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Violent Encounters: Opium and the Opium Wars

For discussion:

What happened, who were involved, and what were the outcomes? (For an overview, check the narratives available in Fairbank or Gernet or Hsu or Jack Grey)

What were the Opium Wars about? (make sure you consider all the options)

What is the best framework for understanding the Opium War?

What do the Opium Wars tell us about China’s global history?

Primary sources:

Pei-kai Cheng and Michael Lestz, with Jonathan D. Spence, eds., The Search for Modern China: a Documentary Collection (Norton: 1999). This contains several relevant important documents with brief introductions.

‘Trade, politics & culture, 1793-1980 : sources from the School of Oriental and African Studies and the British Library, London’

'Making of the Modern World': there are a range of primary sources relating to the role of the English in the Opium War available in this resource, including:

  • British opium trade with China. [Birmingham], [1840?].
  • Lindsay, H. H. (Hugh Hamilton). Is the war with China a just one?- 2d ed. 2nd ed. London, 1840
  • Fry, William Storrs. Facts and evidence relating to the opium trade with China. London, 1840.
  • Selborne, Roundell Palmer, Earl of. Statement of claims of the British subjects interested in opium surrendered to Captain Elliot at Canton for the public service. London, 1840.
  • Shuck, J. Lewis (Jehu Lewis). Portfolio chinensis : or, A collection of authentic Chinese state papers, illustrative of the history of the present position of affairs in China : with a translation, notes and introduction. Macao, China, 1840.

'Address to the people of Great Britain explanatory of our commercial relations with the empire of China, and of the course of policy by which it may be rendered an almost unbounded field for British commerce' by 'Visitor to China' Hume Tracts (1836)

Secondary materials:

General narratives of Chinese history to give you the background:

  • Fairbank and Goldman, China: A New History
  • Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization
  • Hsu, The Rise of Modern China
  • Spence, The Search for Modern China
  • Gray, Rebellions and Revolutions

For a review of some of some recent secondary sources on the Opium War, see Hevia's extensive review: 'Opium, Empire and Modern History' in China Review International, 10.2 (2003): 307-326.

Dikötter, Frank, Narcotic Culture: a History of Drugs in China (London : C. Hurst, 2004).

Gilman, Sander L. and Zhou Xun, eds., Smoke: a global history of smoking. (Reaktion Books, 2004)

Hevia, James, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism (2003)

Madancy, Joyce A. The Troublesome Legacy of Commissioner Lin: the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Fujian Province, 1820s to 1920s (Harvard University Press, 2003).

Pomeranz, Kenneth and Steven Topic, The World the Trade Created: Society: Culture, and the World Economy (2006).

Trocki, Carl A. Opium, Empire and the Global Political Economy : a Study of the Asian Opium Trade, 1750-1950 (London : Routledge, 1999.)

Wakeman, F., ‘The Opium War and the Canton Trade’ (photocopy in the Short Loan Collection)

Wong, J.Y., Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism and the ‘Arrow War’ in China (Cambridge U.P., 1998)

Zheng, Yangwen, The Social Life of Opium (Cambridge University Press. See here for one chapter.(PDF Document)