The opium war Essay

The opium war1.0 BackgroundThe Chinese and the Europeans during the nineteenth century were fond of doing business amongst them. But as a result of the reign of Qing Empire, boundaries were put on trading so that trade between neighboring countries barely took place in other places except Canton. And even so the trade had to be done under the supervision of individuals authorized by the ruling authority.

Besides, the Chinese could not accept the British pounds but only the valuable silver and gold. The availability of silver in China led to its high utilization (Marchant, May 2002)During the beginning, there was thirst for the trade and the British Empire obtained huge amounts of tea from China. With time, Britain had to obtain silver from continental Europe so that it catered for the high demand of silver in China and at the same time fulfill its hunger in the trade.

But the British Imperial Treasury was getting drained economically since many tones of silver and gold were getting transported to China.As an alternative, the British Empire came to find out about opium. The British thus, started growing opium in its colonies among the being Bengal which was a traditional cotton growing region in India and Malwa. This opium could then be shipped by British traders to China. At the beginning of the business, Britain could give out the opium without charging the consumers as an effort towards making people get addicted to the drug. They also took time in persuading the Chinese on the significance of opium to the human health.

 Gradually, almost the entire population in China with the exception of the learned lot had gotten addicted. Accordingly, the British Empire took control of the situation; being that it was the only supplier, it sold opium at a very high cost to China. In this manner, the gold and silver that china had obtained from the previous trade period was returned back to Britain. However, this reversed flow of silver and the high rate of addiction of the drug in China were quite alarming. As a result, the Qing dynasty endeavored to put an end to the trade in opium, but this attempt did not yield any fruits due to some executives who were fraudulent (Levinson, 1998) Later in 1939, the Qing ruler selected Lin Zexu as the governor of Canton who was aimed at reducing and bringing to a standstill the opium trade.

In his ruling, Lin Zexu prohibited the opium sale and he demanded that all the opium within the country be submitted to the government authority. In addition, an agreement of “no opium trade” was to be signed by foreign merchants whose failure would amount to a death penalty. Also, the channel to Canton was closed and this lead to seizing the British traders as captives in this place.Charles Eliot, a British Chief Superintendent of Trade in China, however, broke the Canton channel that had been closed and asked the British traders to surrender their opium stockpile giving assurance that the British government would recompense them for their losses. In May 1839, on the whole, 20, 000 containers of opium apiece holding an estimate of 120 pounds were given to the Chinese government and destroyed. Subsequently, Lin Zexu wrote a note to the Queen of Great Britain stating his unproductive efforts in discontinuing the opium and the great harm it had caused to the Chinese lives.2.0 The first opium warTension mounted on the Chinese coast as a result of capturing the opium chests.

British and American sailors demonstrated at the Chinese coast and ended up smashing up a temple and putting to death a man named Lin Weixi. The Chinese and the British governments came to an agreement that the aforementioned victims be judged by British judges. But the British government did not let the men be handed over for trial. Even the sailors that were tried in Canton were released when they reached England. Charles Eliot was neither given the chance to exercise his authority in this matter as the British Act of Parliament dictated.

Nevertheless, the Qing Empire still stuck to regulations regarding the opium trade. In turn, Charles Elliot issued a decree to the British community to move away from Canton and stop trading with the Chinese; since he didn’t seem to support the Chinese government in their mission to stop the opium trade (Hevia, 2003).In the first attempt of the Opium war, the British got hold of Hong Kong.

The real battle began when a British ship known as “Royal Saxon” tried sailing to Guangdong, something that had been prohibited by the Qing government. The British stated that they wanted to be compensated for their loss in opium that had been caused by the Qing government. Consequently, the Qing’s fleet fought back but they were overpowered by the British armies and they attributed this to their poor political and military structure. The British forces on the other hand, were well of in fighting; their war paraphernalia were hi-tech. For instance, the steam powered gun boats and ships constructed out of iron were only swift in movement but also resistant to destruction; besides they could sustain the heavy weight of guns.

Following the defeat in the war, the British restarted the opium trade with China. The Treaty of Nanjing was brought up in which China was asked to pay back Britain the loss in opium. Also, four ports were open to Britain and Hong Kong was surrendered to Queen Victoria. An additional agreement which was referred to as the Treaty of Bogue stated that the Qing domain was to acknowledge Britain in the same capacity as China and thus give it the extraterritorial constitutional rights in treaty ports. Two years later, Wanghia and the Whampoa treaties were accomplished for the United States and France respectively.

3.0 The second war on opiumAfter the first opium war, the British and the European authorities wanted to bargain again for their trade agreements with China. The British required that the rest of China be accessible to their traders. They also sought to have an ambassador in Beijing; the Chinese government to make the trade in opium legal and to cease imposing tax on imports.  The Qing government was reluctant in compromising with the West and the Emperor Xianfeng turned down these requirements. Pressure ensued when a British Hong Kong registered Ship was seized by the Chinese officials with the claim that it was taking part in smuggling and piracy (Marchant, May 2002)The British decided to form an association with Russia, France and the United States in attempt to solve the issue of arrest of prisoners that were linked to the seized ship; a move that was highly backed up by France which was annoyed since the Chinese killing of a missionary August Chapdelaine.

In addition, the Russians and the Americans sent messengers. On the other side, matters were worse as the Chinese bakers had tried to poison the European population in Hong Kong but the plan had backfired.Following these, the British together with the French military assailed the various areas surrounding Canton and since the Chinese soldiers were directed not to oppose, the forts were easily captured.

In addition, the British armies also took over Ye Mingchen and Taku forts to the exterior of Tianjin. The second opium war broke out when China was fighting the Taipin Rebellion, therefore, the military could not manage to resist the British and French soldiers. The Chinese government then decided to settle for peace by agreeing on Tainjin Treaty. In this treaty, permission was granted to the French, Russians and Americans to set up embassies in Beijing and put up ten more ports that would be used for foreign trade. Also, the foreigners were to be given the permission to move freely within the interior parts of China and the government was made to compensate Britain and France for their losses. The coastal land in northern China was as well given to the Russians in the Treaty of Aigun.

 In as much as the agreements brought the fighting to a halt, it was an uncommon thing in the Xianfeng’s territory. Xianfeng therefore broke these agreements by sending out the Mongolian General Sengge Rinchen so as to defend the Taku Forts that had recently been returned. Besides, the armed troops were forbidden from giving escort to the new ambassadors to Beijing. This resulted to the British forces advancing towards the Taku Forts, where they met heavy resistance. Nevertheless, they were backed up by the French and US forces and the Taku Forts finally fell down, an act that made Xianfeng plead for peace talks but later he escaped and left Prince Gong to take on the piece talks.

This fighting also led to burning of the Old Summer Palace (Levinson, 1998).Prince Gong’s meeting with the Western representatives settled on complying to the Peking convention which gave the conditions that the Chinese were to agree to the validity of Tianjin Treaties, surrender part of Kowloon to Britain, set Tianjin as a trade port, give freedom in the religious sector, make lawful the trade in opium and give compensations to the British and France. On top, Russia capitalized on China’s weakness by including in the Peking Treaty that a 400, 000 square miles of St. Petersburg was to be surrendered to them.4.

0 Critique of the opium warThere is a greater perspective in the opium war than just its mere perception as a war; the aftermath of the war brought a profound impact both in China and the Western world. Since China well thought-out itself as superior than other people, the affiliation between it and the Western nations was drastically unusual. There was a belief in China that the Central Kingdom in the entire world was the Chinese empire, and that the Emperor, was the elder brother of the neighboring dynasties’ leaders; hence the diminutive contact with the West. That’s why foreigners were looked down upon even as the trade with the West started during the sixteenth century. Though growth in trade between China and the West was experienced, there was imbalanced trading between the two partners.

Abundance of tea in China and the increased zeal of tea from the West boosted the trade in China. Unfortunately, the highly-luxurious and expensive tea was only exchanged for silver, for this is what the West could give. The setting in of the opium trade as a substitute to silver brought up both devastating and beneficial effects (Reins, 2001).            The Nanjing treaty that was imposed had very little to do with the opium trade; a greater percentage of the agreement was constituted of welfare of the foreigners in China whose implementation was arrived at through fighting. As a result, China had to give in its perception of being superior to any other nation and take care of the Western world on equal basis. China was also opened to England, Russia, the United States and France. The monopoly of trade in China was broken up due to establishment of new trade in Hong Kong. In addition, a substantial amount of power was shared with the West; a good portion of the Chinese territory was taken by Russia in the Aigun Treaty, Shanghai was seized by France and several other treaties were made with the European countries.

After the opium war, a new crime level and another form of disarray was created in South East China. Pirates that were common in the sea were driven along to the coast and to the Kwangtung-Kwangsi highlands by the British navy. This was a disadvantage to the villagers because at times the pirates ended up robbing them as an alternative. More to the point, former men who were in military retained their guns which used in banditry.

A high crime level was also experienced in North and South in Feuds who were in Punti and Hankas. In addition, there was a subdivision amongst the Chinese nationals. There was a high level unemployment in the country; when the trade began with Canton as the centre of operation; many people were employed in carrying tea and silk in the region.

However, the setting up of Shanghai for foreign trade shifted the work that was initially done in Canton to Shanghai; consequently many people lost employment.Many Chinese observed the defeat of their military and navy force, the destruction of property and hence the West was highly acknowledged due to the strong military force that they had. Therefore, there was a drive in the Chinese locals to comprehend the principles and values that guided the Western people. Accordingly, the political, technical, and social ideas were initiated in China. A kind of a foreign ministry was for the first time established in China and this largely concentrated on learning the technology of the West, putting up of up to date factories and training of the Chinese militia so that it matched the current standards.

As an effort in applying the Western knowledge, current weapons and ships for the military were made in the first factories; though these tools were not intended for sale therefore running the factories was independent of the market demand and the profit ( the Chinese observed that the projects put up by the West earned them profit; in order to match this, they also decided to set up profit making enterprises. The Western merchants had not gone deep into the Chinese market immediately after the opium war, for that reason there was chance for more industrial growth more specifically to the Qing government.

Furthermore, the Chinese government was more than willing to empower the modern projects since their feudalistic economy had been unsuccessful. The western companies also engrossed a little of the Capital while they assisted the Chinese in putting up more commercial enterprises. Generally, at this time there was a chance for expansion of China’s entrepreneurship. However, the feudal authority was in control of the commercial enterprises that had been established. As a consequence, the private sector could not question on how their business was administered even though they invested in it.Above and beyond, the commercial enterprises were conducted in the same manner the military industries, that were not meant for commercial gain were run. In addition, the growth of the Chinese private sector was inhibited as a result of using supremacy to control the markets. This kind of management was poor and accordingly, most of the commercial enterprises became financially broke; and even those that made a little profit were not able to add into it anymore.

Conversely, the government officials were very rich despite the financial status of the commercial enterprises. Even so, there was development in China’s economy as a result of instituting up to date industries. Even though the efforts in forming the industries were poor, china’s private enterprise was stirred to grow.

Qing dynasty’s military defeat in the opium war by a Western group that was much smaller implied that the Chinese government was weak hence a new period of colonialism began in China. The government’s efficiency was highly questioned by the nationals following the escape and the setting ablaze of the of the Old summer palace. Even after the war, the people who suffered mostly were the farmers; governance and security was no longer there for the Chinese nationals. Instead, poverty spread up as the financial system in China collapsed and the whole country was full of mutiny.  The weakest point of the Qing government was seen when Nanjing Treaty was signed without resisting in any way. It is only through the opium war that people were able to draw judgment on the Qing government and its inability to rule (Marchant, May 2002).The Chinese scholars therefore thought it wise to make China strong, based on their belief that political change was inevitable in China besides the industrial and technological advancement from the West. Even though they concurred with the government authority in modernization of the army and capitalism growth, they considered that the private enterprises ought to be formed without the government involvement.

They also suggested that competition of commercial enterprises at the market place was obligatory. Additionally, a parliamentary system that incorporated the private citizens for the first time was projected.5.0 Implications of the opium warOn the Chinese side the opium war basically mean to curb out opium. Opium was at the outset introduced in china because of its medicinal significance and as also as an effectual painkiller. With time, there was increased utilization of the drug within China as far as in curing of depression. But most astonishing is that the effects of the drug lasted whereas the curative role was only temporary.

Soon, taking the drug developed into a habit not only among the rich folks but also to the common man in China. Reports indicate that in Kwangtung and Fukien provinces of China opium was as common as gin in England (

pdf).The exhilarating effects of opium were seen in the opium addicts whose life was dominated by taking opium hence they were rendered useless. This was unbearable to the Qing dynasty hence the move towards its ban so as to secure people’s lives in China; but this was not sternly implemented because the opium trade boomed even after the second war than before.Besides, the economy of China went down; more funds were channeled towards opium and thus the demand for other commodities became low, thereby bringing the general market down.

Since opium was not a legal article of trade, tax could not be obligatory. As a result, the financial status of China was in a disorder because of loss of tax and revenue. At the same time, the silver that China had traded from the British was flowing out of the country at high rate, a situation that created fear of inflation and extreme poverty. The use of opium did not leave out the military soldiers hence their capability to shield the nation was inhibited. According to Lin and Hsu, the opium trade was unbearable to the Chinese nation.In another perspective, the opium war on the British side was a way through which they could access China and break the barriers that had been put to hinder the opium trade. The opium trade was the major activity that brought income to the British and they were doing anything to make sure that it flourished. The trade generated huge amounts of wealth that was irresistible hence the drive to go for war.

Additionally, the British Empire in India required finances and the British needed more finances to salvage its financial situation resulting from the previous trade in silver and gold (

In another perspective, similar researches have disputed the aforementioned state. In support of the claim, different reasons made the Europeans to go into the opium war. To begin with, opium use in china for along time was normal except when the government decided to ban it on the ground that it destroyed people’s health and hence the ability to do work; and its effect on the economy given that a lot of silver was paid to the merchants in exchange of silver while the copper price remained at the same level.But in another view, the period between 1820s and 1830s, was so full of conflicts, disorder and emergence of unruly groups. Under these circumstances, it is reasonable for people to use opium as a way of alleviating stress, a reason that could explain the high sale of opium in Canton by 1820s. Also, the claims that trade was restricted in Canton only was not valid; the opium trade went beyond to the interior parts of China.

Furthermore, the increased rate with which people got addicted according to statistics was impractical based on the reasoning that it is only the British that supplied opium in China. In fact, other countries like Turkey and India are said to have taken part in the shipment of opium to China earlier before even British thought of involving in the trade.As well, the loss of silver through the opium trade to the British is not justified.

Since tea was still in high demand in England, the merchants after obtaining silver from opium used it in buying more tea to supply it to England where it has highly needed. Given the social instability within China, silver obtained by the locals could have been kept privately, hence failure to include it in the official accounts. Moreover, it was in the habit of the Chinese to conceal things of high value particularly through burying, after which it was difficult for them to be removed because of the alleged hostility from the society members. The happening of the hidden valuables can be traced back to the 1850s during the Taiping rebellion and in 1890s in disturbances and Boxer rising.

Therefore the loss of silver was true but the sole cause was not the British.In Britain, the growing of opium in 1830s and 1840 was normal; and up to 1842, there were no laws in Britain and America regarding the prohibition of opium. Thus the situation of the British at Canton and London was difficult. There was no reason for them to meddle up the growth of opium in India or stop the trade and if they considered it right, they could anchor their vessels away from China. According to the letter that Lin wrote to the Queen of England, it is as if the Chinese government expected support from the British government to enforce their proposals, something which the British government was unwilling to do. Because it was in China’s right to carry out its business as desired, including the land and shores for trade and whatever they wanted to trade in.

 In essence, the war broke out as a result of the outrageous treatment and threats that the Chinese had given to the defenseless British civilians; and not as an opium quest. Another reason to this war is the compensation of the opium chests that had been destroyed by the Chinese government. This was initially intended to be for the British government, but since they were unable to, the only option was to ask the Chinese government to pay it because after all, their operation was carried out without issuance of a notice. Due to the continued molestation and humiliation of the British civilians in Canton, the British government decided to send soldiers to protect the merchants and the other civilians but the Chinese military and navy were fighting back, this led to fighting between the two groups, which was not the intention. Even the treaty that came up after this fight did not have anything to do with the opium.

6.0 ConclusionThe Chinese believed that their nation was a heavenly kingdom and they were better than other people. As a result they disregarded other non-civilians; they barred the West from expanding their trade to other parts of China and they threatened the safety of the British people. Normally, they imprisoned or chased people away on no grounds. It is only through the two treaties that the welfare of the foreigners was catered for, which is a result of the opium war.

Also China got a chance to interact with the West and learn from them about their way of life and the military set up. China was opened up for trade hence a move to the development of capitalism. The political system of china was reinstituted and the Western technology and education was adopted by the Chinese. After sixteen years of the Nanjing treaty, the opium constraints were done away with and during the nineteenth century, China was a major grower of opium than many nations including Britain, above all it could take part in import. Therefore, the opium war was not just a war but it was more of Chinese authority.

ReferencesGelber, H.G. (n.

d): China as “Victim”? The Opium War That Wasn’t, Retrieved on 18th March, 2009 from:

pdf.Hevia, J.L. (2003): Opium, Empire, and Modern History, China Review International, Vol. 10Joshua, C.E.H. (n.

d): The Opium War: More Than Just Opium? Retrieved on 18th March, 2009 from: http://www.fas.nus., M.H. (1998): Opium: A History ETC.

: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 55Marchant, L. (May, 2002): The Wars of the Poppies; Leslie Marchant Sees the Opium Wars as a Philosophical Clash between Two Cultures and Two Notions of Government and Society; History Today, Vol. 52Reins, T.D. (2001): Opium, State, and Society: China’s Narco-Economy and the Guomindang, 1924-1937, China Review International, Vol. 8