This is a delightful, exquisitely written historical novel published in 1959 and set in 1830s China.
The Chinese Imperial dynasty is at its most flamboyant, cruel, wasteful and hubristic, as it simultaneously wants to enjoy the fruits of trade with the west while forbidding such trade and disdaining all barbarians.
For their part, the barbarians of Britain, America and Portugal, based in the Portuguese colony of Macao, desperately want to make money through trading, with the sale of Indian opium to Chinese dealers being especially lucrative.
The climax is a thrilling account of a sea-battle near Hong Kong in which just two British frigates annihilate, solely through superior tactics, 29 Chinese men-o'-war. This leads directly to China's secession of the barren, worthless island of Hong Kong to Britain, in perpetuity.
The rest, as they say, is history.