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The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China Hardcover – 2 Sep 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (2 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330457470
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330457477
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 4.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 356,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`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

Book Description

'Lively, erudite and meticulously researched' Literary Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By reader 451 TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
The story of the First Opium War (1839-42) has been told before. The question, then, is what Julia Lovell adds to it. First, her narrative reads well, balancing the military account, political decision-making, private descriptions, and analysis. Second, Lovell is a sinologist and translator from Chinese, and her book is based on both English-language and Chinese sources. The Opium War is indeed neither kind to the British nor the Chinese, not hesitating to dwell either on the appalling brutality of the British or the frequent incompetence of the main Chinese actors. Dishonesty abounded on both sides, and it would all often have been funny if failures to communicate had not been punctuated with such terrible slaughter. Perhaps Lovell overdoes the level of indecision on the British side, especially under the leadership of Charles Elliott, the British superintendant in Canton during the first phase of operations. The bibliography suggests she did not visit the foreign office archives, relying instead on published compilations, and this unfortunately leaves a question mark over the Palmerston-Elliott relationship. Indeed, this is all the more surprising that Lovell seems to teach at Birkbeck, and the archives are in London. Nevertheless, the dysfunctionality on the Manchu side is staggering. Chinese and Manchu were invariably at odds. And officials consistently lied to the emperor, blamed supposed traitors, and procrastinated instead of trying to appraise the threat they were faced with. By the time of the Second Opium War (1856-60), the Chinese administration had at least understood that its problem was a technological gap, even if filling it was another matter. In 1839-42, no-one even knew what questions to ask.Read more ›
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Richard G. S. Simon on 6 Oct. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Beautifully written account of a not so glorious period of British history; the Opium Wars with China. The British went to war to keep the hugely profitable opium trade with China open whilst the Chinese ,realising the debilitating effect it was having on a vast swathe of their population ,were trying to stop it. The many maps are terrific, and it gave me a much better understanding of the Chinese today.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By tracksterman on 13 Oct. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
This was an engaging read that filled me in on some aspects of the Opium Wars I was unclear about, especially the way in which the trade was brought to an end. A lot of research has obviously been done. It's an interesting counterpoint to the simplistic, jingoistic narrative set out by the CCP, who dominate the conversation more than perhaps they should.

However, I believe the book suffers from a couple of flaws. While the Qing were clearly both incompetent and unpopular rulers, I felt the author adopted an almost sneering tone towards Chinese attempts to repel the British, something out of place in a scholarly work. This is not to say that she underplays the invidious nature of British actions during the conflict.

I also felt that the final chapter was a bit of an afterthought. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed about current Chinese attitudes to the West, and share Lovell's concern about the rise in toxic ultra-Nationalism. I'm just not sure that this book is the place to deal with the subject. Despite these reservations, The Opium War is certainly worth a read by anyone interested in the period. It'll be interesting to see how Paxman deals with the same subject in his new book on the British Empire.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Koetzsch on 18 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
Julia Lovell does a fine job in recounting the history of the Opium War.

The drug trade is a hugely profitable business and it does create a rather loyal customer base. It doesn't surprise that the British put their morals behind them and went after the money. What didn't help was that both parties knew virtually nothing of each other or had a rather quaint idea what the other one was about. They both believed they did the right thing but because of the Chinese Empire's ineffectiveness in dealing with the situation the British got away with it.

The real winner in all this is China's present Government because the Opium War is an excellent propaganda tool. They can forever point the finger at the British for doing the evil deed and the Qing Dynasty for being such an incompetent bunch.

The author does a fine job in recounting the history of the war through the eyes of all parties involved. Like others here, I found the maps rather useful. This book is excellent background reading to understand that part of China's and Hong Kong's history and some of the actions of today's China.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER on 16 Jan. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent book, well written and highly readable, which gives an entertaining and informative account of the two opium wars fought by Britain and China in the nineteenth century. The British, keen to raise revenues from the sale of opium to finance the purchase of tea and to offset the rising costs of empire, as well as to encourage China into more open approach to trade in general, refused to accept the entirely reasonable Chinese desire to prevent the growing trade in the drug and its ill effects on the population. And so two wars were fought to settle the issue, atrocities were committed, Chinese costal cities were occupied, and Hong Hong was taken and held for over one hundred years until 1997.

Both sides, with some exceptions even at the time, held firm to a sense of superiority in their respective civilisations over the other, and were equally sure of the rightness of their cause. Neither side held the other in much respect, and this lack of respect fuelled the flames of war. Neither side had any real comprehension of the other's motives, values, or ambitions

Ms Lovell's account of the historical events, and the shadows which they continue to shed over China's relationship with the West, is entertaining, illuminating, and written with humour as well as insight.

Highly recommended for those interested in history, and in the historical factors shaping China's relationship with the West today.
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