Empire in Asia

A New Global History

The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company 1660-1760

Book Title

The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company 1660-1760. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978


Chaudhuri, K.N.


This book examines the wealth of information available on the English East India Company, contained in letters, memoranda, and other such records, and revises the historical literature on the subject of the company, in order to present an account of the company’s history, as well as an account of the countries it had been trading with, more particularly, in Asia.
By examining the sources in detail, Chaudhuri is able to give the reader an insight into the decisions made by officials with regard to the trading system at the time.

The book is the result of an almost decade long study of the records and statistics left behind by the company. Examining aspects of East India trade, the book is able to read a significant linkage between foreign policy and the trading patterns of the time- the trading company, or companies, must be situated in the context of a larger economic system, of which they function as a mechanism to market the commodities of Asia to the rest of the world.

Looking at periods of time and the change in trade and monetary liquidity in Europe, the records available allow for the understanding of the 1680-1720 monetary crises, especially in relation to the bullion trade. Looking at the European East India Companies, the book sees them as the symbols and manifestation of developments in Western nations from the beginning of the 17 century.

By examining the machinery of the trading companies and locating them within the indigenous Asian context, the book allows for an understanding of both the European as well as Asian situation at the time.

Scope (Topics Covered, Time Period)

The book covers one century of study, being from 1660-1760. It examines the development of international trade, organizational structures of the East India trading companies, the early trade and settlements in Asia, capital requirements of the Asian factories, characteristics of Asian markets, monetary system in Europe and many other such relevant themes. The study is comprehensive and attempts to explain the underlying systems and ideologies behind trade and expansion. Covering materials as objects of trade specifically, the book deals with materials such as pepper raw silk and coffee (to name a few) as individual topics that feature in the larger study of trade. Overall, the book is accessible and allows one to appreciate the extensive research on the topic.

Argument (Methodology, Significance)

The book appropriates the vast amount of material left behind by the companies into a broader narrative of trade between Europe and Asia. It argues that both the VOC and the English East India Company both had similar institutional structures and were also part of a larger global market. The purchasing power of Europeans increased with the import demand of the people in the European nations- which also relates to an increase in money supply.

Finding common trends such as the reliance on Amsterdam banking houses relevant to both the VOC and English companies, the book examines developments such as the export of precious metals and the development of alternative credit instruments and token currency in relation to the monetary crisis in the early 18 century.

Chaudhuri goes on to posit that the large scale application of machinery led to a shift in production costs in Europe over time, and that this is related to the importance of precious metals as a medium of exchange. The eventual creation of a factory system is the result of the creation of machinery for physical operations of trade. Alongside bureaucratization and other factors, these led to the long term success of the East India Company.

Analyzing the role of trade in transforming the relationship between Europe and Asia in the period, key industries are located within broader trade flows, where metals and textiles converge and also diverge, where power is both negotiated and redefined- and most importantly, where economic acceleration means new ways of articulating trading presence in the world.

Annotated by Sandeep Singh