The Significant Causes Of The Opium War History Essay

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Figure Artist impression of a battle scene from the Chinese Opium War (, 2010) China advanced into the 19th century full of confidence regarding its perceived superiority over all other nations. Its estimated population of 400 million people possessed an empire that governed the largest economy in the world. While enjoying a favourable balance of trade with the West, China received vast amounts of money from its sale of porcelain, silk and especially tea. By 1800, Britain's annual consumption of tea was 10,000 tons. China was so prosperous that Chinese traders were the richest in the world. Designated warehouses controlled all trade in Canton which was the largest city in the world at that time (CNN, 2009).

However, this prosperity and balance of trade came under severe threat when Britain discovered growing on the hills of India, a product that many Chinese people craved for and would shift the balance of trade in its favour - opium. In the ensuing war, the Chinese perceived cultural superiority did not reflect in its glaring military inferiority to the British technological and tactical military superiority (Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, 2010). China was heavily defeated in the war that also brought shame to Britain (CNN, 2009). In the British Parliament, William Ewart Gladstone criticised the government for a war he described as 'unjust in its origin' and designed to cover Britain in permanent shame (Kossoff, 2010). Staring down the barrel of a gun, the Chinese were forced to sign a one-sided treaty at Nanking (see appendix B) as every Chinese move failed (CNN, 2009).

According to CNN, China was forced to part with 21 million ounces of silver to pay for a war started by Britain. Five ports were designated for unrestricted British trade - Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Amoy, and Foochow (Hooker, 1996) and Hong Kong became a British territory. Other Western countries soon moved in to exploit China's war wounds as France and America secured similar trading concessions (CNN, 2009; Hooker, 1996). According to CNN, China's defeat led to an invasion of Western culture, and on China's doorstep, 'barbarians' lived in grand houses. However, 150 years later, China has reclaimed these houses and taken back Hong Kong.

This essay aims to discuss the significant causes of the opium war over which there has been much controversy. On the one hand, the Chinese perspective on the cause of the war is about Britain's immoral poisoning of China with opium from smuggling, while on the other hand Britain holds the view that the war was as a result of Chinese arrogance that treated foreigners as inferior beings and subjected Western countries to unfair trade and unacceptable diplomatic standards.

Irreconcilable Cultural Differences

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Chinese culture projected a face of indifferent arrogance and contempt for foreigners which included the bland assumption of Chinese cultural superiority. This played a significant role in events that resulted in the opium wars (Hanes & Sanello, 2002; Helprin, 2006; Holt, 1964). The arrival of Western traders in China for the first time brought them in direct contact with a strange new world having an alien system of government. East Asian nations had barely any knowledge about Europe. Their relationship with each other was built on the idea of a Confucian hierarchy, with China as the head of the Asian family and other smaller nations - Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Burma - occupying inferior positions around her (Schurmann & Schell, 1967).

This status was accepted by these nations and they paid homage to china by embarking on periodic visits to Peking to perform the 'Kowtow' - a series of kneeling down thrice and nine prostrations before the Emperor, climaxing with the tribute bearer bringing his nose to the floor (Schurmann & Schell, 1967; Holt, 1964). According to Holt (1964), the Chinese perceived China as the 'celestial empire' and their Emperor as the traditional Son of Heaven. Other rulers of the foreign world were perceived to be no more than vassals expected to pay tribute to the Son of Heaven (Holt, 1964; Lewis, 2009; Pelissier, 1967).

Holt (1964) as well as Hanes & Sanello (2002), note that envoys from England to China refused to perform this ritual, especially since they did not grant their own monarch such recognition. However, no matter how vehemently Britain protested, or how unreasonable she found this custom, and how powerful she declared herself to be, China made no exception to her treatment (Schurmann & Schell, 1967). Britain was among the other Western "barbarians".

China's perceived arrogance and deep sense of cultural superiority cocooned it from the rest of the civilized world by producing a complex administrative structure that isolated the Emperor and his chief advisers from direct diplomatic contacts. Though Britain had traded with the Chinese for many years, China declined to establish any formal diplomatic contacts because it did not perceive Britain as equal (Rodzinski, 1984). As noted by Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere (1977), Britain twice attempted to dismantle this barrier by sending Lord Macartney in 1793 and Lord Amherst in 1816 as ambassadors to Peking. Both attempts failed. This was one of the infuriating features of the complex Chinese administrative structure that resulted in the Opium war.

Commercial Greed and Free Trade

The 'foreign devils' as they were called by the Chinese were merchants from many countries, particularly Britain, United states of America and Portugal but also included France, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark (Holt, 1964). Portugal history with the Far East was the earliest and longest but Britain gradually secured the largest quota of the Chinese trade with the West. England's trade with the Eastern countries was monopolised by the East Indian Company until 1833. According to Holt (1964), this monopoly however allowed privately owned vessels from Britain and India to trade with China under licence from the East Indian Company. These vessels carried both raw cotton and the insidious drug - opium. Opium was a source of enormous revenue to the Indian Government, wealth to the foreign merchants, and brought pleasure as well as suffering to the people of China (Hanes & Sanello, 2002; Holt, 1964).

During this period, the British Government of India and the directors of the East Indian Company realised that the Chinese were addicted to opium and that this presented a great trade opportunity for a huge fortune. Opium cultivation was quickly monopolised by the Government and permission exclusively given to the East Indian Company for its production and sale for which the company paid substantial duty to the Indian Government (Holt, 1964). Both the British and Indian Governments found opium smuggling to China too lucrative to be discarded. By 1832, the duty paid on opium to the British Indian Government made up one-eighteenth of its gross revenue (Holt, 1964).

In the past, Britain had substantially imported tea, silk and porcelain from China. Holt (1964) estimates that twelve million pounds worth of tea was consumed in Britain annually. China had significantly much less interest in British goods of woollen, lead, iron and Cornish tin and so Britain had to pay for its trade deficit in silver (Pelissier, 1967; Holt, 1964). By 1817, China had been paid one hundred and fifty million pounds worth of silver by European traders (Holt, 1964). For the British Government, these profits from opium trade restored parity of payments from trade with China. Blinded by greed both the British and Indian Governments failed in their legal and moral obligations not to participate in, or encourage the export to another country, goods prohibited by that country. This was another significant factor that provoked incidents that led to the opium war.

At this time, much of the economic theory guiding the British Empire was based on Cobden's perception of free trade - unrestricted trade in all commodities including narcotics (Ball, 2010). According to Ball, arguments for free trade were that it promoted civilization and peaceful influence. In 1833, parliament brought an end to the monopoly of trade enjoyed by the East Indian Company with China and established free trade (Holt, 1964). Private merchants succumbed to the greed for fast and enormous profits. Special ships known as 'opium clippers' were now more frequently being used for smuggling opium. Notable British owners included James Matheson, William Jardine and Lancelot Dent (Holt, 1964; Pelissier, 1967). These vessels were known to ship opium from India to China with great speed and efficiency thus compounding the opium addiction crisis in China.

Figure Opium Smuggling Clippers from the West (Hays, 2008)

Opium sales leaped. The trade spread from its original centre at Macao to nearby Lintin and by 1837 had reached the coast of Fukien, farther East. There they delivered their goods to Chinese smugglers in swift river boats called 'fast crabs' which headed for the opium dens (Pelissier, 1967). In the 1760s, China received about 1,000 chests of opium. This increased to about 10,000 chests in the 1820s. However, after free trade began in 1833, this amount reached 40,000 chests of opium by 1838 (Rodzinski, 1984; Holt, 1964; Gelber, 2006). The opium crisis had become as much of an irritant to China as the refusal of equal status was to Britain (Pelissier, 1967; Holt, 1964). This massive increase in opium smuggling into China became a recipe for war.

The Effects of Opium on China

China's history with opium dates back to the 7th century when it was taken orally for medicinal purposes (Holt, 1964; Pelissier, 1967). After The Dutch introduced tobacco into Fukien and Formosa in 1620, the Chinese began smoking opium mixed with tobacco (Hays, 2008; Holt, 1964). By 1729, China was augmenting home-grown product by importing foreign opium from Portuguese traders. The damaging effect of opium smoking in China eventually led the Chinese Emperor to completely prohibit both home-grown cultivation and foreign importation of this pernicious article in 1780 (Holt,1964). Apart from Portugal which actually began the importation of opium into China, French and Dutch companies were also involved in the trade within their limits. American firms also had their share in smuggling opium into China (Holt, 1964).


Trade relations with the West had always been organized according to the 'Canton system' since the middle of the 18th century as Westerners were only allowed to trade in Canton. The Cohong was a group of Chinese firms exclusively responsible for trade with the West and fixed prices and volume of trade. The Cohong was responsible to the notoriously corrupt hoppo who received huge bribes from Hong merchants and members of the Cohong (Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere, 1977).

The vested interests that controlled the opium trade within China included the foreign merchants, Chinese middle men and corrupt Chinese officials. These corrupt official encouraged smuggling with little attempts at concealment. Even the Chinese fleet of ships stationed to prevent smuggling did nothing as long as they were duly paid a fixed charge on each smuggled chest of opium by the Chinese buyers. On occasions where the Chinese purchasers fell behind in payments, the foreign merchants were well too willing to oblige the admiral of the fleet with the payments (Allingham, 2006; Holt, 1964; The Free Dictionary, 2010). Massive corruption resulting from opium smuggling posed a major problem of authority that challenged the ability of the state to rule. This was the general pattern of trade that provoked the opium war. Canton and other ports of the Southeast regularly visited illegally by foreign vessels had become oases of corruption and insubordination (Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere, 1977).


Figure Opium Den in China (Hays, 2008)

While debates raged on in Britain about the moral sanction of the opium trade in China and about whose responsibility it was to stop the illegal trade- the British Government or the Chinese Government?(Holt, 1964), opium dens populated China. The effective aphrodisiac nature of the drug promoted obscenity. Smokers lay in stupor on wooden couches, their minds filled with fantasies and blissful emotions (Holt, 1964; Hays, 2008). Eventually, most of them were unable to work, business activities became significantly reduced and the civil service was almost completely paralysed (Holt, 1964; Allingham, 2006). According to Allingham, the smoking of opium had affected the idle rich and more significantly, about 90 percent of all men under the age of forty in China's coastal regions. Sleepy addicts roamed the streets in their thousands causing many social problems and increasing the crime rate significantly as they searched for means to enable them support their habit (Wudi, 2002). According to Hays (2008), Emperor Tao-kuang's special High Commissioner Lin Tse-hsu estimated that 4 million Chinese people got addicted to opium but a British physician working in Canton puts the figure at about 12 million. Such was the level of addiction that led to the opium war. Even though Britain was aware of this level of addiction in China, it failed to respond positively to stop this decay.

Chinese Economy

This huge number of opium addicts required an equally huge supply of the drug. By 1838, opium represented 57 percent of Chinese imports (Allingham, 2006; Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere, 1977). This took its toll on the Chinese economy. The sale of goods to Westerners was no longer sufficient for Chinese purchase of opium. Export of Chinese silver, prized by the West for its fine quality had to be employed to balance trade (Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere, 1977; Asia for Educators, 2009). Even by 1833 when the East Indian Company's monopoly on trade ended, China already had a trade deficit of about 1.5 million to 2 million pounds a year that had to be paid in silver (Holt, 1964). This drain in Chinese silver caused inflation in its value within China and people had to pay more in copper for a fixed amount of silver (Holt, 1964).

High Commissioner Lin Tse-hsu

Emperor Tao-kuang who was enthroned in 1820 had a fiery zeal for reform born out of genuine care for his people. He realised that the opium crisis required a radical cure (Holt, 1964). In 1838, after a great debate that involved most of China's top ranking officials in which a majority favoured an eradication of the opium trade while some advocated its legalization, Emperor Tao-kuang commissioned a prominent official called Lin Tse-hsu to go to Canton to eradicate the illicit opium trade that had become severely pervasive (Rodzinski, 1984; Chesneauk, Bsatid & Bergere, 1977). Extremely heavy punishments that included the death penalty were promulgated for native opium traders (O'Brien, 2010). According to Rodzinski (1984), Lin Tse-hsu was known for his integrity, justice, compassion and consideration for others. However, his attempt to carry out his assignment was fundamentally the immediate cause of the opium war (Teng & Fairbank, 1954; Rodzinski, 1984; Hooker, 1996).

Figure Artist Impression of Lin Tse-hsu (ChinaA2Z.Com, 2010)

When Lin arrived in Canton in March 1839, he began his mission by appealing to everyone, especially the foreign merchants, to co-operate with him in the supression of opium smoking. He then ordered all foreign merchants to surrender to the Imperial Government all supplies of opium held in store-ships in Lintin. In addition every foreign merchant was given a three day altimatum to sign a bond vowing to stop importing opium and agree that any default would lead to confisication of the illegal cargo and execution of the defaulter (Holt, 1964; O'Brien, 2010). According to Holt, under enormous pressure 20,000 chests of British opium were turned over to Lin which he destoyed but Captain Charles Elliot (then Chief of the Commission) refused to allow British merchants sign the bonds. However a druken brawl involving British and American sailors at a Kowloon village resulted in the death of a chinese citizen called Lin Wei-hi. This brought more tension to the Anglo-Chinese crisis and directly resulted to an Aglo-Chinese war (Holt, 1964).

According to Holt, Lin had insisted that foreigners involved in Lin Wei-hi's death be handed over for trial. Captain Elliot refused, fearing unjust capital punishment as had occured in the past. This led to a ban inposed by Lin on supplies of provisions and chinese labour to the entire British community in Macao. Soon after, the British community was expelled from Macao to the barren island of Hong Kong. The effect was devastating on the community. In defiance however, Captain Elliot proceeded to arrange for supplies of food from the local peasantry backed by the 28-gun frigate which opend fire on some Chinese war junks that tried to prevent deliver of these supplies. This marked the begining of military hostilities between Britain and China (Holt, 1964).

Aggrieved, especially because British merchants in response to Capton Elliot's orders had refused to resume normal trading in Canton after they were expelled from Macao, Lin issued a formal war threat accompanied with a demand for all British merchant ships in Chinese territory to resume trade in Canton within three days or leave the country. This again led to another military confrontation in which China sustained heavy losses and the whole Chinese fleet was forced to retreat as 29 war junks were no match for the British frigates (Holt 1964). Lin responded by writing a long letter to Queen victoria (see appendix A) in which he argued that the Chinese cause pertained to England's insistence on poisoning Chinese citizens with opium already banned in England. Many authors on the opium wars have expressed doubts that Lin's letter ever got to the Queen. In 1840, Lin passed an edict that listed the crimes commited by British merchants and barring Britain from trading with China forever (Holt, 1964).

The British Response

Having reached a dicision to go to war, Britain responded by issuing an altimatum to China demanding that China returned all confisicated goods or paid the monetary equivalent, reparations for imprisoning the Chief Superintendent of trade and British merchants, and that British trade would be secured in future. Britain declared that if China did not meet these claims as well as sign a treaty with these claims incorporated, the war would continue.

However, Britain acknowledged to China, its right to prohibit the import of opium but insisted that The Queen of England was obliged to protect her people from violence and ill treatment. Britain suggested that China should have dealt instead with its corrupt official who connived in the opium trade. Britain certainly took this position to protect her economic interest by forcing China into maintaining trade. By barring trade with Britain, China had provided the opportunity for Britain to exploit grievances Britain already had. This was the deciding factor that led to the Opium wars.


China's arrogance born out of a sense of cultural superiority created tension that significantly affected its relationship with Westerners. This was particularly evident in China's refusal to consider a mutually favourable balanced trade with western nations. But for this arrogance, Lin Tse-hsu would have immediately recognized that the Chinese military was inferior to the British and hence he would have adopted a more diplomatic approach rather than threaten war. His actions in trying to eradicate opium smoking and smuggling led directly to the opium war.

China's seclusion prevented proper diplomatic relationship with the West. This vital requirement between nations could have prevented a war, but instead it bred grievances that were significant to the Anglo-Chinese war. Such grievances encouraged Britain to promote free trade which led to an increase in opium smuggling, corruption and insubordination. Opium smuggling also resulted in China's increased opium addiction and subsequent destruction of lives, families, the Chinese society and degradation of the Chinese economy.

This caused great concern to the Chinese Government and thus increased tensions between both countries

The British desire to balance trade with china, establish proper diplomatic relations and be treated as equal to China were important factors that provoked the opium war. This was partly due to commercial greed. As a result, even though Britain recognized the damage opium had done in China, she failed in her moral and legal duty not to encourage or participate in smuggling opium into China, especially after it had been banned in Britain. Finally, Britain's decision to go to war with china because it wanted to protect its citizens from Chinese unfair treatment was only an excuse that was justifiable in part. However, it was mainly to protect its economic interest with China by forcing China to continue trade which China had prohibited. A decision Britain took with the realization of the extent of Chinese military inferiority. This factor encouraged Britain to go to war.

Appendix A

Commissioner Lin's letter to Queen Victoria, Jan. 15, 1840

Following Emperor Tao-kuang's decision to stop the opium trade at Canton, Lin was appointed Imperial Commissioner (i.e., 'drug czar') to effect this. Having concluded that opium smoking could be stopped only by preventing the illegal importation of the drug by the British traders at Canton, Lin instituted his "get tough" measures soon after his appointment and these included the forced impounding of some 1400 tons of opium which he promptly destroyed, thus inviting the intervention of the British government at this high-handed assault against the 'private property' of British merchants. In the course of this confrontation, Lin wrote a personal letter to Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the immoral nature of the opium traffic and with a request for her own action in stopping the illegal trade. Though we may agree with Lin's indictment of the traffic in opium, it is also evident that his superior tone and lack of diplomatic nicety was more likely to offend than convince, while his naiveté and ignorance of foreign countries could only induce merriment : note, for example, his opening reference to Britain's diplomatic correspondence with the Emperor as "tributary memorials"[i.e., communications from an inferior to a superior] and his comment on the Englishman's 'dependence' on rhubarb!. Relevant extracts from the letter follow:

. . .The kings of your honorable country by a tradition handed down from generation to generation have always been noted for their politeness and submissiveness. We have read your successive tributary memorials saying: "In general our countrymen who go to trade in China have always received His Majesty the Emperor's gracious treatment and equal justice," and so on. Privately we are delighted with the way in which the honorable rulers of your country deeply understand the grand principles and are grateful for the Celestial grace. . . .

But after a long period of commercial intercourse, there appear among the crowd of barbarians [i.e., the private traders] both good persons and bad, unevenly. Consequently there are those who smuggle opium to seduce the Chinese people and so cause the spread of the poison to all provinces. Such persons who only care to profit themselves, and disregard their harm to others, are not tolerated by the laws of Heaven and are unanimously hated by human beings. His Majesty the Emperor, upon hearing of this, is in a towering rage. He has especially sent me . . . to settle this matter . . .

. . . Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience? I have heard that the smoking of opium is very strictly forbidden by your country; that is because the harm caused by opium is clearly understood. Since it is not permitted to do harm to your own country, then even less should you let it be passed on to the harm of other countries . . . Of all that China exports to foreign countries, there is not a single thing which is not beneficial when eaten, or of benefit when used, or of benefit when resold: all are beneficial. Is there a single article from China which has done any harm to foreign countries? Take tea and rhubarb, for example; the foreign countries cannot get along for a single day without them [ true, perhaps, for the Englishman's love of a 'cuppa' but certainly not for those red stalks which the Chinese thought essential for the proper bowel movements of the 'barbarians']. If China cuts off these benefits with no sympathy for those who are to suffer, then what can the barbarians rely upon to keep themselves alive? Moreover the woolens . . . of foreign countries cannot be woven unless they obtain Chinese silk . . . As for other foodstuffs, beginning with candy, ginger, cinnamon, and so forth, and articles for use, beginning with silk, satin, chinaware, and so on, all the things that must be had by foreign countries are innumerable. On the other hand, articles coming from the outside to China can only be used as toys. We can take them or get along without them. Since they are not needed by China, what difficulty would there be if we closed the frontier and stopped the trade? Nevertheless our Celestial Court lets tea, silk, and other goods be shipped without limit and circulated everywhere without begrudging it in the slightest. This is for no other reason but to share the benefit with the people of the whole world.

. . . Only in several places of India under your control . . . has opium been planted from hill to hill . . . For months and years work is continued in order to accumulate the poison. The obnoxious odor ascends, irritating Heaven and frightening the spirits. Indeed you, O Sovereign, can eradicate the opium plant in these places, hoe over the fields entirely, and sow in its stead the five grains. Anyone who dares again attempt to plant and manufacture opium should be severely punished. This really will be a great, benevolent policy that will increase the common weal and get rid of evil. For this, Heaven must support you and the spirits must bring you good fortune, prolonging your old age and extending your descendants. All will depend on this act . . . .

Now we have set up regulations governing the Chinese people. He who sells opium shall receive the death penalty and he who smokes it also the death penalty. Now consider this: if the barbarians do not bring opium, then how can the Chinese people resell it, and how can they smoke it? The fact is that the wicked barbarians beguile the Chinese people into a death trap. How then can we grant life only to these barbarians? . . . Therefore in the new regulations, in regard to those barbarians who bring opium to China the penalty is fixed at decapitation or strangulation. This is what is called getting rid of a harmful thing on behalf of mankind.

Moreover we have found that [on Apr 9, 1839] Consul Elliot of your nation, because the opium prohibition law was very stern and severe, petitioned for an extension of the time limit . . . Now we . . have received the extraordinary Celestial grace of His Majesty the Emperor, who has redoubled his consideration and compassion. All those who within the period of the coming one year (from England) or six months (from India) bring opium to China by mistake, but who voluntarily confess and completely surrender their opium, shall be exempt from their punishment. After this limit of time, if there are still those who bring opium to China then they will plainly hve committed a willful violation and shall at once be executed according to law, with absolutely no clemency or pardon. This may be called the height of kindness and the perfection of justice.

Our Celestial Dynasty rules over and supervises the myriad states, and surely possesses unfathomable spiritual dignity. Yet the Emperor cannot bear to execute people without having first tried to reform themn by instruction. Therefore he especially promulgates these fixed regulations. The barbarian merchants of your country, if they wish to do business for a long period, are required to obey our statutes respectfully and to cut off permanently the source of opium. They must by no means try to test the effectiveness of the law with their lives. May you, O King, check your wicked and sift out your vicious people before they come to China, in order to guarantee the peace of your nation, to show further the sincerity of your politeness and submissiveness, and to let the two countries enjoy together the blessings of peace. . . After receiving this dispatch will you immediately give us a prompt reply regarding the details and circumstances of your cutting off the opium traffic. Be sure not to put this off . . . [Note: Apparently Lin decided against mailing the letter to London and, in the absence of any British ambassador who might deliver it personally, he opted to have it published in Canton, expecting that a returning ship's captain would manage to get it its contents to the authorities in London. This did not happen, however.]

(O'Brien, 2010)

Appendix B


Nanking, August 29, 1842

Peace Treaty between the Queen of Great Britain and the Emperor of China.

This treaty between Britain and China ended the first opium war, fought between 1839 and 1842. The occasion for the war was the destruction in May 1839 by the Chinese emperor's 'drug tsar', Lin Zexu, of thousands of casks of Indian opium, without compensation, that were destined to be sold by the private British traders operating in Canton harbor to Chinese dealers in defiance of a ban placed on the illegal substance by the Chinese government. Despite the ban, the British government supported the traders on the specious grounds that suppression of the drug was China's responsibility only and that it should not proceed by an assault on the property (i.e., opium) of British subjects.

The fighting, via sporadic land and naval battles, ended in complete victory for Britain which was thus in a position to impose the following onerous terms on China in relation to the opening of additional ports of trade and the elimination of barriers to the convenient conduct of a centuries old lawful trade. Note that no mention is made of opium which continued to be an illegal substance. Moreover, the drug trade could now continue without interruption as far as the traders were concerned for the treaty also ceded to Britain the offshore island of Hong Kong where the opium traders could thenceforth conduct their illegal operations.

HER MAJESTY the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the Emperor of China, being desirous of putting an end to the misunderstandings and consequent hostilities which have arisen between the two countries, have resolved to conclude a Treaty for that purpose . . . . . . .

Who, after having communicated to each other their respective Full Powers, and found them to be in good and due form, have agreed upon and concluded the following [selected] Articles:


The Government of China having compelled the British merchants trading at Canton to deal exclusively with certain Chinese merchants, called Hong merchants (or Co-Hong), who had been licensed by the Chinese Government for that purpose, the Emperor of China agrees to abolish that practice in future at all ports where British merchants may reside, and to permit them to carry on their mercantile transactions with whatever persons they please; and His Imperial Majesty further agrees to pay to the British Government the sum of 3,000,000 of dollars, on account of debts due to British subjects by some of the said Hong merchants (or Co-Hong), who have become insolvent, and who owe very large sums of money to subjects of Her Britannic Majesty.

There shall henceforward be peace and friendship between Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and His Majesty the Emperor of China, and between their respective subjects, who shall enjoy full security and protection for their persons and property within the dominions of the other.


His Majesty the Emperor of China agrees, that British subjects, with their families and establishments, shall be allowed to reside, for the purposes of carrying on their mercantile pursuits, without molestation or restraint, at the cities and towns of Canton, Amoy, Foochowfoo, Ningpo, and Shanghai; and Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., will appoint Superintendents, or Consular officers, to reside at each of the above-named cities or towns, to be the medium of communication between the Chinese authorities and the said merchants, and to see that the just duties and other dues of the Chinese Government, as hereafter provided for, are duly discharged by Her Britannic Majesty's subjects.


It being obviously necessary and desirable that British subjects should have some port whereat they may [maintain] and refit their ships when required, and keep stores for that purpose, His Majesty the Emperor of China cedes to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., the Island of Hong-Kong, to be possessed in perpetuity by Her Britannic Majesty, her heirs and successors, and to be governed by such laws and regulations as Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., shall see fit to direct.


The Emperor of China agrees to pay the sum of 6,000,000 of dollars, as the value of the opium which was delivered up at Canton in the month of March, 1839, as a ransom for the lives of Her Britannic Majesty's Superintendent and subjects, who had been imprisoned and threatened with death by the Chinese High Officers

And it is further stipulated, that interest, at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum, shall be paid by the Government of China on any portion of the above sums that are not punctually discharged at the periods fixed.


The Government of China having compelled the British merchants trading at Canton to deal exclusively with certain Chinese merchants, called Hong merchants (or Co-Hong) . . . the Emperor of China agrees to abolish that practice in future at all ports where British merchants may reside, and to permit them to carry on their mercantile transactions with whatever persons they please; and His Imperial Majesty further agrees to pay to the British Government the sum of 3,000,000 of dollars , on account of debts due to British subjects by some of the said Hong merchants, who have become insolvent, and who owe very large sums of money to subjects of Her Britannic Majesty.


The Government of Her Britannic Majesty having been obliged to send out an expedition to demand and obtain redress for the violent and unjust proceedings of the Chinese High Authorities towards Her Britannic Majesty's officer and subjects, the Emperor of China agrees to pay the sum of 12,000,000 of dollars, on account of the expenses incurred; and Her Britannic Majesty's Plenipotentiary voluntarily agrees, on behalf of Her Majesty, to deduct from the said amount of I2,000,000 of dollars, any sums which may have been received by Her Majesty's combined forces, as ransom for cities and towns in China, subsequent to the 1st day of August, 1841


It is agreed, that the total amount of 21,000,000 of dollars, described in the 3 preceding Articles, shall be paid as follows:

6,000,000 immediately.

6,000,000 in 1843; that is, 3,000,000 on or before the 30th of the month of June, and 3,000,000 on or before the 3Ist of December.

5,000,000 in 1844; that is, 2,500,000 on or before the 3oth of June, and 2,500,000 on or before the 3Ist of December.

4,000,000 in 1845; that is, 2,000,000 on or before the 3oth of June, and 2,000,000 on or before the 3Ist of December.

And it is further stipulated, that interest, at the rate of 5 per cent per annum, shall be paid by the Government of China on any portion of the above sums that are not punctually discharged at the periods fixed.


The Emperor of China agrees to release, unconditionally, all subjects of Her Britannic Majesty (whether natives of Europe or India), who may be in confinement at this moment in any part of the Chinese empire.


The Emperor of China agrees to publish and promulgate, under his Imperial sign manual and seal, a full and entire amnesty and act of indemnity to all subjects of China, on account of their having resided under, or having had dealings and intercourse with, or having entered the service of Her Britannic Majesty, or of Her Majesty's officers; and His Imperial Majesty further engages to release all Chinese subjects who may be at this moment in confinement for similar reasons.


His Majesty the Emperor of China agrees to establish at all the ports which are, by the 2nd Article of this Treaty, to be thrown open for the resort of British merchants, a fair and regular tariff of export and import customs and other dues, which tariff shall be publicly notified and promulgated for general information; and the Emperor further engages, that when British merchandise shall have once paid at any of the said ports the regulated customs and dues, agreeable to the tariff to be hereafter fixed, such merchandise may be conveyed by Chinese merchants to any province or city in the interior of the Empire of China, on paying a further amount as transit duties, which shall not exceed [see Declaration respecting Transit Duties below] on the tariff value of such goods.


It is agreed that Her Britannic Majesty's Chief High Officer in China shall correspond with the Chinese High Officers, both at the capital and in the provinces, . . . . . on a footing of perfect equality . . .


On the assent of the Emperor of China to this Treaty being received, and the discharge of the first instalment of money, Her Britannic Majesty's forces will retire from Nanking and the Grand Canal, and will no longer molest or stop the trade of China. The military post at Chinhai will also be withdrawn, but the Islands of Koolangsoo, and that of Chusan, will continue to be held by Her Majesty's forces until the money payments, and the arrangements for opening the ports to British merchants, be completed.


The ratification of this Treaty by Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, &c., and His Majesty the Emperor of China, shall be exchanged as soon as the great distance which separates England from China will admit; but in the meantime, counterpart copies of it, signed and sealed by the.Plenipotentiaries on behalf of their respective Sovereigns, shall be mutually delivered, and all its provisions and arrangements shall take effect.

Done at Nanking, and signed and sealed by the Plenipotentiaries on board Her Britannic Majesty's ship Cornwallis, this 29th day of August, 1842 . . . .



DECLARATION respecting Transit Duties.

Whereas by the Xth Article of the Treaty between Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the Emperor of China, concluded and signed on board Her Britannic Majesty's ship Cornwallis, at Nanking, on the 29th day of August, 1842 . . . . it is stipulated and agreed, that His Majesty the Emperor of China shall establish at all the ports which, by the 2nd Article of the said Treaty, are to be thrown open for the resort of British merchants, a fair and regular tariff of export and import customs and other dues, which tariff shall be publicly notified and promulgated for general information; and further, that when British merchandise shall have once paid, at any of the said ports, the regulated customs and dues, agreeable to the tariff to be hereafter fixed, such merchandise may be conveyed by Chinese merchants to any province or city in the interior of the Empire of China, on paying a further amount of duty as transit duty;

And whereas the rate of transit duty to be so levied was not fixed by the said Treaty; Now, therefore, the undersigned Plenipotentiaries of Her Britannic Majesty, and of His Majesty the Emperor of China, do hereby, on proceeding to the exchange of the Ratifications of the said Treaty, agree and declare, that the further amount of duty to be so levied on British merchandise, as transit duty, shall not exceed the present rates, which are upon a moderate scale; and the Ratifications of the said Treaty are exchanged subject to the express declaration and stipulation herein contained.

In witness whereof the respective Plenipotentiaries have signed the present declaration, and have affixed thereto their respective seals.

Done at Hong-Kong, the 26th day of June, 1843 . . . . .




In the following year, on Oct. 8, a supplementary treaty was concluded which included extraterritorial provisions regarding crimes and offences committed both by British subjects and Chinese at the five ports. Art. XI stated that 'lawless natives of China' found in Hong Kong or aboard British vessels would be handed over to Chinese officials for trial. Likewise, China was to hand over to British officials any British subjects who fled to Chinese territory

(O'Brien, 2010)