Opium Wars in China
The Opium Wars were a series of three wars between the Chinese and the British; primarily fought in regard to the illegal trade of opium in China during the 19th century. They manifested the conflicting natures of both nations and demonstrated China’s misconceptions of its own superiority. The Opium Wars resulted in the humiliating defeat of the Chinese to a country they considered to be “barbarians”.
There were many problems with the system of trade in China; even before opium trading began. China, believing herself to be the most civilized and advanced country, did not feel the need to satisfy Britain, a “barbarian” country’s request for freer trade and were concerned the British wanted land. Britain however, had no desire for land and only wished to trade, believing it was their right to do so. These misunderstandings and differing opinions were only the start of more to come. They set the foundations to the British and Chinese hostilities.
China’s monopolistic system of trade caused great frustration for the British. The incompatible British and Chinese views on trade resulted in the First Opium War.
All trade in China was channeled through the city of Canton and was regulated by a group of Chinese merchants known as the “cohong” who imposed irregular taxes. No direct contact between the foreigners and Chinese were allowed. Such limitations and conditions caused dissatisfaction among the foreign merchants, in particular the British, who dominated trade. Furthermore, the British experienced an imbalance of trade. While they purchased large amounts of Chinese tea, silk and porcelain, the Chinese had little interest in what the British had to offer. This situation displeased the British, as there was a steady flow of silver leaving Britain.
British attempts for renewed trade conditions were not met favourably by the Emperor. Firstly, due to China’s self-superiority it was assumed the visiting diplomats were paying tribute. Further complications arose with British refusal to comply with Chinese customs e.g. performing the kowtow before the Emperor. These actions caused misunderstandings and misinterpretations, which set the basis of British-Chinese relations and attitudes.
During the 18th century, the British began trading opium to the Chinese. They had finally found a commodity the Chinese were willing to buy. Opium was an illicit drug with addictive properties. As demand on opium increased, the British traders made huge profits and the trade imbalance was reversed. There was now a steady flow of silver leaving China. In 1796, the Ch’ing government banned the importation of opium. This did not stop the British, who continued the trade illegally. As well,...