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Publisher's Summary

As China reclaims its position as a world power, Imperial Twilight looks back to tell the story of the country's last age of ascendance and how it came to an end in the 19th-century Opium War.

When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been seen as the most prosperous and powerful empire in Asia, if not the world. But internal problems of corruption, popular unrest, and dwindling finances had weakened China far more than was commonly understood, and the war would help set in motion the eventual fall of the Qing dynasty - which, in turn, would lead to the rise of nationalism and communism in the 20th century. As one of the most potent turning points in the country's modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today's China seeks to put behind it.

In this dramatic, epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to "open" China - traveling mostly in secret beyond Canton, the single port where they were allowed - even as China's imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country's decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China's advantage. The book paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable - and mostly peaceful - meeting of civilizations at Canton over the long term that was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history. Brimming with a fascinating cast of British, Chinese, and American individuals, this riveting narrative of relations between China and the West has important implications for today's uncertain and ever-changing political climate.

©2018 Stephen R. Platt (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Everyone with experience in China has heard about the legacy of the Opium War and subsequent ‘Century of Humiliation.’ But Stephen Platt presents the buildup to this confrontation in a vivid and fascinating way, which challenges many prevailing assumptions in both China and the West (including some of my own). This is narrative and analytic history of a high order, which will be read with enjoyment by audiences around the world.” (James Fallows, author of Our Towns and China Airborne)

"A deeply researched study of an early clash of civilizations, when England attempted to impose its will on East Asia... A fluent, well-written exercise in revisionism, one of interest to students of modern geopolitics as well as 19th-century history." (Kirkus)

"A fresh perspective on the first Opium War, the conflict that allowed Western merchants to pry open China’s riches and gain unprecedented trading privileges... Platt's research is impeccably presented in this winning history of British and Chinese trade." (Publishers Weekly)

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