The Opium Wars Essay

1387 words - 6 pages

The Opium Wars
Bertrand Russell once said, power is sweet; it is a drug, the desire for which increases with habit. The addiction to power is equivalent to a drug, once you get used to the same amount you want more. In 1840, England and China had two different ideas on what trading and power meant to them. England wanted China to see them as equivalent trading partners and China was the main exporter at the time. Before the trade of Opium started, Britain was trading silver for silk and tea; although, after a while England had no more silver to give to China. In order to stay close with the main empire and be seen as an equivalent trading partner, England traded Opium which was grown in the Indian subcontinent and then shipped to China. The trade of Opium escalated the violent confrontation between China and Britain, which resulted in short term as well as long lasting effects.
After receiving the drug for a while, China’s government and society started to revolve around the effects following the addiction. The drug’s effects hit most of China, including the government and all of society. How could one drug have the ability to conduct this much damage? According to Frank Dikötter, “Opium could be alternatively or simultaneously a medical product, a recreational item, a badge of social distinction and a symbol of elite culture [then transformed into the most addictive narcotic with the ability to take down an entire nation]” (46). The drug changed how China was seen, now Opium was looked at as a sign of wealth and power. If you were able to obtain this drug then you had the upper hand in society. Just as in trading, Britain wanted the upper hand in the exchange with the rest of the world. In Travis Hanes’ study of the Opium War, he discovered that, “They involved Britain's determination to force China into the modern, industrial global economy against their will, and to use opium as their major import to exchange for China’s commodities of silk and tea- a tactic violently opposed by the Chinese” (12). Hanes believes that China was using their own tactics to achieve the higher trading status, but once most of their population relied on the drug, their economy started relying on Britain. In response to this break down of independence, Lin zexu, the official of the Qing Dynasty, wrote a letter to Queen Victoria stating his dissatisfaction. In the letter, Zexu writes, “I have heard that you strictly prohibit opium in your own country, indicating unmistakably that you know how harmful opium is. You do not wish opium to harm your own country, but you choose to bring that harm to other countries such as China. Why?” Zexu feels that if Queen Victoria saw the damage that the drug does to one’s country, why she wishes to bring it over to China. The reason is, all Britain wants is to be seen as equal and powerful. In order for Britain to obtain their goal, China needed to be in a state of vulnerability. Luckily for Britain, the Opium drove...

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