- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
Barbarian Eye: Lord Napier in China, 1834 - The Prelude to Hong Kong Hardcover – 1 Sep 1995
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
This volume tells the story of William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier of Merchiston, who was sent to China in 1834 to seek a settlement of the British sea-traders and the Cantonese authorities. That his mission failed was due in no small part to the abysmal ignorance in Europe of the Chinese and their system of government, based as it was on the assumption that China was the centre of the world and all other people were barbarians and outsiders. The system of "squeeze" operated by the Chinese officials in their relations with the Western traders did much to create the insidious but lucrative trade in opium, based upon an elaborate system of smuggling. Lord Napier's failure to achieve any reciprocity with the Viceroy of Canton, led ultimately to the despatch of a force from India to enforce trading arrangements upon the Chinese by force of arms in what became known as the Opium Wars. One outcome of the fighting was the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain and, much later, the leasing of the New Territories, due to revert to China in 1997.Though biographical in character, based largely upon Lord Napier's own letters and journals, the book gives an insight into the story of Western contacts over the centuries with the world's oldest civilization, and a description of life in England and Scotland in the early-19th century, including life in the court of King William IV, Lord Napier's close friend and master. Priscilla Napier is the author of "Revolution and the Napier Brothers", "I Have Sind: Charles Napier in India I", "Raven Castle: Charles Napier in India II".
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
But he did draw attention to the barren island of Hong Kong, guarding one of the finest natural harbours in the world. As William Napier himself put it, in a despatch to Foreign Secretary Lord Grey that the author claims is its first official mention, that island is “admirably suited for every purpose”. The archival claim maybe be questionable, but Napier's judgement certainly is not.
The book is based on Napier's letters and journals, “recently...rediscovered and returned to his family”, and quoted extensively by the author who is related to the modern Napier family. Though largely biographical in character, the book also gives an insight into the story of earlier Western contacts with China, and sets some of the British political and foreign policy context. The book does suffer, however, from a lack of footnotes, perhaps surprising given it is clearly based on unique private papers – this makes further research difficult. The author's family loyalties are clear, if understandable. And the text is, in places, rather wordy and repetitive.
Nevertheless, Barbarian Eye does provide a useful primer to the commercial and military background to the Opium Wars and Hong Kong's seizure by the British in 1841.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
P. Napier is not writing in a traditional academic historian mode, with carefully neutral language and a billion citations per page. She uses warm, terrifically textured language and inserts lots of her own personality. She uses few direct citations and that's my only big criticism, instead she gives us lists of references. Her references are good, so I don't doubt her scholarliness, but it's hard to trace her footsteps and that leaves a certain sense of unease.
A previous review raises the question of P. Napier's objectivity dealing with an ancestor. However, lack of objectivity can cut both ways and I don't think that she is very kind to Napier. Yes, she puts him back in his historical time, and some may think that was done to excuse deficiencies in his thinking and actions, especially as she deals with contemporary European attitudes to opium, but P. Napier takes pains to picture the Europeans as being just as benighted in their own ways as the Chinese and no one in the story comes off as brilliantly rising above their cultural and historical context.
I enjoyed this book a lot. Read it with Arthur Whaley's book on the Opium Wars. I think this book is a little old in its style, a little more like anthropology than history, but it is probably all the more valuable for that, regardless of what you think of it as history.