China and the West

John Pomfret, Stephen R. Platt

An excellent book slightly marred by an absence of endnotes.

It’s a great pity as this really is a wonderfully narrated tale of a friendship between the people of the US (called in Mandarin Mei Guo meaning the beautiful country) and the citizens of the Celestial kingdom.

This 2016 book by John Pomfret reads smoothly. He has read the Chinese sources well.
He tells us the world’s richest businessman in the early 19th century was a Chinese called Wu Bing Jian. Known to westerners as Howqua or Houqua, his fortune was US 26 million in 1834, equivalent to tens of billions of dollars today. (Page 23 paperback)

A slight error is Pomfret’s comment that Howqua “was indebted to a citizen of ” the US for his huge wealth. (p 25). In fact, Howqua mentored the said American John Perkins Cushing and worked with him as equal partners to trade with the US, and invest in US banks, properties, and businesses. An excellent account of this relationship is set out by Stephen Platt in his Imperial Twilight the Opium war and the end of China’s Last Golden Age, published 2018.

I highly recommend both books.

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