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History Of Chinese Opium Wars

Info: 902 words (4 pages) Essay
Published: 8th May 2017 in History

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This research paper is a discussion of Chinese Opium Wars as was experienced in the first and second opium wars. The first aspect of the paper is to bring out clearly what caused the wars that is the background. The second aspect is to discuss the outbreak of first Chinese Opium and Second Opium wars. Chinese Opium wars also known as Anglo-Chinese Wars were trade disputes between China and British Empire. It resulted to diplomatic disputes between the two nations. China suffered the worst defeat in this war of Opium smuggling by the West. The major cause of the wars was due to opium smuggling in China by drug traffickers from Ireland and United Kingdom of Britain (Willoughby, 13). The wars consisted of First Opium War that happened from 1839 to 1842 and Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860.

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Opium is chemically processed to produce heroin and was rare in China. Many Chinese people very much demanded the drug. Increased demand of Opium by Chinese was a business opportunity from Western Countries, India and Ireland. It was an illegal affair but British traders never wanted to stop doing this illegal business. The trade led to rise of drug addicts in China that contributed to increased criminal activities. The effects of the drug had many negative effects in many Chinese societies and it was termed as human tragedy.

The Imperial government stepped in to salvage the lives of many people who were perishing in many drug dens. In 1836, the government declared opium trading illegal and started to fight aggressively against such businesses. In 1839 Chinese administrative authorities took and burned opium that was being traded in Canton. The drug traffickers were not happy about the action of the Imperial government because the business was so forthcoming. The British responded by occupying positions in Canton raising alarm on the side of China.

The first Opium War broke in November 1839 when Chinese junks sent back English merchant vessels. Britain sent their warships in June 1840 and this was the beginning of the conflict. The Chinese had old war weapons and they could not match such weapons with those of British gunship. The Britain’s fought along the coast, forts and on land attacking many Chinese people who were not technologically ready (Brook, Bob, 17). The Chinese were defeated in the war. In 1842, they were forced to agree a peace treaty that was in favor of British.

The treaty was not good for China because it provided that any British citizen who committed crime in China could be subjected to British laws and not China’s legal system. It also provided that England and China were the best trading nations thus Britain was free to do any form of business with China. England did not recognize the administration system of China and hard ore drug traffickers smuggled opium to China because they were protected by the treaty. This was the first opium war that saw Imperial government lose its fight against opium business. The defeat was a lesson to Chinese Imperial government. It emerged that to win the war against opium, there was need to adopt Western technology.

The Second Opium War that happened from 1856 to 1860 was a conflict between Chinese officials and England. The Chinese Imperial government had put on measures to adopt Western technology so as to win the war against opium. The Chinese kept on restricting British from trading in their territory. England saw the action of Chinese government as clear violation of the treaty. Another factor that contributed to rise of conflict between China and Britain during the Second Opium war was slave trade (Trocki, 216). Many Chinese people were taken to America and Caribbean to work. This was seen as slave trade and it humiliated the people of China greatly.

Conflict broke out when Qing government started to search for a ship that was suspected to be from British although it was registered in Hong Kong. The search was so prompt and British resumed their attack on the port of Canton and by 1857 British Navy seized Canton and captured Dagu forts. A series of such crimes led to fresh hostilities between China and British. The British were very harsh against China because they demanded all ports in China to be opened fro foreign trade and to legalize importation of opium from India and Burma the two major British possessions (Brook, Bob, 61). Hong Kong and Beijing were the most common war battles and China approved Treaty of Tianjin to end the war.


What started as a business boom of opium in China by British possessions ended up to be conflict between the two trade partners. The defeat of Chinese in the opium war affected Qing dynasty and it resulted to Taiping Rebellion. The war was a success to western nations that were given the opportunity to spread their western culture in China and also Christianity was spread in many parts. Chinese Opium war was a means for Westernization in China.

Work Cited

Brook Timothy & Bob Tadashi. Opium Regimes: Chain, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. University of California Press, 2000

Trocki Carl. Opium and the Beginnings of Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol.33, 2002, pp.213-227

Willoughby, W.W. Opium as an International Problem: The Geneva Conferences. New York, John Hopkins Press


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