In the 1700’s, during the age of European imperialism in China, British forces attempted to establish the foreign trading of opium, a highly addictive substance extracted from the juice of the opium poppy (“Opium and Heroin”). The Chinese were opposed to this enforcement due to its negative effects among the Chinese economy and civilians. As a result of this prolonged dispute between British and Chinese powers, British troops eventually attacked numerous Chinese villages, leading to the commencement of the Opium Wars in the mid-18th century (Pletcher).
The Opium Wars, as a result of British imperialism and the attempted enforcement of opium trade, were beneficial to the current Chinese establishment of foreign relations that are continuously recognized today. Although highly addictive, opium was originally used as an orally-consumed pain reliever available to European countries (Encyclopedia Britannica). In 1620, Formosans, or natives of Taiwan, began incorporating tobacco in opium, making it a more addictive substance (The Cambridge History 171).
In the early 1700’s, Europeans began utilizing the opium trade in India and China in order to save and make money that could potentially be used to purchase authentic Chinese items (Wilkes). However, in 1729, an act outlawing the selling and trading of opium was signed by Emperor Yung Ching of the Qing Dynasty in China (“Opium Trade”). This banishment of opium trade merely resulted in a dramatic increase of the illegal sale of this substance in China. The illegalization of raising opium was officially established in 1796 (“First Opium”).
Although the trading of opium was illegal at the time, according to The Cambridge History of China, “By 1836 about 1,820 tons of opium came into China every year,” (178). Even after numerous attempts of stopping the selling and illegal utilization of this substance, opium was popularized and its use slowly increased within China. As the illegal trade of opium and opium addiction in China increased throughout the 1800’s, conflicts regarding China’s economic state and society grew in severity.
A Chinese civilian in Xie Jin’s 1997 film, The Opium Wars writes: Rampant opium use has become a serious threat to the Celestial Empire. In my opinion, if we do nothing, within ten years the Qing Dynasty’s treasury will be drained and the country will be defenseless. Foreigners could conquer our nations without using force. Because of this growing concern, the Chinese government imposed numerous commands and orders in hopes to regain stability within the country. In March of 1839, in an attempt to stop the trading of opium in China, the Chinese government ordered the immediate confiscation of 20,000 chests of opium.
These chests were, at the time, withheld by the British in Canton, the location of the single port in which foreign trade was permitted by the Chinese (“Opium Trade”; Pletcher). In addition to this sequestration, Lin Zexu, a Chinese official of the Qing Dynasty, was instructed by the Emperor of China to enforce stricter orders apropos to the opium trade. Zexu, without negotiation, demanded the confiscation of all remaining opium in China, and noted that the violation of said order would result in immediate execution (“Tension Between”).
He repeatedly wrote to Queen Victoria, informing her of the negative effects opium trade was having on Chinese society (Morton 153). He stated in September of 1839 that, in order to improve China’s economic state, “Opium must be completely suppressed,” (The Cambridge History 185). The British imposition of the opium trade prompted a prolonged period of war between British and Chinese forces, now referred to as the Opium Wars. The confiscation of the 20,000 chests of opium in 1839 thoroughly angered the British.
Although the Chinese offered to establish a free foreign trading port near Chuenpo, a Chinese fort, the British refused and instead set out on an expedition towards China in 1840 (Pletcher). After arriving in Hong Kong in June of 1841, the British began attacking multiple Chinese villages. In order to fight against British forces, Zexu appointed and paid Chinese civilians what would currently be equivalent to 6 dollars each month. Zexu also invested in different pieces of “westernized” weaponry, such as cannons and ships.
However, the Chinese were unable to successfully defeat their enemies, who had access to stronger and more advanced artillery and weaponry. After arriving in Beijing in 1841, Charles Elliott, Britain’s superintendent of trade and leader of the British expedition, negotiated with Chinese forces, but was still unable to establish the allowance of the trading of opium in China (“The First”). The Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1842, and is referred to as an “unequal treaty,” because of its allowance of unfair demands of the Chinese, and benefits for the British (“The Opening”).
This treaty prevented the Chinese from transporting necessary goods and supplies in their country. Following the commencement of a second British expedition, lead by Sir Henry Pottinger, the Chinese ultimately agreed to the passing of the Treaty of Nanking in August of 1842. The Chinese also signed the Treaty of Nanking due to the British blockading of the “Grand Canal,” a major source of trade and transportation within China.
Following the signing of this treaty on August 29th of 1842, the Chinese were forced to pay an indemnity of what would currently be equivalent to $21,000,000, open an additional 4 foreign-trading ports in China, and cede the island of Hong-Kong to British forces (Pletcher; “The First”). Although the Chinese were commanded to open numerous ports, this establishment of new trading location allowed the Chinese to obtain and form multiple foreign-trade relations. Therefore, the
Treaty of Nanking was a compromise that greatly contributed to China’s successful economic state currently. Following the commencement of a second British expedition, led by Sir Henry Pottinger, the Chinese ultimately agreed to the passing of the Treaty of Nanking in August of 1842 (Pletcher). The Chinese also signed the Treaty of Nanking due to the British blockading of the “Grand Canal,” a major source of trade and transportation within China. This prevented the Chinese from transporting necessary goods and supplies in their country (“The First”).
The Treaty of Nanking was signed in 1842, and is referred to as an “Unequal Treaty,” because of its allowance of unfair demands of the Chinese, and benefits for the British (“First Opium War, to 1842,”The Opening”). Following the signing of this treaty on August 29th of 1842, the Chinese were forced to pay an indemnity of what would currently be equivalent to $21,000,000, open an additional 4 foreign-trading ports in China, and cede the island of Hong-Kong to British forces (Pletcher, “The First”).
Although the Chinese were commanded to open numerous ports, this establishment of new trading location allowed the Chinese to obtain and form multiple foreign-trade relations. Therefore, the Treaty of Nanking was a compromise that greatly contributed to China’s successful economic state currently. The Second Opium War, or The Arrow War, which continued from 1856-1860, also lead to China’s successful present-day economy (Pletcher).
While the Chinese government focused their efforts on ending the Taiping Rebellion, a 14-year rebellion in China supporting the belief of Christianity, the British attempted to further imperialize China and strengthen its foreign trade relations (Encyclopedia Britannica). In October of 1856, Chinese officials arrested Chinese smugglers who were boarding the Arrow, a British ship, and subsequently lowered the British flag. As a result of the lowering of their flag, the
British as well as American forces, who also held a trade negotiation with China, made their way towards Canton to attack Chinese villages in 1856. As an act of defense, the Chinese then began the process of burning any remaining foreign trade centers in China, which ultimately prompted the start of the Second Opium War (Pletcher). Britain soon developed a string of allies during the Second Opium War, including the France, and the United States and Russia, who although appointed and sent envoys to support the British, refrained from providing France and Britain with military assistance (“The Second”).
In 1857, France and Britain continued their expedition towards Canton, while training and strengthening their troops. After reaching and overthrowing the city of Canton, the allied troops continued their journey towards Tianjin, another Chinese civilization, where they would then began to establish peace negotiations with Chinese forces in 1858 (Pletcher). The Treaties of Tianjin were officially signed in June of 1858 (Pletcher). The establishment of the Treaties of Tianjin, which concluded the Opium Wars, resulted in westernization and free foreign trade in China.
This treaty provided foreign representatives with property in Beijing, permitted Christian missionaries and foreign traders to travel freely in China, and demanded that the Chinese pay Britain a total amount of 80 grams of silver. These treaties also established the opening of 11 new foreign-trade ports in China (“The Second”). Following the signing of the Treaties of Tianjin, an outburst of revolts and rebellions among the Chinese spread throughout China, due to its inequitable conditions (Roberts 41-42).
This resulted in the eventual revision of the Treaties of Tianjin in 1860 (Roberts 42). These revisions, referred to as the Convention of Beijing, was also considered an unequal treaty because of new requirements of the Chinese: the opening of Tianjin as a trading ports, and the ceding of the Jiulong or Kowloon peninsula to British forces (Roberts 42). Subsequent to the passing of these treaties, in 1860, the trading of opium in China was legalized (“The Second”).
Although sometimes referred to as an “unequal treaty,” the Treaties of Tianjin marked the official allowance of opium trade in China, which lead to an overall increase of foreign trade in China, and the strengthening of China’s multiple foreign relations. In conclusion, the allowance of opium trade in China, subsequent to the Opium Wars, contributed to China’s successful economic state today. China’s economy currently ranks second globally in regards to its success and size (Page). In addition, China was recorded with a gross domestic product (GDP) of 10. 5 trillion dollars in 2014 (“China”).
Following the establishment of unequal treaties during the Opium Wars, the Chinese were able to expand their foreign relations through the opening of new ports, and largely profited from the legal selling and trading of opium, as well as other Chinese goods. Overall, the Opium Wars, as a result of British imperialism and the attempted enforcement of opium trade, were beneficial to the current Chinese establishment of foreign relations that are continuously recognized today.