He is working on two book projects at the moment. One of them focuses on the rise and fall of an Asian-dominated empire based on camphor production in Taiwan since the long eighteenth century. It is also a story about global capitalism, consumerism, and the transformation of the tropical world in the age of global rivalry. Foregrounding a global analysis, his goal is to examine how enterprising entrepreneurs and powerful statesmen in Taiwan recast one of the world’s most significant manufacturing industries by integrating new machines and wage labour with traditional harvesting and native labour. Creating a very particular organization of trade, production, and consumption, these statesmen unified numerous isolated enclaves of camphor production that had existed for millennia. They revised the trajectory of camphor, investing it with revolutionary energy and leveraging it to transform the tropical world and beyond. Making use of an ancient oleoresin and the huge markets of an old industry in Asia, Taiwanese entrepreneurs and statesmen, particularly under Japanese occupation, were key figures in establishing the camphor empire that contributed significantly to the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century globalization. Rather ironically, however, their remarkable success had triggered the very forces that eventually marginalized them within the empire they had created.
Ron Po holds the Chair of Taiwan Studies at Leiden University and IIAS from September 2023 until June 2024.
Dr Po is an associate professor of Chinese and maritime history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is particularly interested in revealing how the early modern world shaped China, as well as how China mattered to the early modern world. He is the author of The Blue Frontier: Maritime Vision and Power in the Qing Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2018), The Placid Ocean: Qing China and the Asian Seas (China Times Publishing Co., 2021) and Turning the Tide: Historical Actors and Social Memory in Late Qing China (China Times Publishing Co., 2022).