After the economic depression of 1837, the British treasury was extremely shaky; tea produced high tax revenue but importing it was a drain on sterling. The solution found was to trade Indian opium for Chinese tea, an exchange that eventually involved a hundred million pounds a year. In this excellent study, Beeching anatomizes the get-rich-quick types, both Chinese and British, who conducted a looting operation that addicted several million Chinese a year. The book also investigates the Canton officials who fought the atrocity, and there is an especially good account of the Taiping ""Chinese Lutheran"" rebellion. Most important, Beeching shows how the policy was consciously created at the apex of government by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, and, while fully sympathetic to the Chinese victims, shows that China's empire was inherently as cruel as the imperialists. The military history of the struggle is permeated with the weakness of the Chinese, who won only one significant victory, in 1859, during the clashes that climaxed the next year with the gratuitous British burning of the Winter Palace. This is not the first book to point to the hypocrisy of the drug-pushing called ""free trade,"" but it is a unique full-length, scholarly study of the whole ghastly business.