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First Opium War
The First Opium War was a trade-inspired war between the United Kingdom and the Qing Empire in China from 1839 to 1842. It is often seen as the beginning of European imperial hegemony towards China. The conflict began a long history of Chinese resentment toward Western society that still has remnants today.
In the early 19th century, trading in goods from China was extremely lucrative for Europeans. But trade to China suffered from the fact that China professed no interest in foreign products, such that it was difficult to find trading goods the Chinese might buy. Silver was one, to the extent that the drain on European specie metals was noticeably affecting the economy. In casting about for other possible commodities, the British soon discovered opium, and would use its narcotic effects for capitalistic gain. Between 1821 and 1837 imports of the drug increased five-fold. The drug was taken from India and shipped by British traders to China.
The Chinese government attempted to end this trade, on public health grounds --numerous opium addicts were appearing in trading ports throughout China. The effort was initially successful, with the official in charge of the effort Lin Zexu, eventually forcing the British Chief Superintendent of Trade in China, Charles Elliott to hand over all remaining stocks of opium for destruction in May 1839.
However, the next month two British sailors murdered a Chinese man, and were arraigned under a British legalism called "extraterritoriality." The sailors were brought to justice in a British court in Canton (Guangzhou). The Chinese, however, demanded that the British hand the two men over to Chinese custody.
Refusing, the British were expelled from China. Preparing for war, they seized Hong Kong (then a minor outpost) as a base. Fighting began in July, when Volage and Hyacinth defeated 29 Chinese ships. The next year, the British captured the Bogue forts which guarded the mouth of the Pearl River --the waterway between Hong Kong and Guangzhou. By January 1841, their forces commanded the high ground around Guangzhou, then defeated the Chinese at the nearby city of Ningpo (modern-day Ningbo) and the military post of Chinhai .
By the middle of 1842, the British had defeated the Chinese at the mouth of their other great trading river, the Yangtze, and had occupied Shanghai. The war finally ended in August 1842, with the Treaty of Nanking. Gen. Sir Anthony Blaxland Stransham led the Royal Marines during the Opium War as a young officer, and as the 'Grand Old Man of the Army', was awarded two knighthoods by Queen Victoria.
The Treaty of Nanking committed the Chinese to free trade, including that of opium. Hong Kong island was ceded to the UK, and the Treaty Ports of Guangzhou, Amoy (Xiamen), Foochow (Fuzhou), Shanghai, and Ningpo were opened to all traders. Reparations were also paid by the Chinese.
The ease with which the British forces had defeated the Chinese armies seriously affected the Qing dynasty's prestige. This almost certainly contributed to the Taiping Rebellion (1850–1862). For the victors, the Opium War paved the way for the opening up of the lucrative Chinese market and Chinese society for missionary purposes.
- Second Opium War (1856–1860)
- William Jardine
- General Sir Anthony Blaxland Stransham
- William John Napier, 9th Lord Napier
- History of China
- History of Hong Kong
- British military history
- UK topics
- Treaty Ports
- Forbes family
- Opium wars
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