Opium How did the Opium Wars affect China’s Foreign Relations? Hieu Tran, Lydia Martinez, Luke Reese, John Richie
Introduction Prior to 1839, the outlook was good for China’s future. This changed drastically when the country was suddenly thrust into conflicts with England that quickly escalated into the Opium Wars. These wars were caused by the Chinese tradition of isolationism coming into conflict with England’s desire for trade with China. Britain saw opium as a way to balance the trade deficit with China. Britain began exporting opium, despite protests by the Chinese government. The Chinese authorities confiscated and burned British opium and closed the port in Canton. This sparked a military and naval response that led to the first opium war, which was followed by a second. Each of these wars proved that the western world’s military and technological advantages were significant. The end result was a series of treaties that usurped China’s independence. China went from the world’s largest economy and an equal to the west and ended by losing her sovereignty and independence. The Opium Wars set up the downfall of the Qing dynasty after the turn of the century. Foreign dominance destroyed the legitimacy of a central government in China, and these harsh conditions led to several anti-foreign and nationalist rebellions that shaped China’s future.
The First Opium War • The First Opium War was fought between the Qing dynasty of China and the British East India Company. The causes leading up to the war dealt mostly with economics. Britain traded silver imported from other European countries to China for tea, silk and other commodities. This was extremely costly for Britain and resulted in a trade imbalance. To compensate, Britain began growing opium in India and smuggling the drug into China. Corrupt Chinese officials would buy the opium with silver, China’s currency. This led to a depreciation of China’s currency and caused as many as 2 million Chinese citizens to be addicted to the drug. In response, Lin Zexu was appointed the governor of Canton in 1839, the only city where international trade was conducted. He criminalized the sale of opium and forced British merchants to forfeit 20,283 chests of opium which were in turn destroyed. The final escalation towards war happened when British sailors murdered a Chinese citizen. Due to extraterritorial laws, the sailors were tried by the British Consulate. This tension finally convinced Queen Victoria to send a fleet to Hong Kong. • The British took control of Hong Kong in August of 1839. The Chinese sent a fleet to Guangdong to prevent the British from entering the city, but this created the first naval confrontation. The British fleet sank many of the Chinese ships before leaving the port. In June of 1840 British marines took control of the city of Guangdong. In 1841 the British took over the Chinese forts along the Pearl River delta and also commanded the high ground around Canton. By 1842 the British controlled the mouth of the Yangtze River and had captured Shanghai. The Qing dynasty finally surrendered and signed the “Treaty of Nanjing”, the first of the “Unequal Treaties” and the conclusion to the First Opium War.
Effects • The “Treaty of Nanjing caused the Chinese to lose many of the rights of a sovereign nation. The treaty allowed the British 5 port cities in which they were given full trading rights. This ended the Imperial monopoly on all foreign trade. The Qing Empire was also forced to pay the British government. China would pay 6 million for the destroyed opium, 3 million for debts owed to British merchants, and 12 million for the cost of the war. This was a total of 21 million paid in silver to the British government. The British also stipulated that troops would be left in China until the debts were repaid. Opium was still considered “illegal” by the Chinese government but because the extraterritorial laws remained in place, the trade continued unabated. Finally, Hong Kong was “to be possessed in perpetuity by Her Britannic Majesty”. • The war left the Qing dynasty weak and ineffectual in the eyes of the populace. This weakness is what led to the Taiping rebellion that began in 1850. The war also led to another “Unequal Treaty” between the United States and China in 1844. This treaty allowed many of the same trading privileges given the British to the United States. Most importantly, this was the first armed conflict between China and the western world. China was defeated easily, beginning a long period of foreign dominance over China by the western world. This defeat also began the “opening of China”, and the collapse of much of the Chinese economy.
Conditions contributing to Taiping Rebellion One of China’s largest and bloodiest revolts + = Many of the poor resented the Qing dynasty and were therefore susceptible followers of the ideas of Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, the leader of the revolt. Hung’s mission was to create a Christian “Kingdom of Heaven” in China and he was quite willing to destroy the dynasty in order to do so. Though his forces were eventually defeated, the dynasty and people of China were left in hopeless disarray.
Opium war and Taiping rebellion help to create cultural division and misunderstanding
Heavenly Kingdom Advantages Imperial Army Advantages
The Second Opium War • The Second Opium War was sparked by the Oct 8, 1856 Chinese arrest of the Arrow, an unauthorized Chinese trade vessel carrying illicit goods. The British demanded the release of the vessel, claiming it was British-registered and thus protected under the Treaty of Nanjing. Hysteria broke out and mediation efforts broke down with accusations that the Chinese had insulted the British flag. The day after the Chinese government released the crew, the British, under Sir John Bowring said, “the suburbs of Canton were pulled, burnt, or battered down, that the ships might fire upon the walls of the town.” Faced with the Taiping Rebellion, the Qing government could not resist the West military. The British, delayed by the 1857 Indi rebellion, resumed fighting in 1857 and attacked Guangzhou. Chinese soldiers in the forts were ordered not to resist. The British offered an alliance with France, Russia, and the US. France officially joined the fighting because of the execution of a French missionary, Father August Chapdelaine, by Chinese authorities. The USA and Russia sent naval envoys, but no military aid. The British and French, led by Admiral Seymour, attacked and occupied Guangzhou in late 1857 and controlled it for nearly four years. The May 28th, 1858 Treaty of Aigun was signed, giving Russia pacific coastal land, pushing back Chinese borders. The Treaty of Tianjin was signed in June of the same year, severely limiting China’s sovereignty. However, it was not ratified until two years later. The events that transpired in those two years were the crushing of an ancient civilization by the advanced military strength of the British/French/Russian/US alliance. There was an incident in 1859 when 21 British ships clashed with Chinese forces at Dagu Fort, making their way towards Beijing. The British lost 4 ships and withdrew under cover of a US naval squadron. This violated US neutrality and anti-foreign resistance peaked.
Effects • In 1960, after the Dagu Fort Incident, involving 21 British ships, much larger Anglo-French forces with 173 ships and over 17,000 soldiers sailed from Hong Kong, capturing port cities and landed near Pei Tang, 2 miles from the Dagu Fort on August 3rd, marching towards Beijing. China’s army of 10,000 troops, including elite Mongolian cavalry, were annihilated after charging into concentrated firepower in defense of Beijing on September 21st. The Anglo-French forces entered Beijing October 6th. Emperor Xiangfeng fled, leaving his brother, Prince Gong, in charge of negotiations. The western forces burned the emperors summer palaces to the ground, and considered destroying the forbidden city, but decided that it would make negotiations difficult. Prince Gong finally ratified the 1858 Treaty of Tianjin in the Convention of Peking on October18th, bringing the second opium war to an end. • British, French, Americans, and Russians were granted permanent presence in Beijing and received rights to station legislation, the Chinese had to pay 8 million taels of silver to Britain and France, Britain acquired Kowloon, near Hong Kong, Christians were granted full civil rights, including the right to property and to evangelize, and finally, the opium trade was legalized. The Chinese Empire was dominated by the West and suffered severe economic, social, and political turmoil.
Boxer Rebellion Effects
Conclusion The Opium Wars were a devastating shock to China. The nation that had economically thrived from its foreign trade for centuries beforehand was now a bankrupt shell of its former glory. The once great Qing dynasty had been militarily humiliated by western owners in spite of overwhelming numbers. The sovereignty of China was threatened as well by the cessation of both Hong Kong and Kowloon, the establishment of trade agreements favoring the west and an end to autonomy within even its own borders. Lastly, the opium trade was legalized; ensuring a further war against opium even after soldiers retreated. The opium wars were ultimately the first fight between the east and the west, and the outcome shook China for years to come. Possible further research could be done on China’s foreign relations to present day and how they were ultimately rooted in their historical experiences.
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