`Making the most of her considerable gifts as a story teller and deep familiarity with the contrasting ways that the tale of the Opium War has been told inside and outside of China, Julia Lovell offers us a fresh perspective on a pivotal episode in nineteenth-century history. The result is a compulsively readable and consistently thought provoking work. It is filled with both lively accounts of things that happened long ago and insightful comments on the powerful shadows that these old events continue to cast in our still-young century.' --Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
`Julia Lovell has written a lucid, perceptive and rich account of this much manipulated story of the first, bruising encounter between China and the West. An important and compelling book for anyone who wants to understand the uses and misuses of Chinese history.' --Chinadialogue.net
`No one who has read Julia Lovell's marvelous book on the Great Wall of China will be surprised that she has written such a great history of the Opium War. This defining passage in China's history - the beginning of a grisly century and a half of exploitation and misery - provides a rich seam of material which Julia Lovell draws on with huge narrative skill. Not the least of her attributes is her ability to show how these events have resonated down the years. A real cracker of a book.' --Chris Patten, former Governor and Commander in Chief of Hong Kong
`You cannot understand China today without understanding the huge impact the Opium Wars have had on restructuring Chinese national pride. This is the first western book I have read that does justice to that complicated story.' --Xinran, author of The Good Women of China and Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother.
`In this riveting book, Julia Lovell explores the myths surrounding opium trading and the titanic clash between Britain and China, which shaped China's perception of its place in the world for more than a century. This book is at its heart a powerful plea for deeper mutual sympathy between the West and China; with Western economies under stress and tensions rising over trade imbalances, the parallel between the 1830's and today is unmistakable . . . we would be wise to heed the ancient warning that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'
--Tim Clissold, author of Mr China
'More than just a history... by looking at the conflict from a contemporary viewpoint, The Opium War offers insight into an Asian superpower still uneasy with its trade relations with the West.' --International Herald Tribune
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 Britains 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 Chinas 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 opiums 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 countrys contemporary self-image. It explores how Chinas 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.