Aside from being considered as China’s most humbling defeat in European history, the Opium Wars, sometimes referred to as the Anglo-Chinese War, also gave way to one of the most inhuman events in European history, rivaled only by the excesses committed by the Germans against the Jews. While millions of Jews were killed in the holocaust, millions of Chinese were mired in opium addiction when it was completely legalized in China as a result of the second Opium War which ended in 1860 (Hooker).
Opium is extracted from the pods of the poppy seeds. Known scientifically as Papayer somniferum, this plant was already being cultivated during the ancient civilizations found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Persia. By the nineteenth century, opium was already popular among the British. It was even made available to English babies through the milk of their mothers. It was widely believed that preparations which contained opium kept young kids “happy and docile.
” Opium was even popular among British writers, among them poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who claimed to have written Kubla Khan while experiencing its effects, and author Thomas de Quincey, who actually wrote about “the marvelous agency of opium, whether for pleasure or for pain. ” England was importing about 91,000 pounds of opium in 1830. By 1860, opium importation rose to a very high level of 280,000 pounds (Osler). Opium likewise enjoyed popularity in ancient China. One Chinese poem which was written during the tenth century even celebrated the fact that a drink “fit for Buddha” could be produced out of opium.
By the 17th century, opium smoking became widespread among the Chinese after the practice was introduced by the Dutch through Formosa Island. They were mixing the substance with tobacco, another Dutch product. However, it was the British East India Company which ultimately controlled the Asian market – including the Chinese market – during the later part of the 18th century (Osler). It was in the business of propagating the plant in India and then trading it for Chinese products like tea.
Its trade with China became so prosperous that by the 1830s, England virtually became the biggest opium dealer in the world, acquiring the reputation of a criminal organization which was even bigger than the major drug cartels of the twentieth century. According to observers, the opium-for-Chinese products trade literally turned China into a country of drug addicts. The early part of the 19th century saw a China which was filled with “human misery and tragedy. ” Faced with this dire situation, the Chinese imperial government declared opium illegal in 1836.
Unfortunately, in spite of the Chinese decision illegalizing the importation of opium, British traders continued their lucrative trade, facilitated by Canton officials who were only too happy to accept their bribe (Hooker). Finally, in 1839, in order to finally put a stop to opium-trafficking in the country, Tao Kwang, then emperor of China, appointed one of his most moral ministers, Lin Tse-hsu, Imperial Commissioner of Canton. His responsibility was to “cut off the opium trade at its source by rooting out corrupt officials and cracking down on British trade in the drug.
” In two months, Lin Tse-hsu had already taken action. He ordered the demolition of all the opium. Then he requested Queen Victoria of England to help in stopping the British trade in opium. He explained to Queen Victoria that inasmuch as England had already declared opium illegal because of the harm that it has inflicted on her people, she should also not allow the importation of this evil substance to China and anywhere else in the world. In his letter, Lin likewise requested the Queen that if possible, their two countries should only be trading in products which could be of benefit to their peoples (Hooker).
His request, however, was not honored. The reason was because opium trade was not the only problem between England and China at the time. Another, perhaps more important issue, was the absence of a formal treaty between the two countries which could have governed their relations. Several problems arose out of the absence of such treaties. First, British officials refused to recognize the authority of the Chinese emperor. Because of this, they always refused to let Chinese authorities take custody of British citizens who were found guilty of violating Chinese laws so that they could be tried under Chinese laws.
In effect, Lin’s crusade against the opium trade was only a part of his program of forcing the British to recognize the laws of China and actively pursue British subjects charged with committing criminal activities. When his letter to the queen did not receive the attention he wanted, he made known his plan to stop all the trading activities being engaged in by British subjects unless they submit to the Chinese laws and arrange for their expulsion from China (Hooker). In order to obtain compliance, Lin set a three-day deadline which the British ignored.
Lin retaliated on March 25, 1839 by making good on his threat. First, he issued an order suspending relations with all western traders. Then he had his soldiers surround the area in the waterfront of Canton where the British and other western opium traders lived and conducted business. He also positioned several patrol ships of the Chinese Navy to face the waterfront and informed the British that they were being held in the custody of the Chinese government until cooperated in putting a stop to the opium trade. Ignoring the opposition raised by Captain Charles Elliot of the British Navy, Lin spelled out his terms.
The British would not be allowed to leave Canton if they would not surrender their opium to the Chinese government for destruction. Then they should promise never to return to China to trade in opium. He told them that until his conditions are met, nobody would be allowed to make purchases of such Chinese products as silk, rice, or tea. The British traders agreed to his demands on March 27 (Chrastina). Almost three million pounds of opium were surrendered to the Chinese government during the two months that followed.
Their destruction started on June 3. In spite of these developments, however, it became apparent that the British sailors were not yet prepared to totally submit to Chinese laws. Lin observed that some of them started heading for Macao where they intended, he believed, to resume their opium trade since Macao was under the Portuguese control. Meanwhile, the other British traders were positioned in the island of Hong Kong. To make matters worse, a tragic incident happened on July 12 where a band of drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager.
When Lin tried to obtain custody of the British subjects, he was prevented by Captain Elliott who wanted to preside of their hearing instead, under British law. After the trial, the charge of murder filed against one of the British sailors was dismissed for lack of evidence while the rest were pronounced guilty of taking part in a riot. Elliott again refused Lin’s demand for custody by saying that the sailors would be meted their just punishments upon their return to England. Observers believed that this unfortunate event occurred because of the absence of a treaty spelling out the formal relationship between the two countries (Chrastina).
Lin did not take let the incident pass without doing anything. He tried to force his demands on Elliott who refused. In retaliation, Lin he issued an order to the effect that all British ships should be prevented from receiving deliveries of Chinese products such as rice, meat, fresh vegetables, and tea. Then, after warning the Chinese not to get their drinking water from the streams being used by the British, he ordered them poisoned to deny the British of any access to drinking water.
Because of this, the British ships were left with no other alternative but to leave Macao and move to Hong Kong where they were joined by a British frigate on August 31. On September 4, when three junks belonging to the Chinese Imperial Navy tried to prevent two British merchant ships which were escorted by a launch belonging to the British frigate from getting water and other supplies in Kowloon, they were fired upon. The junks returned fire but had to withdraw after suffering from severe damage from responding cannon fire from the frigate (Chrastina).
After informing Emperor Tao Kwang of his plan of driving the British traders permanently away, Lin organized a fleet composed of eighty Chinese fireships and junks on September 22. He positioned them by the mouth of Pearl River. His action was met by a request from Elliott for him to allow British traders to purchase the last produce of Chinese tea which was produced earlier that year. To this, Lin responded by telling Elliott that the only way for the British to trade with the Chinese was to submit to Chinese Laws and stop their opium trade altogether. Lin also ordered them to leave and never return if they refuse his demand.
As could be expected, his demands were refused by Captain Elliott. The first British frigate was joined by another British warship then, on November 3, the two ships together delivered a sealed letter to the Chinese. It was a demand letter for the resumption of trade and the delivery of supplies to the British. When the letter was returned unopened, the British frigates reacted by attacking the Chinese fleet. The First Opium War had started (Chrastina). During the course of the war, the more superior British forces easily defeated the inferior Chinese fleet.
As a result of the war, the Chinese imperial government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 which the British forced upon them. Under the treaty of Nanking, the British demanded, among others, “that the opium trade be allowed to continue; that the Chinese pay a large settlement and open five new ports to foreign trade; and that China cede Hong Kong to Britain” (Osler). The British also demanded that all British citizens in China should be tried under British law if they are charged with any crime on Chinese soil.
Another British demand was the abolition of the imperial tribute which was previously demanded by the Chinese government before they could be allowed to conduct business in China. As a result of these concessions, British trade with China became unrestricted, and with the opening of five new trading ports in Shanghai, Amoy, Canton, Ningpo, and Foochow, the opium trade increased more than one hundred percent. Under the Treaty of Nanking, Great Britain became the “most favored nation” with trading arrangements with China.
The same preferential treatment was accorded the United States and France in similar treaties in 1844 (Hooker). Unfortunately, the peace that followed the First Opium War did not last long. A second Opium War erupted in 1856. The tension that led to the second war started when the United States and her allies in Europe started renegotiating the trade treaties they had with China. Once again, it was the British who spearheaded their move by seeking the “opening of all of China to their merchants, an ambassador in Beijing, legalization of the opium trade, and the exemption of imports from tariffs.
” Emperor Xianfeng, who was the head of the government, refused their demands, creating a tension between China and the European and American governments (Hickman). An incident which took place on October 8, 1856 further aggravated the situation when some Chinese officials forcibly took custody of 12 Chinese crewmen from a British-registered ship named Arrow who were suspects in cases of piracy and smuggling. When the Chinese government refused the British demand for the release of the crewmen, Britain formed an anti-Chinese alliance with France, the United States, and Russia.
France immediately joined forces with the British because of the Chinese execution of August Chapdelaine, a French missionary while the United States and Russia only sent their representatives to the alliance. The tension was further aggravated with the discovery of a failed attempt on the part of some Chinese bakers to poison the Europeans who were then living in Hong Kong (Hickman). Fighting started in 1857 with the arrival of the British forces in Hong Kong under Admiral Sir Michael Seymour and Lord Elgin which joined forces with the forces of France led by Marshall Gros.
Once again, the combined forces of Britain and France defeated the Chinese forces. As a result of the Second Opium War, China was forced to accept the Treaty of Tianjin which permitted the governments of Britain, France, the United States, and Russia to “install legations in Beijing, ten additional ports would be opened to foreign trade, foreigners would be permitted to travel through the interior, and reparations would be paid to Britain and France.
” In addition to the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin, the Convention of Peking which discussed the conditions of the surrender of the Chinese forces also provided that Kowloon should be ceded to Britain and that the opium trade should be legalized (Hickman). As a result of the Opium Wars, it was estimated that as the 19th century ended, more than 25% of the total male population of China became addicted to opium (Osler). Works Cited Chrastina, Paul. “Emperor of China Declares War on Drugs. ” 15 March 2009. http://opioids. com/opium/opiumwar. html Hickman, Kennedy.
“Second Opium War: Overview. ” About. com: Military History. 15 March 2009. http://militaryhistory. about. com/od/battleswars1800s/p/secondopiumwar. htm Hooker, Richard. “The Opium Wars. ” World Civilizations. 14 July 1999. 15 March 2009. <http://wsu. edu/~dee/CHING/OPIUM. HTM> Osler, William. “The Plant of Joy. ” 15 March 2009. <http://opioids. com/red. html> Wallbank, Taylor, Bailkey, Jewsbury, Lewis, and Hackett. “A Short History of the Opium Opium Wars. ” Civilizations Past And Present. 1992. 15 March 2009. <http://www. druglibrary. org/schaffer/heroin/opiwar1. htm>Sample Essay of StudyFaq.com