Historian Finds New Relevance in Chinese Conflict

Historians in the News

The Opium War is a touchy subject, admits Julia Lovell.

The Chinese often refer to the conflict that began in 1839 as the beginning of colonial submission, while for many British it has faded to the footnotes of history.

But the myths of the war are still relevant, as they explain China's complicated relationship with the West, Ms. Lovell argues in her new book, "The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China."

The 36-year-old, who teaches history at the University of London, spoke with The Wall Street Journal's Jason Chow about the book's inspiration, why writing it put her in a bad mood, and how James Bond inspired her to study Chinese. The following interview has been edited.

I started off as a history major in university. In my Christmas holiday of my first term, being an undergraduate, I was watching a James Bond movie on TV. It was "You Only Live Twice," the one where he goes to Japan.

There's a scene where Miss Moneypenny asks him, "How are you going to manage with the language?" He says, "Don't worry, Moneypenny, I studied Oriental languages in Cambridge." I thought this was my only chance to have something in common with James Bond....

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