Opium Wars


Opium Wars
Two trading wars of the mid-19th century in China.

The first (1839–42 was between China and Britain, and the second (1856–60; also called the Arrow War or Anglo-French War) was between China and a British-French alliance. Trade developed between China and Western countries from the late 16th century. The Chinese, accustomed to tributary relationships with others, required that Westerners pay for Chinese goods with silver currency. To offset a growing negative flow of silver at home, the British created a market for opium in China and began importing it there illegally. As demand for opium grew, China tried to stop the practice, and hostilities broke out. Britain quickly triumphed, and the resultant Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking;1842; the first of a series of unequal treaties between China and Western countries and, eventually, Japan) was a blow to China. The outbreak of the second war resulted in the Treaty of Tianjin (Tientsin; 1858), which required further Chinese concessions. When China refused to sign subsequent treaties, Beijing (Peking) was captured and the emperor's summer palace burned. The overall result of these conflicts was to weaken the Chinese imperial system, greatly expand Western influence in China, and pave the way for such uprisings as the Taiping and Boxer rebellions. See also Canton system; British East India Company; Lin Zexu.

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▪ Chinese history
 two trading wars in the mid-19th century in which Western nations gained commercial privileges in China. The first Opium War (1839–42) was between China and Britain (British Empire), and the second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the War or the Anglo-French War in China, was fought by Britain and France against China.

      The Opium Wars arose from China's attempts to suppress the opium trade. British traders had been illegally exporting opium to China, and the resulting widespread addiction was causing serious social and economic disruption in the country. In 1839 the Chinese government confiscated all opium warehoused at Canton by British merchants. The antagonism between the two sides increased a few days later when some drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager. The British government, which did not trust the Chinese legal system, refused to turn the accused men over to the Chinese courts.

 Hostilities broke out, and the small British forces were quickly victorious. The Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking), signed Aug. 29, 1842, and the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue (Humen), signed Oct. 8, 1843, provided for the payment of a large indemnity by China, cession of five ports for British trade and residence, and the right of British citizens to be tried by British courts. Other Western countries quickly demanded and were given similar privileges.

      In 1856 the British, seeking to extend their trading rights in China, found an excuse to renew hostilities when some Chinese officials boarded the ship Arrow and lowered the British flag. The French joined the British in this war, using as their excuse the murder of a French missionary in the interior of China.

      The allies began military operations in late 1857 and quickly forced the Chinese to sign the treaties of Tianjin (Tientsin, 1858), which provided residence in Beijing for foreign envoys, the opening of several new ports to Western trade and residence, the right of foreign travel in the interior of China, and freedom of movement for Christian missionaries. In further negotiations in Shanghai later in the year, the importation of opium was legalized. The Chinese, however, refused to ratify the treaties, and the allies resumed hostilities, captured Beijing, and plundered and then burned the Yuanming Garden, one of the emperor's palaces, in 1860. Later that year the Chinese signed the Beijing Convention, in which they agreed to observe the treaties of Tientsin. See also Unequal Treaty.

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Universalium. 2010.

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