Prelude to the Opium War? British reactions to the ‘Napier Fizzle’ and attitudes towards China in the mid eighteen-thirties


  • The author would like to thank Harry T. Dickinson and Antonia Finnane for their kind support, comments and encouragement. Thanks also go to the two anonymous reviewers and the very helpful editors.


This article examines public reactions to the ‘Napier Fizzle’ and the discussion about Britain's China policy within the British community in China in the mid eighteen-thirties. This period has received much less attention than the Napier incident itself and the immediate causes of the Opium War. Based on popular publications available in Canton in this period, the article investigates the debate over the cause of Lord Napier's failure, the ‘show of force’ theory as well as other ‘minor’ voices. It reveals that, although ‘show of force’ was the most prominent attitude at the time, the mid eighteen-thirties should be considered as a period of confused thinking with regard to Britain's China policy, rather than a clear stage in the preparations for an open war.