A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010
University of California Press 2011
Carol Benedict‘s Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010 (University of California Press, 2011)is many things at the same time; among other things, it’s both an exceptionally rich account of an object (or set of objects) that were crucial to the history of China in the world, and an engaging journey through the history of modern China on the leaves and flowers and stalks of a plant. Benedict’s book traces the narrative of tobacco in China from early modern encounters to the “cigarette century” of today. In addition to situating Chinese history within a larger global framework, it is also very sensitive to the multi-sited and trans-regional story of tobacco within China, showing change and continuity across the late imperial/modern divide.
This is a work that is profoundly trans-disciplinary in scope, and as a result it rewards readers interested in any number of disciplines, including the histories of commodities, disease, China, modern literature, gender, global encounters, and trade.