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This is a treat. The narrative is thin but consistent. Waley gives us excerpts from several Chinese-language sources about the nefarious doings of the British. The first and the longest is the diary of Lin Tse-hsü, the famous Commissioner Lin, who, at the behest of the Qing emperor Tao-kuang (or Daoguang) sought to destroy the opium trade in China. An impossibility, of course, in a nation with such an endless unguarded coast. But Lin gave it his all. When about halfway through Lins diary we read of the Emperor insistence that Lin complete his task (again, an impossible one) so he can take up the reigns of a governorship in another part of China, we realize he is doomed. In time, when he cant deliver, he is investigated though not tried, and reduced in rank. Its sad to see the Chinese of the 1840s trying to respond militarily to the British. There is no command and control, no training, no planning. Lins section, the longest, verges on a character study. Its fascinating. Subsequent diaries, one by Pei Ching-chiao, a young man of no rank but with a gung-ho father, gives us the Chinese militarys Keystones Cops-like response to British arms under General I-Ching. It would be laughable were it not so tragic. Further diaries include Chu Chih-yüns, a poet who lived near the Grand Canal outside the walls of Chinkiang, ninety miles up the Yangtze estuary. He tells us of the British encroachment on that town and the horror, the horror, experienced by the residents. Its hard to believe Niall Ferguson now wants us to look on the gentle side of empire. Just think of all the wonderful things it gave to the world, he says. Ok, like what, bureaucracy? See Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons of Global Power. Sorry, Niall. That wont square the Brits with China. Besides, the Chinese were already known for their own homegrown style of administration back when the British were still crawling from the sea on vestigial limbs. It simply strikes one dumb to think that the Brits thought it their right to sell opium to the Chinese, thus creating a vast class of addicts, something of course never permitted in Merry England. Highly recommended.

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