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The Opium Wars in China by Edgar Holt

Hardback, 1964, 303pages, good condition, small wear/tear in jacket

The wars which Britain, at first alone and later in alliance with France, fought in China between 1839 and 1860 were historically important because they broke down the traditional isolation of the Chinese Empire, brought it at last into contact with the Western world, and made possible the emergence of modern China. They can be appropriately called the Opium Wars, because the first of them was the direct result of Commissioner Lin's Seizure of opium smuggled into China by British and American merchants at a time when the Imperial Chinese Government was trying to suppress the national vie of opium-smoking. Though the later wars had different immediate causes, they were all part of one protracted conflict, in which the essential Western aim was to open China to trade and to secure equality of status for Western diplomats and officials.

Edgar Holt's history of this exciting period begins at a time when British ambassadors were expected (but declined) to kowtow to the Chinese Emperor, and goes on through three wars and two major treaties to the time when Lord Elgin, as Britain's Ambassador in China, entered Peking as a conqueror. It is a story which tells of the development of British trade in China, of the skilful evasive tactics of Chinese diplomats, of British controversy over the morality of the opium traffic, and of American neutrality which was dramatically broken when Commodore Josiah Tatnall of the United States Navy declared that 'Blood is thicker than water'. It was the era of Palmerston's 'Send a Gunboat' policy, and the book is rich in colourful figures such as the consuls Rutherford Alcock and Harry Parkes who were determined never to lose a trick to their Chinese antagonists, young midshipman Kennedy who reckless attacked a Chinese fleet with one small boat.... Please click here to ask a question
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