‘A gripping read as well as an important one.’ Rana Mitter, Guardian
In October 1839, Britain entered the first Opium War with China. Its brutality notwithstanding, the conflict was also threaded with tragicomedy: with Victorian hypocrisy, bureaucratic fumblings, military missteps, political opportunism and collaboration. Yet over the past hundred and seventy years, this strange tale of misunderstanding, incompetence and compromise has become the founding episode of modern Chinese nationalism.
Starting from this first conflict, The Opium War explores how China’s national myths mould its interactions with the outside world, how public memory is spun to serve the present, and how delusion and prejudice have bedevilled its relationship with the modern West.
‘Lively, erudite and meticulously researched’ Literary Review
‘An important reminder of how the memory of the Opium War continues to cast a dark shadow.’ Sunday Times
Lovell (The Great Wall), lecturer in modern Chinese history and literature at the University of London, expounds in great detail upon the myriad causes and results of the 19th-century Opium Wars. The book is primarily a blow-by-blow account of the war's "chaotically interesting" events, supplemented by close studies of the important personalities involved. Toward the end of the 18th century, the British Empire was running up a serious trade deficit in the Orient. The "perfect solution" to their situation, they came to believe, was to import more Indian opium into China. By the 1830s, however, Qing government administrators began to grow anxious over booming opium consumption and forced the lucrative trade into the black market, cutting British profits, which helped fund the Royal Navy. Conflict escalated as Britain repeatedly attempted to reinstate the opium trade's legality, but opium had become a convenient scapegoat for the Qing rulers. Lovell painstakingly follows the intricate webs of trades, treaties, accusations, and recriminations between the two empires that has culminated in a the contemporary state of affairs in which Chinese citizens simultaneously lambaste the West while competing for visas and study-abroad opportunities. Lovell masterfully condenses into one volume a dense, difficult conflict, the results of which are still can still be felt 170 years later. Maps.