What can I say? Before picking up Julia Lovell’s novel “The Opium War,” I knew virtually nothing about the subject and the little I did know was wrong. After finishing the novel I came away with a greater understanding , not only of the Opium Wars (there were two) but the Chinese mentality, the British greed, and the isolation of the Chinese Empire and their emperors.
The British introduced the drug to the Chinese, and the Chinese were ready participants. The Opium came from the country (British colony) of India where it was harvested and grew rapidly. The British who had always wanted to open trade with the huge landmass called China, invaded ports along the coast and set up trading stations.
In many of these port cities the trade was mutually beneficial to the Chinese and the Queen of England who could never possess enough money or land. But the biggest return came from the sale of opium and just because the Chinese emperor saw the harm it was costing his citizens…making them lazy and completely incompetent…did not deter the British desire to trade the opium with all willing buyers.
After the Chinese destroyed millions of dollars of British opium, war broke out. What would follow was like a Woody Allen comedy and I had to remind myself that hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese citizens, men, women, and children were killed or committed suicide. The Chinese were no match for the British. Yes, The Chinese build forts that housed hundreds of soldiers, and manned cannons atop the forts but the cannons were stationary and the British had no problem destroying the forts as many Chinese soldiers simply fled.
At one point, A Chinese official in charge of military operations collected all the female chamber pots, put them on a boat, and send the boat toward a towering ship of war in hope that the smell and magical blood of the females would be enough to ward off the British advances. It didn’t work.
The first half of this book is a little difficult to get through because of all the names and the insanity, but the second half of the book was a real joy as the author dissects the way future Chinese governments would portray the Opium Wars as a imperialistic drive by western nations to take over the entire country.
Mao used it to his advantage and in so doing killed 30 million innocent Chinese men, women, and children. After his death, future communist governments used the Opium Wars as a way to get the citizens to mistrust the Western Nations; even though at the same time they were building relations and trading partners with any western nations that wanted to trade with them.
This is a really informative novel and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of China. Thanks to my friend Dmitri for recommending this book.