13 July 2016

The Opium War

I recently finished The Opium War by Julia Lovell. It isn't great writing--there are places where it's easy to get lost as the flow of the narrative isn't always smooth. But it has some fascinating stories. This period of Chinese history when China confronts aggressive Western powers always fascinates me. And there's always a mystery in my mind as to why China failed to prepare better for (and react to) the encounter. Reading this book and listening to related university lectures (viewed on YouTube), I sense that the notion that China was simply a hidebound bureaucracy, while containing some truth, is a bit simplistic. One aspect of Qing China that is discussed to some extent in the book is the extent to which China was divided in many ways between Manchurian elites (with their special military units) and the majority Han Chinese. Another factor seems to be the Chinese government's inability to respond rapidly to situations and to confirm information.

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