Causes Of The Opium War Essays

The Turning Point of Chinese History: First Opium War

In 1780, Britons did not have enough silver for trading Chinese tea, but they find out that Chinese like Indian opium. Britons started shipping illegal opium to China for earning silver in 1830. The opium trading led directly to the first opium war in China. Julia Lovell, who dedicated to researching the opium war. She points out the biggest problem of China is that Qing government closed door from outside word. On the one hand, Qing government cannot prevent invasion from western powers. On the other hand, Qing government’s corruption cause the self-collapse of the society. Chinese did not find the reason of losing war. Decades later, one of  the greatest leader of Chinese history Mao Zedong pointed out that brave anti-imperialists is the only way for saving our nation.[1]  Closed door of country can only make the country die. Now Chinese government stand on the world stage which can prove importance of diplomacy. In 1920, the Nationalist government still rely opium to making profit, which pushed Mao wrote 15 essays of “people’s unrelenting and heroic struggle” for reminding people  that never forgot the shame of nation. [2] Unfortunately, Mao did not a waken people to resist opium. The opium had been already ingrained.

The First Opium War was a turning point of  Chinese history, it was the beginning of modern Chinese history. Chinese society was changed from feudal society to semi-colonial and semi-feudal. Before the War, Qing government was seclusion, it caused the economically backward. Poor economic and military caused the losing of War. After Qing government losing the war the first unequal treaty was signed.  The cession of Hong Kong means that Chinese society became semi-colonial and semi-feudal. Qing government doomed to failure. because the feudal ideas stopped the development of Chinese society. Only a new political system can save the nation of China.

According to the newspaper article “The Opium Trade with China”, the author (who might a virtuous British Christian, a newspaper editor of the times of London.) showed the truth of opium trading with China to the citizen of Britain.  This article was written in 1836 which is the period of First Opium War between China and Britain. At the beginning of the article, the author told us a latter called “no opium” had been intercepted, which is about “the consumption of opium offers to the spread of Christianity”. [3] The intercepted letter attracted the writer’s attention. He started analyzing the reason of opium trade between China and Britain. The main point is that the opium is the only trading products which in line with Chinese needs. The opium made Indian so valuable, because opium is main export trade goods in Indian. The author realized that the opium trading was immoral. Also he advocated to stop opium trading. But the author still sheltered the crime which the British government already made. “If we did not poison the Chinese at this round rate, somebody else would.” [4] It looks like right because the Chinese government did not have an effective means of resisting opium. Was British doings right? Of course not, British did not resist the temptation of huge benefits. In addition to this article, the author gave people an intimation that it is not a monstrous crime for keeping opium trading, because opium trading led economic development in Indian, also if British chose to not be the bad guy, someone else will be. Overall, British always has excuse for cover the crime.

As the beginning of modern Chinese history the first opium war opened the front door of China. The cause of this war is very simple. There are trade deficits between China and Britain. Chinese tradable goods such as tea and silk are so valuable for British. It caused large amount of silver into China. Since British is not a producer of silver, so British can only rely opium for reversing the situation. Opium is a kind of drug, Qing government cannot allow it poisoning Chinese people and Chinese economy. “In late October of 1838, when the Tao-Kuang Emperor decided to strike a still more vigorous blow against opium, he summoned Lin Tse-hsu, then governor-general of Hu-Kuang, and assigned him the task of stamping out the opium trade at Canton.”[5] This decision proved Tao-Kuang’s determination for resisting opium. In June 3 1839, Tao-Kuang appointed Lin Tse-hsu as commissioner to destroy opium publicly at Humen. Lin Tse-hsu destroyed 19187 boxes and 2119 bags of opium in 3 days. [6] It was called “Destruction of opium at Humen” which is a significant historical events in modern Chinese history. This action Angered British, also it gave British a reasonable excuse for starting the First Opium War. On the one hand, wild ambition of British caused this war, because aggression is more efficient way for making benefits. On the other hand, corruption of Qing government, poor economy and military backwardness offered British an opportunity for the war of aggression. Also   Chinese trading strategy and diplomacy was not comprehensive. “If China had been able to limit her contact with Britain to the commercial level and con fine foreign influence to the factories, the final armed conflict of 1939-1842 might have been avoided.”[7] The First Opium War taught a lesson for Chinese government. Seclusion of country door will only attract aggressor. Rational trading strategy for international market is the key for making a strong country.

After the destruction of opium at Humen, the first Opium War Officially begins. In June 1840, Admiral Sir George Elliot leaded the British army arriving the coastal of Canton. It was called the first expedition. [8] Qing government was afraid British army, so the peace negotiations was began. The peace negotiations was delayed the attack of British army, but it cannot change the situation of War. “With the disappearance of the expedition at end of June, a great quiet had descended upon the gulf of canton.”[9] British feel dissatisfied with the outcome of negotiations, they were continue attacking. Finally, Qing government declare a war to British in 1841. But the military force of Qing government was weak, the British army occupy Canton successfully. [10] Those achievements by aggression was not enough for British, their next target is Hongkong. “Pottinger did not pass the entire winter in the north. Shortly after the New Year he set sail in the Blenheim, paused briefly at Kulangsu to inspect the little garrison and squadron that watched Amoy from that is-land, and early in February 1842 arrived at Hongkong.” [11] Qing army was losing ground, the Qing government unable to resist the fate of losing this War. It was a first time that the front door of Chinese had been opened by West aggressor. There are three reasons which caused the losing of War. First, opium eating away the economic and military for a long time. Lots of silver had been using for purchase opium, even soldiers were using opium. Second, Qing government was corruption, government officials only care about their own benefits. The society at that time was negative. Third, the Qing was feudal society, industries were so behand than West countries. The huge technical differences caused the stagnation of development. Figure 2 created by Dr. Edward H. Cree who is a army doctor. It describes that Royal Navy arrived Conton in May 24, 1841. There are many British soldiers and warships preparing the war.

After Qing government losing the first opium war, Qing government was signed “Treaty of Nanking” in 1842. The treaty of Nanking means that Chinese society was changed to semi-colonial and semi-feudal. “The Sino-British Treaty of Nanking of August 29, 1842, marked a turning-point in Far Eastern history, but the accounts of its negotiation available to Western students are extremely brief.”[12] The reason why Treaty of Nanking changed Chinese society from feudal society to semi-colonial and semi-feudal, because the contents of the Treaty of Nanking violated Chinese sovereignty. “1. The indemnity; 2. The cession of Hong Kong and trade at the five ports; 3. Diplomatic.”[13] The indemnity made Qing government so painfully, because economic backwardness was already exist. The cession of Hong Kong made Qing government lost territorial integrity, Hong Kong became a British colony. Also Qing government have to open five ports for international trading. Those five ports will give British steady stream of wealth. Moreover British had rights for participate the import tax rate of Chinese customs. It made Chinese diplomatic so disadvantaged. As the first unequal treaty of modern Chinese history “Treaty of Nanking” has great significance. It indicate that the Qing government will disappear, only a political reform can save the nation of China. Moreover the treaty of Nanking was a great example for following aggressors, they imitated this treaty and making more unequal treaties. “Treaty of Wanghia” between China and America, and “Treaty of Whampoa” between China and France were two examples. Figure 3 describes the scene of signing and sealing of the Treaty of Nanking. Four Chinese government officials signed the Treaty of Nanking in the British warship.

Changes always come with rebellion. After Qing government’s defeated of First Opium War, an uprising was brewing. It called “Tai Ping Tienkuo Movement”, the Chinese words “Tai Ping” means peace. The reason why this movement start, because the Qing government spend lots of money for arms during the frist opium war. Chinese people cannot support those heavy taxes, also Chinese people think that Qing government cannot keep them safe. “The Taiping formally declared their challenge to the ruling Ch’ing dynasty of China in January 1851, when their founder Hung Hsiu-ch’uan proclaimed his new dynasty, the Taiping Tienkuo, or Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace.”[14]. This movement was sported by Chinese peoples, The Tai Ping army was occupied Nanking in 1853. The Tai Ping Tienkuo was stalemated with Qing government over 10 years, until the death of Tai Ping’s leader in 1864. ” The recapture of Nanking by Imperialist forces in May 1864 Marked the effective end of the Taiping Tienkuo, although it was not the end of the fight. Sizeable forces escaped from Nanking and other Taiping held centres and fought their was southward, back towards their original base area, occupying other cities for a time on the way.”[15]. Although the Tai Ping Tienkuo movement was failed, this movement still had huge contribution for Chinese peoples. It was the first uprising for against feudalism. It was planed by farmers who are lowest class of old Chinese society. Moreover it means the feudalism is no longer suitable for Chinese situation. In 1911, the Qing dynasty was overthrown by Republic of China. Finally, China embarked on the right path.

We can not deny that British started this War of aggression, but it also gave Chinese people a warning which the feudal society will be eliminated. Revolution and coup will lead Chinese people to follow the international trends again. when we was recalling this  period of history, we should think about the reason of losting War and avoid it in the future. our enemy is not British, our enemy is ourselves. we have to conquer corruption and conservative.



[1] Zhong, R, The war that turned china against the west. The Wall Street Journal Asia, (2011, Aug 05), January 17, 2016).

[2]The Wall Street Journal Asia, Aug 05, 2011.

[3]”The Opium Trade With China.” Times [London, England] 19 May 1836: 6, The Times Digital Archive. February 4, 2016).

[4] Times [London, England], May 19, 1836.

[5] Hsin-pao Chang,Commissioner Lin and The Opium War, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), page 120.

[6] Chang, Commissioner Lin and The Opium War, page 127-131.

[7] Chang, Commissioner Lin and The Opium War, page 9.

[8] Peter Ward Fay, The Opium War, 1840-1842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates Ajar. (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1975), page 218-224.

[9]  Ward Fay, The Opium War, page 237.

[10]  Ward Fay, The Opium War, page 261-280.

[11]  Ward Fay, The Opium War, page 322.

[12] J. K. Fairband, “Chinese Diplomacy and the Treaty of Nanking, 1842.” The Journal of Modern History. Vol. 12, No. 1 (Mar, 1940): 1.

[13] Fairband, Chinese Diplomacy, 27.

[14] Prescott Clarke and JS Gregory, Western Reports on the Taiping: A Selection of Documents, (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1982), page 1.

[15] Clarke and Gregory, Western Reports on the Taiping, page 424.



Figure 1. Commissioner Lin Zexu. Alexander Murray, January 1, 1843.

Figure 2. British ships approaching Canton in May 1841. Dr. Edward H. Cree, National Maritime Museum, 19th century.

Figure 3. The signing and sealing of the Treaty of Nanking. John Platt, April 20, 1846.





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The China today – powerful and ever-growing wasn’t always like this. One major event in history around the mid 1800s that we all have seemed to have forgotten was the Opium Wars. What really caused the opium war was when China wanted to halt all trades about opium with the British. The geography of China was something like a fence. This isolation made the people of China feel like their country was prestigious and secluded from the rest of the world. With deserts and the Himalayas running along most of the border, it was extremely difficult to cross over one of the most dangerous mountain ranges in the world and a few other scorching deserts with the little transport they had during that time. The only way merchants could come into the…show more content…

Around that time, there was a British company called the East India Trading Co. (HEIC) that ruled over most of India, meaning that the opium was under their guidance. Since this was the only thing Britain had that interested China they wanted to mass produce opium to trade with China. With so much opium in China, many, many people got addicted; the government officials felt that it was shattering their country and decided to make opium illegal. Thus, making trades stop. This made Britain angry, who wouldn’t? Their #1 merchandise couldn’t be sold anymore and China decided to dump all the thousands of chest of opium in a river, making them lose lots of money in the process. However, opium still made its way back into China. The British found a way to get opium in China indirectly by auctioning chests filled with opium to smaller merchants - who smuggled the opium in China - and when the merchants bought them the British would turn their backs and act like they didn’t know what was in there in the first place. When the government officials in Beijing found out about the opium being smuggled in, they issued a letter to Canton where opium was being imported to stop all of this. This letter said “Opium is a poison undermining our good customs and morality, making our people addicted…” and it goes on to saying how they know people were helping the smuggling and the consequences if you try to smuggle some in would be the

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