- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
The Chinese Opium Wars (Harvest Book; Hb 350) Paperback – 1 Apr 1977
- Choose from over 13,000 locations across the UK
- Prime members get unlimited deliveries at no additional cost
- Find your preferred location and add it to your address book
- Dispatch to this address when you check out
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
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.
Top customer reviews
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
British and American commentators at the time and since have strongly urged the view that in 1839 the real issue was not opium but extra-territoriality - or, sometimes, the Open Door in China. The argument is respectable, but it must be recognized that the British government laid down from the start a policy and a strategy which corresponded very closely to the declared needs of the big opium smugglers."
Beeching is up against some fairly strong "respectable" opposition. For example, Peter Ward Fay, a professor emeritus of history at the California Institute of Technology, wrote a book about the first opium war, evidently intending to satisfy what he and Beeching must both have realized at the time they wrote, both books being published in 1975: "There does not exist, for the West's first major intrusion into China, what the subject deserves and a reader is entitled to. The popular books on the war leave it a piece in the larger story of the `awakening dragon' or treat it decidedly hurriedly. The scholarly monographs approach it from one angle or another, rarely making much of an effort at narrative." (Fay, Peter Ward, The Opium War, 1840-1842, 1975, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1997, Paperback Edition. Evidently Fay did not think much of Beeching's narrative. Writing a preface in a new edition in 1997, he said: ... "Nothing has been added to the existing Notes on Sources, in part because in the years since it was drawn up, nothing that seriously added to or challenged the narrative has to my knowledge appeared.") Fay subscribes to the other "respectable" argument. "Readers may discover that though I am quite aware what damage opium did, I do not believe that the Opium War was really about opium at all. It was about other particular things, shaped by circumstances as most history is; and it was, if you look for an overarching principle, about somehow getting the Chinese to open up. The desire is still very much with us today."
This view is echoed by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman. They argue that the British expeditionary force led by the new paddle wheel steamer, Nemesis, was intended "...to secure privileges of general commercial and diplomatic intercourse on a Western basis of equality, and not especially to aid the expansion of the opium trade. The latter was expanding rapidly of its own accord and was only one point of friction in the general antagonism between the Chinese and British schemes of international relations." (Fairbank, John King, Goldman, Merle, China a New History, 2nd Edition, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006. It should be noted that Fairbank's review of both Fay's and Beeching's books in The New York Times is cited on the cover of each.) The objective being in dispute even today, what happened in China?
The background of the conflict is complex, but the central aspect of it is generally agreed. In the eighteenth century the British had developed a substantial liking for tea. They obtained it from China for which they paid in silver. As the consumption grew the balance of payments with China tilted more and more in favor of the Chinese. For example, between 1710 and 1759 Britain bought 26,833,614 Pounds Sterling worth of tea and sold only 9,248,396 Pounds worth of goods to the Chinese.
That the Chinese did not admire British goods or want them is a frequently told story. Lord Macartney took a representative selection of British goods when he went to the Summer Palace in 1793 to establish an embassy. The Emperor took one look at them and said: "I set no value on strange objects and ingenious (sic.) and have no use for your country's manufactures." They languished in a warehouse only to be discovered in their crates at the end of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The British simply could not afford to continue buying tea and not selling anything. In India the British were growing opium (a white poppy which produces a milk from which opium is derived). While there was no market for it in 1782, the British thought they could purchase it cheaply in India where they were selling textiles and develop a market for it in China to offset their tea purchases. A couple of British firms did just that. "By 1830, the opium trade there was probably the largest commerce of its time in any single commodity, anywhere in the world." But the Chinese banned the sale and tried to shut down the sellers and importers. While the emperor had issued an edict against its sale in 1799 and closed outlets by force in 1821-3, the trade persisted. The proximate cause of the war was the righteous action of the incorruptible Chinese Imperial Commissioner, Lin Zixu, in 1839, to arrest the Chinese opium dealers in Canton and to quarantine the foreign suppliers and seize their supplies of opium. The British responded by forcibly "opening the door," but the door was to the opium den.
The arrogance of the British at that time cannot be overstated. Disraeli, opposing war, challenged Palmerston, the Prime Minister to put the matter to a vote of the nation. Palmerston did just that. He dissolved Parliament and appealed to the electorate calling Commisioner Lin "an insolent barbarian." Evidently gunboat diplomacy was more popular with the people than the House of Commons, for his government was returned with a majority. It should be noted, that during this time opium was not prohibited in Britain and many there regarded it as less harmful than alcohol and, indeed, used it for medical purposes.
Beeching describes the ensuing war in detail, recognizing that it was not an even contest. The British had disciplined troops and modern weapons. In one instance, after the British had captured Ningpo, the Chinese massed a force and invaded the city. They broke through a city gate and attacked down the street toward the market. The British brought up one howitzer, and a platoon of infantry which barred the only side street of escape. It was a slaughter. "No British were killed that night, but over 500 Chinese dead were counted. All units of the Chinese army which had been in action at Ningpo were permanently demoralized from the effect on their minds of grapeshot and musketry at close quarters. Henceforth, against any European army, they were defeated in advance." The treaty of Nanking ended the war and granted the British the right to resume trade on an expanded basis and other concessions.
The personalities involved on both sides seem to be caricatures of their time. The British Victorian statesmen and soldiers were conquerors and the Chinese mandarins were still the foundation of Chinese society. Both empires had cracks, and Beeching describes them. However, the Chinese, being isolated compared to the British, did not recognize their weeknesses. A new emperor in 1850, Hsien Feng, was not a match for the time. There were disasters, the Yellow River altered its course and the Taiping rebellion swept the country. Parts of the treaty of Nanking were not honored. The British wanted what the treaty provided and more. They concentrated their fleet on Chinese waters after the Crimean War was over. An excuse came when the Arrow, a British flag vessel, was boarded by Chinese marines who arrested the Chinese crew. The following clash, in 1859, was even more one sided than the previous one. After another treaty was negotiated but not honored by the Chinese, the British captured Beijing. They looted and destroyed the Summer Palace and opened up the interior of China to trade and missionary activity.
The Chinese Opium Wars has remained in print for the last thirty years because it is readable and its scope is extensive, from 1798 to 1864. Furthermore, Beeching dwells upon the personalities and turmoil in China along with British aggression. It may well be that the isolation the Chinese imposed upon themselves from the time of Zheng He would have dissipated over time without foreign intervention. However, Chinese social and governmental structure, which did not lend itself to change, was anachronistic. Gentry were selected to command troops without having received training other than in Confucian texts. Official promotions from ninth grade, and later eighth grade, were offered for cash starting in 1838. And the revolutions in China did not include the industrial one.
Beeching describes his modest intent in a postscript referring to his sources:
"Materials for the serious academic history of the Chinese Opium wars which has not yet been written are abundant. For instance there are over 2000 books and articles, many in Chinese or Russian, on the Taiping Rising alone. To append a scholarly apparatus of references to an essay in popular narrative history, compiled from less than a hundred sources, all secondary, and in only two languages, would be willfully misleading. Yet the narrative historian writing for the man in the street has valid standards of his own - corresponding to those of the responsible journalist. History is the resurrection of the dead; this book is only a sketch of a possible beginning."
Given that objective, Beeching successfully outlined the conflicts.
Look for similar items by category