The Opium War and China’s Littoral Borderlands

The Opium War (1839-42) struck a vast section of the coastal waters, isles, seashore, waterways, and riverside in southeastern China. How did these littoral fringes experience China’s first war with a modern Western power, Great Britain? This monograph provides the first in-depth analysis of China’s maritime and river societies during the Opium War and its following years. It uses the frameworks of frontier and borderland to explain how the wartime influx of the British to China’s littoral zones ushered in a new era of the Chinese people’s interactions with the Qing authorities and foreigners and ventures across the shorelines such as smuggling, piracy, and collaboration. This book interweaves Chinese maritime and river history, Qing frontier history, and British imperial and colonial history, and transcends national and land-centered narratives to rediscover a littoral world that offers a new understanding of the nature and legacy of the Opium War.

Derived from this project, my article on Chinese collaboration with foreigners in the fluid water world of South China during the Opium War is under review. As a spinoff of the project, my article on Chinese provisioners in Victoria City of Opium War-Era Hong Kong was published in Frontier of History in China in 2016.