Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Smoke and mirrors

The author of a new book on the Opium Wars on how these kick-started a rare century of decline for China, their place in modern memory, and what they can tell us about globalization today

The Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars of the mid-19th century have sprung back into public memory in India recently. River of Smoke, the second instalment of Amitav Ghosh’s swashbuckling naval Ibis epic, which was published last month, is set in the bustling global city of Guangzhou, or Canton, and follows its Indian, Chinese and European characters, enmeshed in the opium trade through to the brink of the war.

The Opium Wars, conducted in two phases—1839-42 and 1856-60—were a bitter conflict between a British empire eager to expand its global trade, and Qing Dynasty China opposed to British ideas of trade and political relations, and severely displeased with the illegal British supply of opium (which came from the poppy fields of north India) entering the country and raising addiction rates among Chinese at alarming rates.

China’s defeat in the wars is considered the mark of a long period of decline for the country. The world’s oldest nation, and one of its most powerful for much of human history, was to spend the next century fighting against Western empires on the one hand, and the belligerent Japanese empire on the other.

Full review here Mint

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