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. As one of the most potent turning points in the country’s modern history, the Opium War has since come to stand for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it. In this dramatic, epic story, award-winning historian Stephen Platt sheds new light on the early attempts by Western traders and missionaries to “open” China even as China’s imperial rulers were struggling to manage their country’s decline and Confucian scholars grappled with how to use foreign trade to China’s advantage. The book paints an enduring portrait of an immensely profitable—and mostly peaceful—meeting of civilizations that was destined to be shattered by one of the most shockingly unjust wars in the annals of imperial history. Brimming with a fascinating cast of British, Chinese, and American characters, this riveting narrative of relations between China and the West has important implications for today’s uncertain and ever-changing political climate.
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“Mark Deakins’ flawless narration of Platt’s epic story deserves the widest possible audience, if for no other reason than it makes perfectly clear why the Chinese might take the attitude they do today toward trade relations with the West. As a historian and storyteller, Platt is at the top of the game, and Deakins delivers a fluent reading that is a model of narrator affinity and invisibility. Together they illuminate one of history’s most dastardly episodes, whose reverberations continue to trouble us today. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.”