TITLE

Is the Opium War a Defining Moment in Chinese History? A View from Trade Routes, Interregional Trade, and the Lower Yangzi

AUTHOR(S)
Xin Zhang
PUB. DATE
June 2010
SOURCE
Modern China Studies;2010, Vol. 17 Issue 2, p75
SOURCE TYPE
Academic Journal
DOC. TYPE
Article
ABSTRACT
For years, the Opium War has been considered by Chinese historians a defining moment in Chinese modern history: the beginning of China's modernization, the commencement of fully fledged Western imperialism, and the inception of semi-colonial period in China. The very notion that the event is a watershed between tradition and modernity has been deeply embedded in the psyche of not only those who study modern Chinese history but also the general public and even the movie makers. In deep contrast, however, most scholars in the United States will shy away from a question such as whether the Opium War is a defining moment in Chinese history, given the fact that the field of China studies has largely moved away from this kind of inquiry. Since the appearance of Paul Cohen's criticism of the "impact/response" paradigm known to be associated with John Fairbank and the "Harvard-school of sinologists," we have consciously or unconsciously avoided topics that would might be considered "Western centered" topics (Cohen). The question becomes not only relevant but also important to all of us today as we are all witnessing unprecedented changes in China, after it has open itself to the world since the late 1970s. Because this is the second time China has "opened up"- the first took place right after the Opium War, as a result of China's defeat in the war- it is necessary for us to reexamine how the war relates to the internal changes in the country to draw historical lessons from the past. In order to provide a fresh look at the matter, I approach the question from a unique angle: Rather than looking from the perspectives assumed by precious researchers, I will scrutinize the issue from an angle of trade routes. Step by step, I will discover the main trade routes: how they were utilized by long distance travelers to create an efficient and stable system of interregional trade; how the development of one of the main routes, the Yangzi River, provided opportunities for new cities like Shanghai; then how that system broke down when the Opium War took place; and how the war led to the rise of Shanghai and the opening of the lower Yangzi region, both of which hastened the shifting of main trade routes from the interregionally based to transnationally based. Through the following research, we will be able to see that the Opium War, though unintendedly contributed to the transition of China's trade system, shall not be considered a defining movement in Chinese history.
ACCESSION #
59353368

 

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