John Keay

Poppy Power

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

By

Atlantic Books 529pp £25 order from our bookshop

In the belief that a language impenetrable to European adults might be acquired spontaneously by someone of tender years, in 1736 a small boy was landed at the foreign trading concession now called Shamian Island on the riverfront at Canton (now Guangzhou) in southeast China. The boy’s name was James Flint and he would not disappoint. His hair was black, and when it grew long enough to be braided into a pigtail, young Flint even looked Chinese. He mixed with the settlement’s servants and put his English at the service of Canton’s traders. They called him Flink, which sounded more Chinese than Flint. Long before the streetwise Kim of Kipling’s fiction had the run of Lahore, Canton had its waterfront equivalent.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It would be nice to think that women will achieve equal pay in my lifetime, rather than to watch gloomily as stati… ,
    • In 1660, two of the signatories of King Charles I's death warrant fled across the Atlantic to New England. But were… ,
    • Howard Jacobson's sixteenth novel is 'a love story of sorts, one characterised not by physical desire or even conta… ,
    • 'The sudden immersion in the new and unfamiliar can lead people to write with a rare lack of self-consciousness' P… ,
    • 'Pools bend the rules. Clothes slip off, skin glistens, consciousness heightens. A dreamlike scenario unfolds' Jam… ,
    • 'Although he surely didn’t know W H Auden’s theory that every high C proclaims human freedom and our capacity to tr… ,
    • RT : With beginning tomorrow, we've uncovered a 1997 article from the archive reviewing 'Golf Dream… ,