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

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  740 ratings  ·  102 reviews
As China reclaims its position as a world power, Imperial Twilight looks back to tell the story of the country's last age of ascendance and how it came to an end in the nineteenth-century Opium War.

When Britain launched its first war on China in 1839, pushed into hostilities by profiteering drug merchants and free-trade interests, it sealed the fate of what had long been
Kindle Edition, 555 pages
Published May 15th 2018 by Knopf
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Sep 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book on the Opium War between Britain and China in 1840. It takes the perspective of both Britain and China and shows the contingent and often unintended chains of events that led to the war, which is seen as so important 170+ years later. Platt follows some key characters along in the story but also shifts back and forth to the big picture and global politics effortlessly. This follows Ghosh’s recent trilogy of novels on the war and Ujifusa’s book on the Opium Clippers ...more
Oct 31, 2018 added it
This got to be a tough slog. Usually I read two books a week but I couldn't even get half way in three weeks on this one . It had interesting information given in a drawn out format. I'd rate it a 2.5 but cannot justify rounding it up to 3 nor rounding down to a 2 so I am not rating it. I will end with a comment given on page 184:

"Napoleon thought it absurd that Amherst should have refused to kowtow... the reply was that the British had the Royal Navy to which Napoleo responded 'it would be the
Gerald McFarland
"Imperial Twilight" is an outstanding achievement, a superb analysis of the causes of the Opium War (1839-1842) between Britain and China. Platt devotes very little space to the war itself. Rather his focus is on the broad social, economic, and diplomatic developments that led to war. In addition to his probing account of the war's background, he also provides in-depth descriptions of individuals, both Chinese and British (and a few Americans too), who played major roles in the events leading to ...more
Jim Bogue
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book does what a history book, especially one about a somewhat obscure topic, should do. It provides the reader with a lot of background information. It looks at events through a variety of sources, many primary. It realizes that there are various viewpoints and strives to present them all, even the ones with which the author disagrees. And, in conclusion, it looks at the aftermath.
Mr. Platt is a very good writer who uses anecdotes and personal sketches to enliven the story. Though it is
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An approachable, excellent, and thorough accounting of China's opium crisis.
Iver Band
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Informative and Compelling

One of the best history books I have ever read. It built on my knowledge of the opium trade from Amitav Ghosh's Ibis Trilogy. Very clear and exciting, with a focus on the key people and their actions leading up to the war. Not a military history, but more of a economic and social one that invests the reader in people and their experiences. If you like histories that are both educational and hard to put down, this is for you!
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
i should have given this book a five-star, only if the author could have written this book in a less leftistish proneness. nevertheless, it is extrordinarilly good. so enriched with research materials and concrete references. the author must have given a labour no less than Robert Morrison compiling the groundbreaking first chinese-english dictionary.
Daniel Polansky
A thoughtful, well-researched, well-written history of the opium war. A fascinating topic and a first rate work of popular history. Always fascinating to be reminded of the degree to which England's ad hoc empire (and for that matter, most major political developments) were the results of the small, selfish decisions made by harried or bigoted men with little actual understanding of the events taking place.
Dan Robb
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very detailed - reads a bit like a series of short biographies, telling the history directly through the actions and experiences of the individuals directly involved. Makes for a very convincing history of the Opium War and the circumstances leading up to it, but might leave you feeling like you missed some of the larger context, especially if you're unfamiliar with the period.
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
book along with audio (I do not recommend audio alone)
Great foundational history that one should know while engaging in the present current events involving China on the global stage. I recommend that any one planning on living past 2020 to get motivated and choose a side; China has,. China is now 50 years into it's plan of regional hegemony funded, and technologically supported, by it's foolish enemies.
Pj Mensel
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thank god we are finally getting Chinese history where the author has investigated Chinese sources, not just the propaganda the Imperialist countries (esp. Britain) put out to hide their actions. Well researched and well written, this book is recommended rather than any history of this war that relies on English sources only.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very good book on the early interactions between Britain and China. Starts in the late 1700's and continues to the mid 1850's. The Opium War was widely considered, even at the time, to be immoral and was instigated by opium smugglers and dealers who managed to convince the British government of the war's necessity. Doesn't paint a flattering portrait of the British during those years.
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-85, adulthood
Wonderfully written and very fair to individuals on both sides while still maintaining moral clarity about the injustice of the war. Looking forward to reading other histories by this author! What a great combo of narrative voice and humorous anecdotal style, reminds me of Peter Hopkirk’s writing.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Good, broad history of China and trade from 1800 forward. Objective- down the middle on China / UK perspective. Full of characters and capsule bios (too much for my taste), but still - very good narrative history.
Trevor Kew
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kewwar, kew-china, kew-nf
In my current quest to read as much as I could about China, I realised that I had a pretty big blind spot when it came to one of the most significant events (and arguably turning points) in the country's long history. Many of the non-fiction works I had read previously either mentioned or even outlined the Opium War and its significance, so I decided that my time would be well-spent reading a book that focused on it fully, in detail.

I could not have chosen better than Stephen R. Platt's
Kathleen Flynn
This is a fantastically interesting and well-written book! Recommended to anyone who wants to better understand the roots of modern China and its relations with the West, as well as the opioid crisis; it was a long time ago, but there are so many echoes to what is going on now. It's full of facts, but has the pacing and drama of a novel. Really well done.

I found it especially fascinating because of having lived in Hong Kong before the British returned it to China; I was familiar with the
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is an excellent companion read with Steven Ujifusa’s Barons of the Seas. Both books explore the vastness of the Chinese economy and its significance and potential in the 19th Century. Then, as now, China trade goods, especially tea and opium in the 1800’s, dominated Western commerce. Both books clearly expose the duplicity and hypocrisy of the English and American trading conglomerates in promoting and handsomely profiting from pushing opium into Chinese society. Neither the English ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I was mistaken when I purchased this in thinking it was wholly about the Opium War. It is not. It mainly concerns the events in Britain and China during the century leading up to that conflict as well as the system of trade between the two empires. Regardless of its somewhat obscure subject matter, I was hooked from the beginning. Platt is a masterful writer and historian and this book, despite not being about exactly what I thought it would be about, is effortlessly fascinating.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good book, providing an overview of the first centuries of interactions between the European powers and China, with an emphasis on the British presence and the lead up to the first major conflict, the Opium War of 1839. Starting off with the initial forays of the East India Company into areas previously penetrated by Portuguese and Dutch merchants, the book shows the ever increasing cultural and political interactions between the (mostly) British merchants and the Chinese officials of the Qing ...more
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of the history leading to the Opium War, albeit a bit too long and somewhat preachy.
As someone who is ignorant about this whole era of human history, it was rewarding and educating to learn about both the Chinese and the English roles in the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The author shows the history through the actions of individuals, which makes it real and amazing to read.
I do wish more time would be spent on the actual war (10%
Rob Hocking
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is another fabulous book by the same author as "Twilight in the Heavenly Kingdom", which discussed the Taiping Rebellion. This time the book covers the early interactions of China and the West, culminating in the Opium War. He dispels many popular myths regarding the Opium War and also argues that it was not inevitable, as is sometimes argued, but very nearly didn't happen.

This particular author is a very good writer, and this is both the most thorough and the most readable book I have
David Wasley
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very good read, balanced and well written. The reasons for the conflict are developed at length. These provide little support for the revisionist view of modern Chinese nationalism. I was a little disappointed that despite the book's sub-title, opium is not mentioned until page 182 and the war itself not until page 393.
Maya White-Lurie
Nov 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I learned a lot from this book and Platt's analysis is both clarifying and amusing. At the same time, the expected audience is clearly people from USA and UK, and I was hoping for more information about the key Chinese figures.
Jeremy Blum
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Imperial Twilight is the first pure history book I've read in a long time, and I picked it up hoping to understand China's past better, especially due to the ongoing protests that kicked off in Hong Kong in 2019. Wow, did I get my money's worth. This book does a fantastic job of not necessarily delving into the actual movements of the Opium War itself (the chapter on the battles is a brief one), but rather revealing the characters and events that led to the genesis of what was ultimately a very ...more
Yi Su
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
The book was well-researched. Platt systematically illustrated two sides of the issue and viewpoints and concluded with his own point of view on the Opium War (1839-1842,) a war he considered could have been avoided, a point he repeatedly emphasized. Yet throughout the 556 pages, he missed the most crucial point by not probing the fundamental question: “Was the Opium War a just war?”
Despite illustrating all the different views expressed from the two countries, this very question was ignored.
Except by the Chinese, this is a largely forgotten piece of British Imperial history, unless promoted by the Cultural Marxists in history departments throughout the Anglosphere. However, what is interesting about Platt's reading of the coming of the Opium War of the mid-19th Century is that it is concerned with the economic, cultural, and historical origins of the war rather than the war itself.

This leads the reader to a deeper understanding of the ignorance of both parties - especially the
Alison Lietzenmayer
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Ok this was a good book technically. Informative, easy enough to follow (another audiobook which was great for slow work days and dog walks), and so detailed. So so so detailed.

Good lord that was boring. I tried. I got 2/3 of the way through and it’s due to the library and I’m not renewing. So this “read” isn’t real and I admit and embrace that.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary book. Instead of looking back on the Opium War, it looks forward from the beginning of the China trade and the efforts of Great Britain to establish diplomatic relations with Imperial China. Several things impress themselves on the reader. First is the extraordinary wealth and power of Imperial China straight through the seventeenth and into the beginning of the nineteenth century as well as the scale and importance of that trade to the national income, and tax revenues ...more
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
I was a bit hesitant about this book, although I enjoyed Stephen Platt's prior work on the late Taiping rebellion. That was primarily a military history, while this is not. The Opium Wars have been viewed from a variety of political angles for over a century, and I was concerned what another interpretation might yield. This turned out not to be a problem. It is a fresh look, unburdened by ideological baggage, but still it offers mainly a one sided picture of the period.

It is unclear if many
William Harris
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Imperial Twilight is a delightful history of the comedy of errors (on both sides) that led to the infamous Opium War in the nineteenth century. Reading it is a cautionary tale of what transpires when two cultures stumble into conflict that neither one seeks as a consequence of xenophobia on both sides. The Chinese were (and are) of course famous for their desire to limit cultural exchanges during the Imperial period in an effort to shut themselves off from potentially damaging foreign ...more
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Stephen R. Platt is a professor of Chinese history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
“Nevertheless, such powerful and widely read depictions of opium’s power to consume a man and ruin his life did not impinge in any direct way on the brute fact of the foreign traffic at Canton, by which certain countrymen of the horrified readers of De Quincey’s accounts—respectable ones, no less—were by the early 1830s pouring that very same drug into China in amounts totaling more than two and a half million pounds by weight each year. But that was happening far away, halfway around the world.” 0 likes
“And when those who sold it came back home, they did not” 0 likes
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