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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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    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

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Trumpism

Mr. Platt is an author of our time, just like our president! 1st, deny there was an event (... the Chinese did not mention about the opium war until the 20th century...), 2. Make us feel sorry for the aggressors (...the British was required to Kowtow...), 3. The victims were stupid and culpable (the Chinese produced Opium themselves), 4. Dismiss the victims sufferings, and 5. Attack the victims. (the Chinese got rich too).

MR. Platt is not the the 1st in using this line of logic. I am glad we don’t have the equivalents of Mr. Platt in recasting the Holocaust. I have seen the rape victims being re-victimise by the immoral defence attorneys using this same tactic. He should write a book to defend the Catholic priests and bishops.

I see a lot of parallelism in the Chin dynasty Chinese society and today American drug problems. I certainly hope that we don’t have someone to start defending the Mexican drug cartels, opiates drug manufacturers, murdering of our DEA agents... I certainly hope that we are not thinking about compensating the convicted cannabis dealers even now is legalized.

It is amazing how Mr. Platt used some of the fleeting moral struggles to recast this despicable historical unparalleled human suffering. Please be as honourable as the post WWII Germany, repent, recompensate, and stop defending an immoral genocidal act.

5 of 19 people found this review helpful