• Imperial Twilight

  • The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age
  • By: Stephen R. Platt
  • Narrated by: Mark Deakins
  • Length: 17 hrs and 50 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (658 ratings)

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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.

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 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 audiobook paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable - and mostly peaceful - meeting of civilizations 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 characters, 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
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

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)

What listeners say about Imperial Twilight

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Balanced readable narrative about the Opium Wars

A thorough narrative of the Opium War(s) - between Great Britain and China in the 1800's.

A history of how the Dutch, French, Portuguese and British "got there" - and how the British merchants established themselves by trading in legal goods (tea, silk) and illegal goods (opium grown in India and transported from India to China).

There was more than enough "blame" to go around - the Chinese Empire had significant levels of corruption - bribe taking - but there were more than enough opportunities to reconcile and not have a trade or real war - but these opportunities were not seized by either party. Instead appeals were made to British nationalism, pride for alleged insults to national honor and etc. Similar type thinking is detailed on the Chinese side.

In the end the British "won" - continued the trade in both the legal and illegal trade. This also doomed the Chinese Emperor system - and began (what the Chinese see as ) the Century of Humiliation - from approximately 1840 through 1949. The Chinese Government uses this to fire up nationalistic spirit of the Chinese - that China will "never again" be beset by Western Powers. This is the going forward lesson.

Worth a read - an important part of (now) current history - which isn't well understood.

Carl Gallozzi

19 people found this helpful

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essential knowledge!

This book contains a portion of very interesting facts about the English (trade) connections with imperial China. It is a very difficult subject that needs a very delicate approach to be explained. and I must say : it does just that in excellent fashion. It also important in present day when China is taking a much more prominent place in the world order then it has done in the last 100 years. in other words this book is a gem for all those who are interested in the world and how things are and how they become this way.

7 people found this helpful

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loved it

finished it so fast. fascinating listen and easy to follow even with Chinese names and many people involved

5 people found this helpful

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An interesting history beautifully told

I learnt the Opium War from my middle school textbook in China some 40 years ago. The conflict was largely described as injustice war forced on China by the British who wanted to open Chinese ports and poisoned the people. I still hold these views after reading the book but with much more knowledge on the twists and turns of events and intricacy of the relationship between the two countries, and the randomness of seemingly predetermined historical fate. Thanks for the author for the book. I like the ending that portraits a US-China relationship in a romantic and ideal term---only if we could all live peacefully like the Chinese merchant Houqua and American trader Forbes.

5 people found this helpful

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Slow start, but comprehensive and panoramic.

I am hardly well-versed in 18th and 19th century Chinese history, and through the first chapter I thought to myself, "are they ever going to get to the point?" Luckily I persevered because that opening is necessary for grasping the context of the expansion and transformation of the British relationship with China that sets the stage for the Opium War. As the author does, and I think rightfully for the title and topic, the imperial twilight is more the story than the Opium War itself. It's laid out carefully and convincingly the imbalances, contraditions, and mistakes that led to China's decline while illustrating some of the cultural and social features that characterize its re-emergence, presaging both its vitality and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.

2 people found this helpful

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Detailed account

Detailed account of events. and causes leading up to, and events after the Opium war.

2 people found this helpful

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a well painted portrait

By the end - I felt like a resident of the world... including knowing many of the characters that inhabited it... which the author did a great job of developing to the point that they seemed to cast a shadow.

I will say that the very end of the book... the part actually related directly to the opium war goes on long without as much of the interesting detail that characterized it's early chapters.

5 people found this helpful

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Can I get a refund?

I wanted a book about the Opium Wars. This is a 17 hour book about the buildup to the Opium Wars. About 45 minutes on the actual first Opium War and nothing about the second. False Advertising and boring book.

10 people found this helpful

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Not New

I have one minor annoyance with this book. It’s alleged to be a new take on the opium wars, different from what has been taught in the past. In fact, the author’s take on the opium wars isn’t especially different from what I got when I was working on my history BA (East Asia concentration) in the early 1970’s.

However it is much more detailed and explores the history of English trade in much more depth than what I read back then. It’s also quite well written.

Oh, if you got your ideas on Chinese history from propaganda sources, it might come as a surprise to you that neither the contemporary Chinese nor the pro-war British at the time that the war was being debated in Parliament saw the war as being about opium, and that opium was basically not addressed in the negotiations at the end of the war.

1 person found this helpful

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New perspectives

Great audiobook with outstanding audio quality, an engaging narration, and a story full of eye-opening facts and perspectives.

1 person found this helpful