The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China

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9780330457477: The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China
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`On the outside, [the foreigners] seem intractable, but inside they are cowardly. . . Although there have been a few ups-and-downs, the situation as a whole is under control.' In October 1839, a few months after the Chinese Imperial Commissioner, Lin Zexu, dispatched these confident words to his emperor, a cabinet meeting in Windsor voted to fight Britain's first Opium War (1839-42) with China. The conflict turned out to be rich in tragicomedy: in bureaucratic fumblings, military missteps, political opportunism and collaboration. Yet over the past 170 years, this strange tale of misunderstanding, incompetence and compromise has become the founding myth of modern Chinese nationalism: the start of China's heroic struggle against a Western conspiracy to destroy the country with opium and gunboat diplomacy. Beginning with the dramas of the war itself, Julia Lovell explores its causes and consequences and, through this larger narrative, interweaves the curious stories of opium's promoters and attackers. The Opium War is both the story of modern China - starting from this first conflict with the West - and an analysis of the country's contemporary self-image. It 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.

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About the Author:

Julia Lovell teaches modern Chinese history at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the author of The Great Wall: China Against the World and The Politics of Cultural Capital: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature and writes on China for the Guardian, Independent and The Times Literary Supplement. Her many translations of modern Chinese fiction include, most recently, Lu Xun's The Real Story of Ah-Q, and Other Tales of China.

Review:

“A crisp readable account [Lovell] keeps a sharp plot running, which is a testament to her writing skills . . . Ms. Lovell, a keen observer of contemporary Chinese culture, also traces the "afterlife" of the war, exploring the ways it has been remembered from the 19th century to the present.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Excellent . . . Intriguing . . .  For those seeking a blow-by-blow account of the conflict, this book will more than satisfy . . . Lovell is no apologist for the English, or their eagerness for war.” —The Daily Beast 

“An astute, bracing history lesson on a conflict that set off the British notion of “yellow peril” and Chinese victimhood . . . Lovell offers extensive analysis of why and how this conflict helped create an entire founding theory of Chinese nationalism” —Kirkus Reviews

The Opium War is dramatic, eye-opening history . . . Historian Lovell recounts the war and its aftermath in full detail.” —Booklist 

“Painstakingly follows the intricate webs of trades, treaties, accusations, and recriminations between the two empires . . . Lovell masterfully condenses into one volume a dense, difficult conflict, the results of which are still can be felt 170 years later.”Publishers Weekly

 

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