The years of the ""Opium War"" set the background for the story of Gill Bennett, who comes to China to break the news to his elder brother Tad, a tea merchant, that he has closed out the business at home. He learns on landing that his brother is dead -- his own future uncertain. American and British merchants were reaping fortunes in opium smuggling. Determined to make a quick fortune, Gil disdains advice from Manning, a senior operator, and is soon caught in the intricacies and trickeries of the Chinese, the Portuguese and others. Woven into the story are segments of Chinese court life, with its hierarchy, duplicity, exquial-teness and sadism. Minor officials and mandarins seeking riches, safety, and power stoop to incredible bestiality and are caught up in doubledealing and a way of life that at its peak is ultra-civilized and at its depths, incredibly sordid. Romance and adventure.