Imperial Twilight by Stephen R Platt review – lessons for today from

first_img 1 2 Report PortlandRace Julia Lovell HCollider1 Facebook Twitter Facebook … we have a small favour to ask. The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Reply Share 4 Aug 2018 12:48 Reuse this content,View all comments > Facebook Share on Twitter 6 7 Imperial twilight? Pish, the Empire never stopped and now as we throw of the shackles of the EU… Twitter Reply ah, commissioner lin … prior to studying at university, i thought the opium war was fought due to the chinese smuggling it into britain: opium dens in limehouse … sherlock homes … tintin and the blue lotus … i still remember the look of contempt on my hk-born wife’s face when i returned home after my first lecture on 19th century anglo-sino relations. Have you read it? Share on Twitter Reply Books Chris Fynn Share on LinkedIn Donald Trump Facebook 77media Share on Twitter Nice review of a magnificent book. Apart from the 8 nations alliance and the Opium war I think Japanese aggression against China is equally important. In the West it’s mostly overlooked that none took any substantial step against Japan until Japan acted against the Western possessions. A strange historical revisionism has erased this from the minds of Western readers just as it has erased the Soviet efforts against Nazis(and please don’t bring the Moltov-Ribbentrop pact unless you talk about Munich pact). China and her people nowadays have a very string nationalistic feeling and the way Trump behaves it will not be unjustified for them to think that the West is going to resuscitate that unscrupulous ‘alliance’ again. | Pick AKA_Steve 31 Jul 2018 5:40 2 3 Share on WhatsApp Reply Share on Facebook | Pick Share on Twitter Sorry there was an error. Please try again later. If the problem persists, please contact Userhelp Order by oldest recommendations Report 27 Jun 2018 21:08 Twitter Hippaferalkus 2 3 Facebook | Pick Reply jan oskar Hansen Report Share on Twitter Please select Personal abuse Off topic Legal issue Trolling Hate speech Offensive/Threatening language Copyright Spam Other Support The Guardian Email (optional) Facebook Share Report Report Facebook When Xi Jinping did his tour of Europe huge deals were announced with France and Germany to the tune of hundreds of billions. When he came to Britain we managed to get a measly £16bn deal for a power station that we will have to buy power from at an unrealistically above market price level and guarantee this for decades. So the Opium wars and Hong Kong are now returning as our century of humiliation. Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Twitter 6 7 27 Jun 2018 19:39 | Pick Sign in or create your Guardian account to recommend a comment 7 8 Share AenimaUK Facebook oldest Share on Facebook 27 Jun 2018 18:47 Reply Reply Fred Bloggs Sorry4Soul 5 6 27 Jun 2018 16:34 While campaigning for the US presidency, Donald Trump talked tough on China. He accused the country of “raping” the US economically: its trade policies and currency manipulation were allegedly perpetrating “one of the greatest thefts in the history of the world”. In March, Trump put his money where his mouth was, announcing up to $60bn of tariffs on Chinese imports. The US, the White House proclaimed, was “strategically defending itself” from “economic aggression”. Within hours, the People’s Republic responded by announcing its own tariffs on key US exports: pork, apples, soybeans. The rhetoric of public opinion in China was revealing of the deeper history of this trade row. Chinese editorialists promptly linked Trump’s action back to 19th-century western aggressions, and specifically to the collisions that dragged China violently into a western-dominated international world. In punishing China economically, they declared, the US was plotting to “repeat the plundering of the opium war” – a conflict Britain fought between 1839 and 1842 to protect its revenues from the opium trade and open China to British goods and influence. Parts of the Chinese cybersphere quickly resorted to militant language: “The superpower game is joined … we will block soldiers with generals and floods with dams …bring it on!” Reply Share on Facebook Twitter | Pick Twitter | Pick 77media | Pick Sorry4Soul 1 Jul 2018 2:25 2 3 Reply Reply Share Sounds like an interesting book. I know next to nothing about Chinese history – this could be a decent place to start. Facebook 2 3 Share on Twitter | Pick Facebook Report 28 Jun 2018 2:38 8 9 Share on Facebook brucebaby Reply 13 14 Share 25 Facebook Back then you could pilot gunboats up the river and burn down a palace. Trump is relying on causing an economic crisis that will hurt everyone including America, for his war. I hope karma hurries up for him, it’s very slow at the moment. Share on Facebook Share Twitter Facebook “… wise men build bridges, but fools build walls.” 0 1 There was nothing China wanted from the West at that time ,mikedow As an interest group of merchants and politicians became scornfully dismissive of the Qing empire, they claimed – partly to justify military action to achieve short-term economic and political objectives – that conflict with China was inevitable. Platt’s book passionately contends the opposite. He describes how, despite the tumult preceding the opium war, the majority of participants in Sino-western relations were determined to maintain a mutually beneficial status quo. Only a minority of reckless traders and opinion-makers “caused all the trouble” by pushing too fast and too hard for an extension in commerce and profits.Platt writes beautifully, with a novelist’s eye for detail. He skilfully weaves through the book a cast of eccentric characters who mediated between China, Britain and the US. There are the missionaries who toiled to create tools of communication between China and the English-speaking world, such as the first Chinese-English dictionary, while pleading for a war to open the country to conversion. Thomas Manning, a Norfolk-born globetrotter, set his sights on mastering Chinese, grew a beard and smuggled himself into Tibet disguised as a Buddhist lama. He ended his days in a cottage in Dartford, plucking his beard out hair by hair.At a moment when the demagogic Trump is making confrontational noises about Chinese “protectionism”, his administration would do well to read Imperial Twilight. It vividly evokes both the tragic consequences of British impatience over trade with China, and the stories of the many westerners and Chinese people who pragmatically coexisted and cooperated for decades before the declaration of war.• Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age is published by Atlantic. To order a copy for £21.25 (RRP £25) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99. Reply 1 2 Share on Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter mikedow Report Reply 27 Jun 2018 18:49 Report comments (59)Sign in or create your Guardian account to join the discussion. Facebook Reply Reply You’re referring to various dynasties of China constructing the Great Wall, and the Chinese Communist Party following their lead in building the Great Firewall, I presume? Facebook Twitter Share on Twitter | Pick Share on Facebook Share on Facebook 27 Jun 2018 19:21 Mujokan Share on Twitter Twitter Reply | Pick Report Share on Twitter | Pick Share on Facebook Share on Twitter 28 Jun 2018 10:14 PacificGC 5 6 PortlandRace LauraJones83 Reply Facebook | Pick 27 Jun 2018 20:08 | Pick Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Threads collapsed Share on Twitter Share on Twitter 27 Jun 2018 20:28 Share on Twitter newest Report Japanese Imperialism had as much to do with the destruction of old China as it did Czarist Russia. Its always the case when Britain seems horribly corrupt that histories gloss the bookshops about corrupt empires, as though it all happened there. Not here. | Pick Facebook Share on Facebook 1 2 Report Share on Facebook mikedow 27 Jun 2018 17:35 expanded Waitingforamission Share Report Is your preference for the European empire any more grown up? “We are a very special construction unique in the history of mankind,” said Mr Barroso yesterday. “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire.” That’s Barroso who had has reward from Goldman Sachs in the form of a plum job, for services rendered. Twitter Twitter Twitter | Pick Report Facebook | Pick Twitter Hippaferalkus Chris Fynn Reply | Pick Share on Facebook Please spare us the special pleading. I know that you don’t want your country to appear bad, but history is history and British imperialism was not only a vile thing in its own right when it comes to China, but it also opened the way for the Russian and Japanese imperialism that you so deplore. Just as an aside, my paternal grandfather was a Russian army reservist at the time that Russia and Japan fought each other for control of Manchuria and rather than waiting to be called up, he hightailed it off to Canada. SwansGunners88 ”our century of humiliation” Starting March 29, 2017. Share on Facebook | Pick Share via Email Report Reply Share 3 4 Comments 59 | Pick Twitter Share on Twitter 2 3 Share on Facebook Share on Facebook Report awakeawake 0 1 100 Share on Facebook just as it has erased the Soviet efforts against Nazis Which is rubbish. Everyone if informed of the Eastern Front, of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Battle of Moscow, in what way has it been erased? He’s surfing American conservative media very successfully, he has a 90% approval rating among Republicans I think. The people that survive around him are those that help him on that (excluding Bannon who blew himself up). Everything is driven by either the right-wing media epistemic bubble or corruption (see: the Middle East). Now thanks to that we have these crazy ideologues driving trade policy and the only thing that’s holding them back is the US stock market. They are going into this trade war with all the conditions for a global recession already lined up, even without a war of choice on trade. There are strong pro-Trump forces in the US markets as we can see from recent volatility. Headlines push things down then others buy on the dip. Many people still have faith it’s all going to work out. I think we’ll be off down the slope of a recession before the stock market can provide enough of a disincentive to the White House, there is too much blind faith in Trump out there. When the markets really start hurting and the Administration wants to pull back from confrontation, it will be much too late. Share on Twitter Report Facebook Facebook Report Facebook | Pick Starting in 1956, in Suez. Share 27 Jun 2018 18:18 27 Jun 2018 17:35 Fred Bloggs The British government were the first to be large scale opioids international traders. And now we have a war on drugs ?….. Politics books Share on Facebook | Pick Share on Facebook HellsKitchenGuy | Pick Share on Twitter BaddHamster Waunarlwydd Reply Report 1 2 Share on Twitter 0 1 Paul Silbert PortlandRace Reply Share on Facebook | Pick Share Reply View more comments Stillgrizzly YoungCodger 50 Share on Twitter Share on Facebook | Pick Share on Facebook my understanding agrees with yours.Britain was very concerned by the loss of currency caused by the large amount of tea being purchased from China. The British had nothing that the Chinese wanted to buy so they started the opium trade. The other part of the iniquitous triangle was the British selling cloth to India made from Indian cotton that the Indian population were forbade from weaving into cloth. Growers in modern day Pakistan were encouraged to grow opium. We all know how this ended. 27 Jun 2018 18:03 Facebook Facebook there was existing narcotics gang that had, by the time the first war started, been in business for 30-40 years. the trade imbalance had existed for decades, and the british east india co. remedied that by smuggling opium. Reason (optional) | Pick collapsed Facebook Yes, and it’s another attempt at Trump bashing and lays no blame on China at all for the current predicament, which is entirely disingenuous. I work in an industry that suffers from the impacts of Chinese industrial strategy and what is good for China can be very bad for much of the rest of the world. Mujokan 28 Jun 2018 14:14 Report | Pick 9 10 0 1 Mujokan Report Twitter 1 2 Since you’re here… Share Report I thought there was a massive trade imbalance caused by China’s obstruction of imports and the opium trade was seen as a way of selling anything to China? It was not an outlet for an existing narcotics gang. Facebook Share on Twitter 27 Jun 2018 20:30 Reply Report Mujokan 27 Jun 2018 18:34 Another smart and readable book is Julia Lovell’s own The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China (London: 2011 ). Platt’s Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (2012) is the next chapter in China’s history. Stillgrizzly Imperial twilight? Pish, the Empire never stopped and now as we throw of the shackles of the EU (as well as all the jobs and investment that keeps Britain running) it will free up legions of red-blooded Britons to go out and reclaim all the lands we had to give up (temporarily).First, we shall invade North America and re-establish our North American colonies by planting tobacco ond selling beads to the locals in return for vast tracts of land. Then we will reclaim Africa (won’t they be happy to see our boys marching down the streets again in the knowledge that they are once again British posessions), and then on to Asia to put down the Third Indian Mutiny and yet another glorious Opium War where we blow up the Emperor’s Palace and force them into servitude.- Extract from the diary of little Liam (aged 56 3/4) nutgone I think what has been made patently clear over the past 18 months is that Trump has absolutely no idea what he is doing and furthermore has banished anyone who might have been in a position to advise on policy.The autocracies in Russia and China must be shaking their heads in wonder at this unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of the current mis-steps being made by this administration. awakeawake All A beautifully written and expert account of western aggression in 19th-century China casts light on the Chinese reaction to Trump 28 Jun 2018 22:50 Report Reply Share on Twitter Share 11 12 Twitter Share on Facebook Reply Report mikedow Facebook Reply | Pick Share Share Share on Twitter Report 5 6 Facebook Facebook PeterBederell Share on Facebook PacificGC Share Twitter Share on Messenger Report 1 2 Reply Share Pinterest Show 7 more replies Report Share on Facebook Twitter Share on Twitter 4 5 Share History books 1 2 Share 27 Jun 2018 16:41 Share on Twitter goodly written and yes this is the way it was Report I can’t find any comment denigrating the self righteous Brits for producing and selling massive amounts of the socially evil and dangerous drug. 11 12 Facebook Reply More please. Report Report Report 27 Jun 2018 19:37 Twitter Share on Pinterest Waunarlwydd Share reviews Twitter Share on Twitter Asia Pacific Report 27 Jun 2018 20:17 Share on Facebook Stillgrizzly Fred Bloggs Facebook 1 2 Reply Share on Twitter Hippaferalkus nutgone 3 4 Share on Twitter There had been, but was no longer. The opium trade got going in the late 18th century, and by the mid-1820s it had exploded to such an extent that it wiped out China’s trade surplus and turned it into a rapidly growing deficit. The inflow of silver turned into a major outflow, causing a shortage of silver in China which disrupted the economy and public finances. Hence the major escalation of efforts to suppress opium smuggling and distribution which was launched in 1837 and precipitated the war. Share mikedow Share on Facebook 28 Jun 2018 16:04 Report I don’t know how you managed to miss one half of the opium trade equation – tea! China wouldn’t accept trade goods in exchange for tea, and the British treasury ran dangerously low in bullion to pay for the tea craze that swept Great Britain. Opium was introduced and promoted and the Chinese importers had to pay for it in cash. | Pick Facebook Share on Facebook Report So China is nationalistic and the USA is nationalistic (plus newly isolationist). It’s going to end in tears. Report The storming of the forts of Amoy, 1841, during the first opium war.Photograph: Fine Art/Corbis via Getty Images Share 28 Jun 2018 21:31 Topics Loading comments… Trouble loading? Taiwan number 1. James Parsons Imperial Twilight by Stephen R Platt review – lessons for today from the opium war 3 4 | Pick PortlandRace 27 Jun 2018 21:04 Share Share on Twitter Getting a tea crop established in India may have helped end that vicious trade. Twitter Show 25 Share on Twitter Mujokan Share 27 Jun 2018 19:01 Share on Twitter Twitter Twitter 1 2 Report 27 Jun 2018 23:11 Share on Twitter | Pick Share on Twitter Twitter Share on Facebook Share Share Share on Twitter Report Share on Twitter Share on Twitter Share on Twitter That’s what I’d heard also. The Chinese didn’t want anything the British were producing, only silver; and Britain had loads of opium from the subcontinent that they wanted to use to pay for their tea instead. I have one of those dictionaries the missionaries produced, they are still in print. Useful in certain circumstances. Amazing energy to create it for such odd reasons. 27 Jun 2018 20:45 Share Share on Facebook Twitter Twitter 0 1 Facebook More opium? It is quite moreish, I suppose. Share LauraJones83 | Pick Share Facebook 27 Jun 2018 21:02 Shame the book review was spoiled by somewhat onesided political opinion. Report Share on Twitter Share on Facebook 28 Jun 2018 3:11 Wed 27 Jun 2018 04.00 EDT Share on Twitter Report Twitter Share on Facebook AKA_Steve Share on Facebook | Pick a conflict Britain fought between 1839 and 1842 to protect its revenues from the opium trade and open China to British goods and influence. 4 5 | Pick Twitter Share | Pick Facebook Share via Email Twitter Twitter Facebook Twitter Reply 7 8 | Pick Twitter Share Reply Facebook Share on Facebook Sorry4Soul Small amounts , PortlandRace Books | Pick Show 4 more replies Share 27 Jun 2018 19:11 Twitter Duxk 0 1 27 Jun 2018 20:12 Twitter Reply Share Show 7 more replies Pseudaletia Share Reply Share on Twitter 8 9 Share Share Report Reply Reply Share on Twitter | Pick Reply Shares6161 Share Share on Facebook We need to understand how and why ​China remembers the opium war; we forget sensitivities about the events at our peril Twitter Share on Facebook Were you giving the lecture? Can’t say I’m surprised by the look of contempt then. HCollider1 DecemberElle | Pick Twitter 0 1 unthreaded Facebook Paprin 27 Jun 2018 17:45 8 9 Share Reply 27 Jun 2018 18:11 Twitter 27 Jun 2018 23:21 27 Jun 2018 18:29 Reply Share on Facebook 2 Jul 2018 4:32 Reply Reply Share on Facebook Share Share on Facebook CWHayford | Pick Twitter 0 1 Share on Facebook SolutionFinder PacificGC Facebook Twitter Share Amusing, but the empire in twilight here is China not Britain Share on Twitter Facebook nutgone Waitingforamission | Pick Memories of traumatic clashes with the west and Japan during what is known as China’s “century of humiliation” (1839-1945) remain highly relevant to an ambitious, resurgent state. On the one hand it confidently sees itself as a superpower, but on the other it is suspicious that the west is trying to contain it. In this context, the opium war is far more than history: it has a powerful message for the present day. We need to understand how and why China remembers the conflict; we forget sensitivities about these events at our peril.Stephen R Platt’s excellent new history of China and its relations with Britain and the US in the 50 years up to 1839 could hardly be more timely. One of the best anglophone historians of late imperial China writing today, Platt immerses the reader in the friendships and frustrations, pleasures and hazards of a formative period in Sino-western relations.In the closing decades of the 18th century, Qing China was among the richest and most powerful empires in the world. Over the ensuing decades, economic, ecological and imperial overextension mired the dynasty in political dysfunction and domestic disorder. In the lively pages of Platt’s book, we encounter the desperate millenarian rebels and pirates who plunged into a hopeless civil war because the depredations of corrupt officials left them no choice. Against the backdrop of mounting chaos the Qing government unsurprisingly – but with dwindling success – sought to exert control over its borders by restricting European and American trade to the southern port of Canton.The biographies of Anglo-Americans in China alternate with the narrative of the Qing empire’s implosion. European philosophers had acclaimed the country a repository of political virtue and wisdom. Through the early decades of the 19th century, a rowdy crew of British traders, missionaries, diplomats and politicians reinvented China as a rogue state: an alien, xenophobic nation that refused to play by the rules of the international game so recently invented by Europe. This rise in intolerance coincided with a massive escalation of Anglo-Indian opium smuggling to China between 1800 and 1839, eventually pushing the British and Chinese empires to war. Share SolutionFinder I’d say that has a lot more to do with the differences in what those countries have to offer economically, the strategic and negotiating capacities of their governments, and their concern or lack of it for the public interest. I mean, just look at how the same bunch are handling Brexit. The most fascinating country I ever visited. Even though it was in 1993 I could see China was on the march. I found the people very proud. On a few occasions I tried to tip a waitress or taxi driver and they politely declined. Though they find it hard to form a Que or stay in line for anything. In passing, as part of the Opium War, wasn’t the idea to bring opium from India into China and swap it for tea? The tea was to satisfy the growing demand from the emerging middle classes of England. Maybe they should have tried opium instead? Share Reply Close report comment form Share on Facebook Facebook China | Pick Report Report 28 Jun 2018 6:23 Twitter I think what he could mean, with less strong terms, is that there is possibly a misconception of how much of a role the USSR took in the war. Specifically, that over a million German soldiers perished on the Eastern front, with Soviet casualties also far in excess of anything suffered by the US and UK. So, the Russian perspective would be that they won the war (with assistance from the West) while I think in the UK/US very much an opposite viewpoint is held. Facebook Share on Facebook British ships destroying an enemy fleet in Canton, 1841. Photograph: Dea Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images 27 Jun 2018 16:21 Facebooklast_img