Thursday, August 14, 2014

End-of-Summer Reading: THE OPIUM WAR

There is no better time to connect the past with the present than the end of summer when the changing of seasons is on the forefront of our minds. In preparation for an impending September, pore over Julia Lovell’s latest historical volume, THE OPIUM WAR, out today.

THE OPIUM WAR sheds light on the complicated modern relationship between China and Great Britain. The Opium Wars of the mid-19th century inexorably shaped Sino-Western relations, the consequences of which persist today.

A taste of the complexities: in the mid-1800s, Britain craved Chinese goods such as tea, silk, and spices. The Chinese, though, did not reciprocate Britain’s lust for foreign goods. The Chinese were only interested in their silver. As a result, Britain was experiencing a major silver deficit. Since they were unwilling to give up their prized Chinese items, the British came up with an alternative plan: trade highly-addictive opium and turn a profit. The Chinese emperor noticed the profound negative effect the opium trade was having on his citizens, and called for the end of trade with Britain. For Britain, this meant war.

This is more than a game of economics, but a game of morals---who was in the wrong?

The Opium Wars, among many other things, painted Chinese stereotypes and paved the path to modern Communism; Lovell delves into this tumultuous time with zest and grace. THE OPIUM WAR is the perfect companion to the World section of The New York Times. If you’re looking for a way to dig deeper into current events by exploring their historical foundations, you've found one.

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