Editor’s Note: Today’s interviewee, Dr. Richard J. Grace, is Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College. His book, Opium and Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine and James Mathseon (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2015) will soon be available in Chinese from Beijing United Publishing Co.
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. And what do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about it?
Opium and Empire explores the lives and careers of two of the most influential British merchants in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century. These Scots, William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), operated a partnership at Canton (now Guangzhou), trading in various commodities, and engaging in insurance, shipping, and finance. Their most important commodity was opium, which was illegal in China. For the most part they served as agents for investors far afield, especially in India, by marketing their opium for a fee, to buyers in the Gulf of Canton. The Chinese buyers would smuggle the cargoes of opium ashore, sometimes with the connivance of local government authorities.