Skip to main content
Select Source:

Opium Wars

Opium Wars

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Opium Wars is a term referring to two wars that Britain fought against imperial China in the middle of the nineteenth century, presumably over the attempts of the Chinese authorities to stop the growing influx of foreign-produced opium. The real cause of the first Opium War (18391842), also called the Anglo-Chinese War, was Chinese resistance to Britains free-trade demands and practices, of which the unrestricted trade in opium was only the most controversial example. Seeking to end high Chinese import duties and other restrictions on foreign trading, the British found a pretext for war when China prohibited the importation of the drug and then confiscated a British shipment of opium.

Opium had long been used in China to treat some ailments, but in the seventeenth and the early part of the eighteenth centuries millions of Chinese from all social classes began to use it recreationally. Britains East India Company was shipping large quantities of Indian-grown opium to China, which it traded for Chinese tea and other local products. The imperial government was so concerned at the growing number of Chinese opium addicts that in 1799 it forbade its import trade and even decreed the death penalty for illicit trafficking in opium. Despite this legal prohibition, the opium trade continued to thrive, as private traders from Britain and other Western countries, including the United States, made huge profits from selling the extract to Chinese opium eaters. By the late 1830s foreign merchants were importing into China an estimated 5 million pounds of the illegal drug annually. Opium smuggling had so upset Chinas balance of trade that its backward economy seemed to be on the verge of collapse. The alarmed imperial authorities made opium possession illegal in 1836 and began to close down the numerous opium parlors.

In 1839 Chinese customs officials seized a shipment of opium that British merchants were planning to market in the seaport city of Canton. In response, Britain rejected the legitimacy of Chinas opium ban and threatened to use military force if the confiscated opium was not returned to its British owners. When China refused, the British navy shelled Canton and occupied the coastal areas around it, including Hong Kong. The war continued until China was forced to accept the humiliating terms of the 1842 Treaty of Nanking and compensate British merchants for their lost opium. The opium trade continued and even expanded under the generous import-license privileges that the Treaty of Nanking had granted to British merchants. This first of the so-called unequal treaties with China also ceded Hong Kong to Britain, opened five coastal cities, including Canton, to British rights of residence and trade, and imposed a very low tariff on British imports under the most-favored-nation principle. In 1844 the French and the Americans pressured China into granting them the same trading rights as the British.

The second Opium War (18561860) is sometimes called the Arrow War because the British, incensed by what they felt were clear treaty violations, used as a pretext to renew hostilities the boarding and seizure of the British ship Arrow and the arrest of its twelve crew members for opium smuggling and piracy. This time France joined the British in launching a punitive expedition inland after an initial British attack had been repelled by the Chinese. A combined Anglo-French military raid into Chinas hinterland led to the signing of the 1858 Treaty of Tientsin. The Chinese imperial court refused to accept the onerous terms of this second unequal treaty until another joint Anglo-French expedition captured the capital Peking in 1860 and forced Chinas total surrender. The Treaty of Tientsin allowed foreign embassies in Peking, a closed city at that time, opened eleven more coastal cities to foreign trading, and completely legitimized the opium trade. It also allowed westerners to travel in the Chinese interior, gave Christian missionaries the right to proselytize and hold property throughout China, and lowered even further import duties on British goods. In 1860 similarly imposed treaties were signed with France, the United States, and Russia.

The Opium Wars marked the beginning of Chinas century-long subjugation and servitude to foreign powers. The defeated Chinese were forced to legalize the importation of opium, accept unfair and unbalanced terms of foreign trade, open up Chinas seaports and the Yangtze River to foreign commercial penetration under the so-called treaty port system, and exempt westerners from Chinas local laws and national jurisdiction. So severely curtailed was Chinas independence in that period that the Chinese still view the Opium Wars as a national disgrace.

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Drugs of Abuse; Imperialism; Protected Markets; Protectionism; Sovereignty; Trade

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beeching, Jack. 1977. The Chinese Opium Wars. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Fay, Peter W. 1975. The Opium War, 18401842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates Ajar. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Hu, Sheng. 1991. From the Opium War to the May Fourth Movement. Trans. Dun J. Li. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Inglis, Brian. 1976. The Opium War. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Rossen Vassilev

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Opium Wars." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Opium Wars." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/opium-wars

"Opium Wars." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/opium-wars

Opium Wars

Opium Wars, 1839–42 and 1856–60, two wars between China and Western countries. The first was between Great Britain and China. Early in the 19th cent., British merchants began smuggling opium into China in order to balance their purchases of tea for export to Britain. In 1839, China enforced its prohibitions on the importation of opium by destroying at Guangzhou (Canton) a large quantity of opium confiscated from British merchants. Great Britain, which had been looking to end China's restrictions on foreign trade, responded by sending gunboats to attack several Chinese coastal cities. China, unable to withstand modern arms, was defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) and the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue (1843). These provided that the ports of Guangzhou, Jinmen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai should be open to British trade and residence; in addition Hong Kong was ceded to the British. Within a few years other Western powers signed similar treaties with China and received commercial and residential privileges, and the Western domination of China's treaty ports began. In 1856 a second war broke out following an allegedly illegal Chinese search of a British-registered ship, the Arrow, in Guangzhou. British and French troops took Guangzhou and Tianjin and compelled the Chinese to accept the treaties of Tianjin (1858), to which France, Russia, and the United States were also party. China agreed to open 11 more ports, permit foreign legations in Beijing, sanction Christian missionary activity, and legalize the import of opium. China's subsequent attempt to block the entry of diplomats into Beijing as well as Britain's determination to enforce the new treaty terms led to a renewal of the war in 1859. This time the British and French occupied Beijing and burned the imperial summer palace (Yuan ming yuan). The Beijing conventions of 1860, by which China was forced to reaffirm the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin and make additional concessions, concluded the hostilities.

See A. Waley, The Opium War through Chinese Eyes (1958, repr. 1968); H.-P. Chang, Commissioner Lin and the Opium War (1964); P. W. Fay, The Opium War, 1840–1842 (1975).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Opium Wars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Opium Wars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-wars

"Opium Wars." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-wars

Opium Wars

Opium Wars (1839–42) Conflict between Britain and China. It arose because Chinese officials prevented the importation of opium. After a British victory, the Treaty of Nanking gave Britain trading rights in certain ports and the grant of Hong Kong. A second, similar war (1856–60) was fought by the British and French. When China refused to ratify the Treaty of Tientsin (1858), Anglo-French forces occupied Peking.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Opium Wars." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Opium Wars." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-wars

"Opium Wars." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-wars

Opium War

Opium War. See China wars.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Opium War." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Opium War." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-war

"Opium War." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/opium-war