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A Global History of Ginseng: Imperialism, Modernity and Orientalism

Publisher: , 2022
Link to online store *

Sul’s history of the international ginseng trade reveals the cultural aspects of international capitalism and the impact of this single commodity on relations between East and West. Ginseng emerged as a major international commodity in the seventeenth century, when the East India Company began trading it westward. Europeans were drawn to the plant’s efficacy as a medicine, but their attempts to transplant it mass produce it or extract its active ingredients were unsuccessful and so it was disparaged in the process of modernization. In the meantime ginseng was discovered on the American continent and became one of the United States’s key exports to Asia and particularly China, but never cultivated a significant domestic market. As such, studying the ginseng trade provides a unique perspective both on the impact of culture, as well as economics, on international trade. A compelling interdisciplinary history over five centuries of east-west trade and cultural exchange, invaluable to students and scholars of transnational history, and a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of international trade.

Heasim Sul is Professor in the Department of History at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea.

Source: publisher’s website


Part One: Ginseng Meets the West

  1. The Arrival of Korean Ginseng in Europe
  2. Ginseng Studies by the English Royal Society and French Royal Academy of Sciences
  3. The Discovery of Ginseng in North America
  4. The Classification and Medical Use of Ginseng

Part Two: The World System of Ginseng

  1. Korean, Chinese and Japanese Policies and the Ginseng Trade
  2. The East India Company’s Private trade in Ginseng
  3. Ginseng, America’s First Export Item
  4. Ginseng and Circumstances in East Asia

Part Three: Crisis and Response

  1. Expunction from Pharmacopoeias?
  2. Western Medicine’s View of Ginseng’s Efficacy
  3. Reform of Pharmacopoeias and Challenges to Extracting Active Ingredients
  4. Ginseng’s Slow Entry into the Modern Pharmaceutical System
  5. The Depletion of Wild Ginseng and the Beginning of Farmed Ginseng

Part Four: The Orientalism Surrounding Ginseng

  1. Analogizing and Ostracization
  2. Mysterious Orientality
  3. Ginseng Diggers in the East and West
  4. Ginseng Diggers’ Image and Internal Colonialism

* Where the book is available from a number of sources, they are prioritised as follows: (1) Amazon UK site, or for the more recent uploads (2) Amazon US site (3) Other sites in US or Europe, including second-hand outlets (4) LTI Korea, where the title is advertised as available from there (5) Onlines stores in Korea. Links to and Amazon UK site contain an affiliate code which, should you make a purchase, gives a small commission to LKL at no additional cost to you.