The story begins with the hero Fletcher Thorson Wood making his way to Shanghai aboard the tall ship Essex. Under attack by 4 pirate junks, Fletcher instructs Captain Cornelius Fitch and his crew in the art of shooting Tower rifles. This amusing scene is followed by the crew hauling a 24 pounder up to the poop deck which promptly gets away from them and crashes into the sea.
Further on, Fletcher is hired as the firstmate aboard the Confucius, a Chinese war steamer. We meet the motley crew of Manilamen, blacks, a Dutch engineer, a Chinese pilot. The Confucius, loaded with rifles and other weapons as well as opium is headed to ports up the Yangtze to fetch tea down to market. China is being pulled apart by a brutal civil war and foreign influences. The river and towns are dangerous with rebels and pirates.
As rebel forces close in, Fletcher strives to get financial backing from the banker Takee, in order to build a foreign army in defense of Shanghai.
Lande provides a helpful list of major characters introduced at the beginning of each chapter. Illustrations of the ships (2 sketches by the author), historic photos and maps and the extensive glossary complete the picture for the reader. An action-filled, very enjoyable read.