Global Boston Book Review On Opium War Boston College Globalization Ii Essay

830 words - 4 pages

Write a two-page essay: What does the author of this book argue about this topic, overall? What does each individual chapter of the book argue? What kinds of evidence does the author use to support his/her arguments?
In the book China and The Brave New World: A Study of The Origins of The Opium War, author Tan Chang argues that the trigger of the Opium War was neither cultural differences nor British imperial rapacity. In the last chapter of the book, Chang concludes that the Opium War was the ultimate solution to the conflict of socio-economic interests between peoples of the two empires.
After laying out the two conventional theories that explain the reason of the Opium War in Chapter 1, Chang presents a piece of evidence in each following chapter to support his argument. Some scholars, such as John. K. Fairbank and His-pao Chang, believe that the Opium War was caused by a clash between Western and Eastern cultures, “One was agricultural, Confucian, stagnant…The other society was industrial, capitalistic, progressive, and restless” (Chang 9). Another theory is that the conflict was between British commercial expansion and Chinese containment. The Opium trade generated an indispensible market for British merchants due to the amount of profit it brought. As Chinese officials banned the influx of opium to China, the British blamed China for obstructing its quest for commercial expansion. In Chapter 2, Chang refutes both theories by stating the misunderstandings that led to the theories. Chang uses the widely accepted distortions of the Chinese culture to disapprove the cultural-war theory. The allegation that the Chinese treated foreigners as “barbarians” can be countered by all the Chinese ideographs used to designate westerners (Chang 18). For example, both the Jesuits who stayed in Peking during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the later British traders in Canton were called Yi, which demonstrated the enormous respect from the Chinese (Chang 19).
On the other hand, Chang asserts that the Chinese emperors’ assumed abhorrence of trade, in harmony with the Confucian contempt for commerce, is a mere fiction. China has imported metals, food-grains, spices, raw cotton, and perfumes since ancient days (Chang 27). The Chinese were equally interested in attracting foreign buyers for silk, porcelain, tea and sugar (Chang 30). In Chapters 3, Chang claims that both the British trader and the Chinese blamed the “close-door” policy and the unwarranted arrogance of the Manchu government. The Chinese government did not understand or support Manchu rulers’ hatred toward the Jesuits, which proves that the Chinese were not opposed of foreign trade (Chang 40). Despite Confucius’s prejudice against commerce, Chang maintains that there was no lack of commerce in China prior to the Opium War and China was never a closed kingdom.
Chang continues to contend that British imperialism was not the source of the conflict. In Chapter 4, Chang pinpoints a wrong but common assumption most scholars make. It was commonly believed that the British interest in tea was created before its interest in selling opium and other Indian goods to China. In fact, as Chang declares, British’s China trade served as a vehicle to increase Indian revenues. Silver flowed from China to India as British’s payment for Indian goods (Chang 40). The utility of opium as the generator of the Indian revenue refutes the argument that British importation of opium into China was due to imperialism. As Chang claims in Chapter 5, no “tribute system” ever existed between Britain and China (Chang 120). The British government never complained about the Chinese government’s diplomatic attitude and never attempted to change the status quo of Sino-British relations (Chang 121). In Chapter 7, Chang further bolsters his argument by citing British behavior in the post-Opium war era. If culture was the root of the conflict, Britain, after the “opening” of Chinese trade, could try to destroy its decadent culture. Instead, during the Taiping uprising that broke out in the wake of the Opium War, Britain aided the survival of the Chinese empire and delayed the process of modernization in China (Chang 179).
Chang refuses to answer the opium war controversy with the basic contradiction between industrialized Britain in search of markets and self-sufficient China not eager to develop external trade. Contrasting values and worldviews were bound to obscure the Anglo-Chinese conflict on opium in nineteenth century, but mere cultural differences do not result in wars; they tend to “camouflage socio-economic contradictions” (Chang 222). A theory that focuses on the fundamental differences of the two countries’ economic systems is “a more sophisticated form of the cultural war theory” (Chang 226). British merchants seek external markets because of its capitalism mode of economy that creates surplus of production. Thus, the British desire for a good China market of Indian opium was fairly strong. If the war was historically inevitable, it was due neither to the unbridgeable cultural gap between East and West nor to the steadfast law of British imperialism, but the difference in socio-economic values between the two nations.


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