World History






























Opium War

Chinese soldiers destroy an "opium clipper"—a British ship smuggling opium into China.

In 1800, China was a manufacturing powerhouse, producing one-quarter of the world’s goods. It was thewealthiest country on earth. But there was a problem. The British liked their tea, and Britain was sending huge amounts of silver to China in payment for tea and other products. The Chinese, however, had little interest in British goods. This trade imbalance was draining silver from Britain. What to do?

Britain decided to deal drugs. Britain found that Bengal was ideal for growing opium, a highly addictive narcotic. Britain grew opium in India, shipped it to China, and received silver in payment. Although opium use was illegal in China, large segments of the Chinese population became addicted, especially the poor. Alarmed that the opium trade was ruining China’s society and economy, the Qing emperor pleaded with the British to stop. When they didn’t, he ordered the opium trade shut down. After a Qing official seized and destroyed opium from British warehouses, Britain declared war in 1839. With their superior ships and weapons, and with their bombardment of Chinese ports, the British won an easy victory.

opium = a powerful illegal drug that is made from seed capsules of the opium poppy.

Opium War = a war between Great Britain and China that began in 1839 as a conflict over the opium trade and ended in 1842 with the Chinese cession of Hong Kong to the British, the opening of five Chinese ports to foreign merchants, and the grant of other commercial and diplomatic privileges in the Treaty of Nanking.

Britain forced China to pay the costs of the war and to open new ports to Western ships. China’s defeat was humiliating; not only were foreign “barbarians” dictating terms to China and occupying Chinese territory, the war showed how far behind China’s technology had fallen. The Qing Empire continued to weaken through the 1800s. It was shaken by major uprisings, and defeated in a war with Japan in 1894. A final uprising in 1911 ended the Qing dynasty, and with it over 2,000 years of rule by Chinese dynasties dating back to the First Emperor in 221 BC. The last Chinese emperor was an 8-year-old boy.