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Dating back to the nineteenth-century transplantation of a latex-producing tree from the Amazon to Southeast Asia, rubber production has wrought monumental changes worldwide. During a turbulent Vietnamese past, rubber transcended capitalism and socialism, colonization and decolonization, becoming a key commodity around which life and history have revolved. In this pathbreaking study, Michitake Aso narrates how rubber plantations came to dominate the material and symbolic landscape of Vietnam and its neighbours, structuring the region's environment of conflict and violence. Tracing the stories of agronomists, medical doctors, labourers, and leaders of independence movements, Aso demonstrates how postcolonial socialist visions of agriculture and medicine were informed by their colonial and capitalist predecessors in important ways. As rubber cultivation funded infrastructural improvements and the creation of a skilled labour force, private and state-run plantations became landscapes of oppression, resistance, and modernity.
Synthesizing archival material in English, French, and Vietnamese, Aso uses rubber plantations as a lens to examine the entanglements of nature, culture, and politics and demonstrates how the demand for rubber has impacted nearly a century of war and, at best, uneasy peace in Vietnam.
Michitake Aso is assistant professor of history at the University at Albany, SUNY.
"Uncovers a captivating story of imperial imposition [...] Brilliantly delves into the ecological and technological aspects of the production of latex in southern Vietnam."
– Environmental History
"Ambitious in scope and extensively researched [...] Exemplary of the potential of interdisciplinary history to produce a better understanding of the world of the past as well as the future."
– The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
"With exceptional depth and intellectual creativity, Aso offers a fascinating view of the twentieth-century history of science and nation building in Vietnam from the perspective of the rubber plantation."
– David Biggs, University of California, Riverside
"This superb study offers a subtle, multivalent assessment of the complex, intersectional – and sometimes unpredictable – ways in which people, nature, ideology, and power interacted in the creation and evolution of industrialized rubber production in twentieth-century Indochina."
– Peter Coclanis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill