named company, Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies. A royal charter gave it all privileges of trading in that part of Asia. Little did these gentlemen realise that their British East India Company (known better under this popular shorthand) would unleash a dynamic whose reverberations would ripple across the world 300 years later. The Company became the common womb from which two stepchildren, British India and colonial China, sprang to become non-identical Asian twins.

There were few buyers for British broadcloth and other European goods in Asia, but large buyers in Europe for tea, silk and porcelain from the East. In China, the Company ran into another problem; Chinese traders were unwilling to sell unless they were paid in silver. British merchants had to move with devil’s speed to plug this one-sided drain of gold and silver. They devised an

elaborately devious plot to trade opium at auctions in Calcutta, mix it with tobacco, smuggle it across the seas into China, and finally use these illicit earnings to pay for Chinese exotica.


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