SOCIAL SCIENCES

Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China'sLast Golden Age

Knopf. May 2018. 592p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307961730. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780307961747. HIST
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OrangeReviewStarThis book's final chapter provides only a brief description of the course of the First Opium War (1839–42). Instead, Platt (Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst; Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom) focuses the bulk of this volume on painting a vivid picture of the history of relations between Britain and China from the mid-18th century up to the outbreak of the war. Readers will find a variety of perspectives represented, including officials in Beijing and London dealing with domestic and foreign policy concerns, and the experiences of the merchant and missionary communities of Canton and Macau. While the story concentrates on the colorful cast of British and Chinese, it also offers interesting vignettes of Indian merchants and the relationship between American John Murray Forbes and Hong merchant Wu Bingjian (known as Howqua in the West), the world's wealthiest man at the time.
VERDICT This thoroughly researched and delightful work is essential for anyone interested in Chinese or British imperial history. For a more detailed accounting of the war itself, consider Julia Lovell's The Opium War.

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