Morpheus Dreams: China, Opium & My American Fortune
Jan 17, 2020, 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM
The Masonicare at Chester Village Lecture Series, in association with Wesleyan University's Institute for Lifelong Learning, presents: Morpheus Dreams: China, Opium & My American Fortune .
For centuries, China, the self-named ‘Celestial Empire,’ remained, by its own choosing, isolated from the rest of the world. But with increasing exploration and the opening of more extensive ocean trade routes between European nations and the coasts of India and Southeast Asia, the ports of China’s southeast coast became known to ambitious Western businessmen looking to expand their influence in that part of the world. Commodities like silk, porcelain and furs were commonly traded, in exchange for Spanish silver (specie), as appetites in Europe and America for Asian-themed products grew. But, it was not until the introduction of Turkish and Indian opium into a vulnerable Chinese population, that huge revenues--and conflicts--resulted. One such man who rode the wave of opportunity and profitability was Middletown’s own, Samuel Russell (1789- 1862). He followed the lead of others to move from a European market for fabrics, into the Chinese market. Always the agent, and never the owner of the goods, he earned an excellent reputation in Canton, China, going on an build one of the largest and most successful companies moving opium into the local economy, there. Eventually, he returned to Middletown to apply his fortune to the construction of the Greek revival property we know today. Morpheus Dreams (Hammonasset House Publishers, 2020), follows the trajectory of his career, as I imagine him moving on the busy docks of Middletown and the streets of a Chinese culture locked into ancient ways. Both they, and he, struggled to come to terms with the changing dynamics of an emerging global marketplace and its attendant Western influence. Opium was a major factor in unfolding events in world history, then, even as democratic principles continue to echo on the streets of Hong Kong, with riots and protests today.
About the presenter: Richard Friswell is a cultural historian and director of Wesleyan University’s Institute for Lifelong Learning. He lectures widely on topics related to Modernism and the modern era in world history. Underpinning a cultural-historical approach to art history is the notion that art, literature and social history of nations are inter-related. These lectures will offer many examples of artwork from the period under discussion, as well as an opportunity for questions and discussion.
Please RSVP by calling 860-342 8305 or registering below by noon on January 15th.