First Opium War
||It has been suggested that Opium Wars be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
|First Opium War|
|Part of the Opium Wars|
The Nemesis destroying Chinese war junks during the Second Battle of Chuenpee, 7 January 1841
| British Empire
|Commanders and leaders|
|British Empire||Qing Dynasty|
|19,000 troops||200,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
The First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42), known popularly as the First Opium War or simply the Opium War, was fought between Great Britain and China over their conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice for foreign nationals.
Prior to the conflict Chinese officials wished to end the spread of opium, and confiscated around 20,000 chests of opium (approximately 1.21 million kilograms or 2.66 million lb) from British traders. The British government, although not officially denying China's right to control imports of the drug, objected to this seizure and used its military power to enforce violent redress. Alternatively, author Glenn Melancon argues that the casus belli of the war was not opium but Britain's need to uphold its reputation, its honor, and its commitment to global free trade. In the end, says Melancon, the government's need to maintain its honor in Britain and prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war.
In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking—the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties—granted an indemnity to Britain, the opening of five treaty ports, and the cession of Hong Kong Island, thereby ending the trade monopoly of the Canton System. The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the Second Opium War (1856–60). The war is now considered in China as the beginning of modern Chinese history.
From the inception of the Canton System by the Qing Dynasty in 1756, trade in goods from China was extremely lucrative for European and Chinese merchants alike. However, foreign traders were only permitted to do business through a body of Chinese merchants known as the Thirteen Hongs and were restricted to Canton (Guangzhou). Foreigners could only live in one of the Thirteen Factories, near Shameen Island, Canton and were not allowed to enter, much less live or trade in, any other part of China.
Tea and silver trade
There was an insatiable demand for tea in Britain. Only silver was accepted in payment by China for tea which resulted in chronic trade deficits. A trade imbalance came into being that was highly unfavourable to Britain. The Sino-British trade was dominated by high-value luxury items such as tea (from China to Britain) and silver (from Britain to China), to the extent that European gold and silver became widely used in China.
Britain had been on the gold standard since the 18th century, so it had to purchase silver from continental Europe and Mexico to supply the Chinese appetite for silver. Attempts by the British (Macartney in 1793), the Dutch (Van Braam in 1794), Russia (Golovkin in 1805) and the British again (Amherst in 1816) to negotiate access to the China market were vetoed by the Emperors, each in turn.
By 1817, the British decided that counter-trading in a narcotic drug, Indian opium, was a way to reduce the trade deficit and to turn the Indian colony profitable. The Qing Administration originally tolerated opium importation, because it created an indirect tax on Chinese subjects, while allowing the British to double tea exports from China to England—which profited the monopoly for tea exports of the Qing imperial treasury and its agents.
Opium was produced in traditionally cotton-growing regions of India under British East India Company monopoly (Bengal) and in the Princely states (Malwa) outside the company's control. Both areas had been hard hit by the introduction of factory-produced cotton cloth, which used cotton grown in Egypt. The opium was sold on the condition that it be shipped by British traders to China. Opium as a medicinal ingredient was documented in texts as early as the Tang dynasty but its recreational use was limited and there were laws in place against its abuse.
But opium became prevalent with the mass quantities introduced by the British (motivated, as noted above, by the equalisation of trade). British sales of opium in large amounts began in 1781[verification needed] and between 1821 and 1837 sales increased fivefold. East India Company ships brought their cargoes to islands off the coast, especially Lintin Island, where Chinese traders with fast and well-armed small boats took the goods for inland distribution.
However, by 1820 the planting of tea in the Indian and African colonies along with accelerated opium consumption reversed the flow of silver, just when the Imperial Treasury needed to finance suppression of rebellions against the Qing. The Qing government attempted to end the opium trade, but its efforts were complicated by local officials (including the Viceroy of Canton), who profited greatly from the bribes and taxes.
A turning point came in 1834. Free trade reformers in England succeeded in ending the monopoly of the British East India Company, leaving trade in the hands of private entrepreneurs. Americans introduced opium from Turkey, which was of lower quality but cheaper. Competition drove down the price of opium and increased sales.
In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor appointed Lin Zexu Governor of Canton, with the goal of reducing and eliminating the opium trade. On his arrival, Lin Zexu banned the sale of opium, demanded that all opium be surrendered to the Chinese authorities, and required that all foreign traders sign a 'no opium trade' bond, the breaking of which was punishable by death. Lin also closed the channel to Canton, effectively holding British traders hostage in Canton.
The British Superintendent of Trade in China, Charles Elliot, got the British traders to agree to hand over their opium stock with the promise of eventual compensation for their loss from the British government. (This promise, and the inability of the British government to pay it without causing a political storm, was an important cause for the subsequent British offensive).
Overall 20,000 chests (each holding about 55 kilograms) were handed over and destroyed beginning 3 June 1839. Following the collection and destruction of the opium, Lin Zexu wrote an official memorial (折奏/摺奏) to Queen Victoria in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the trade of opium, as it had poisoned thousands of Chinese civilians (the memorial never reached the Queen).
Kowloon incident (July 1839)
After the chest seizure in April, the atmosphere grew tense and at the end of June the Chinese coast guard in Kowloon arrested the commodore of the Carnatic, a British clipper. On Sunday, 7 July 1839, a large group of British and American sailors, including crew from the Carnatic, was ashore at Kowloon, a provisioning point, and found a supply of samshu, a rice liquour, in the village of Chien-sha-tsui (Tsim Sha Tsui). In the ensuing riot the sailors vandalised a temple and killed a man named Lin Weixi. Because China did not have a jury trial system or evidentiary process (the magistrate was the prosecutor, judge, jury and would-be executioner), the British government and community in China wanted extraterritoriality, which meant that British subjects would only be tried by British judges. When the Qing authorities demanded the men be handed over for trial, the British refused. Six sailors were tried by the British authorities in Canton (Guangzhou), but they were immediately released once they reached England.
Captain Charles Elliot's authority was in dispute; the British government later claimed that without authority from the Qing government he had no legal right to try anyone, although according to the British Act of Parliament that gave him authority over British merchants and sailors, "he was expressly appointed to preside over 'Court of Justice, with Criminal and Admiralty Jurisdiction, for the trial of offences committed by His Majesty's subjects in the said Dominions or on the high seas within one hundred miles off the coast of China'".
The Qing authorities also insisted that British merchants not be allowed to trade unless they signed a bond, under penalty of death, promising not to smuggle opium, agreed to follow Chinese laws, and acknowledged Qing legal jurisdiction. Refusing to hand over any suspects or agree to the bonds, Charles Elliot ordered the British community to withdraw from Canton and prohibited trade with the Chinese. Some merchants who did not deal in opium were willing to sign the bond, thereby weakening the British position.
Opium War (1839–42)
In late October the Thomas Coutts arrived in China and sailed to Guangdong. This ship was owned by Quakers who refused to deal in opium, and its captain, Smith, believed Elliot had exceeded his legal authority by banning trade. The captain negotiated with the governor of Canton and hoped that all British ships could unload their goods at Chuenpee, an island near Humen.
To prevent other British ships from following the Thomas Coutts, Elliot ordered a blockade of the Pearl River. Fighting began on 3 November 1839, when a second British ship, the Royal Saxon, attempted to sail to Guangdong. Then the British Royal Navy ships HMS Volage and HMS Hyacinth fired a warning shot at the Royal Saxon.
The Qing navy's official report claimed that the navy attempted to protect the British merchant vessel, also reporting a great victory for that day. In reality, they were out-classed by the Royal Naval vessels and many Chinese ships were sunk. Elliot reported that they were protecting their 29 ships in Chuenpee between the Qing batteries. Elliot knew that the Chinese would reject any contacts with the British and there would eventually be an attack with fire boats. Elliot ordered all ships to leave Chuenpee and head for Tung Lo Wan, 20 miles (30 km) from Macau, but the merchants preferred to harbour in Hong Kong.
In 1840, Elliot asked the Portuguese governor in Macau to let British ships load and unload their goods there in exchange for paying rent and any duties. The governor refused for fear that the Qing Government would discontinue supplying food and other necessities to Macau. On 14 January 1840, the Qing Emperor asked all foreigners in China to halt material assistance to the British in China. In retaliation, the British Government and British East India Company decided that they would attack Guangdong. The military cost would be paid by the British Government.
Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, initiated the Opium War to maintain the principle of free trade. Melancon argues that the issue in going to war was not the opium but the Britain's need to upholding its reputation, its honor, and its commitment to global free trade. China was pressing Britain at just the moment when it faced serious pressures in the Near East, on the Indian frontier, and in Latin America. In the end, says Melancon, the government's need to maintain its honor in Britain and prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war. Critics, however, focused on the immorality of opium. William Ewart Gladstone denounced the war as "unjust and iniquitous" and criticised Lord Palmerston's willingness "to protect an infamous contraband traffic." The public and press in the United States and Britain expressed outrage that Britain was supporting the opium trade.
In June 1840, an expeditionary force of 15 barracks ships, 4 steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats with 4000 marines reached Guangdong from Singapore. The marines were headed by James Bremer. Bremer demanded the Qing Government compensate the British for losses suffered from interrupted trade.
Following the orders of Lord Palmerston, a British expedition blockaded the Mouth of Pearl River and moved north to take Chusan. Led by Commodore J.J. Gordon Bremer in Wellesley, they captured the empty city after an exchange of gunfire with shore batteries that caused only minor casualties.
The next year, 1841, the British captured the Bogue forts that guarded the mouth of the Pearl River—the waterway between Hong Kong and Canton. Meanwhile, at the far west in Tibet, the start of the Sino-Sikh war added another front to the strained Qing military. By January 1841, British forces commanded the high ground around Canton and defeated the Chinese at Ningbo and at the military post of Dinghai.
By the middle of 1842, the British had defeated the Chinese at the mouth of their other great riverine trade route, the Yangtze, and were occupying Shanghai. The war finally ended in August 1842, with the signing of China's first Unequal Treaty, the Treaty of Nanking.
The ease with which the British forces defeated the numerically superior Chinese armies seriously affected the Qing Dynasty's prestige. The success of the First Opium War allowed the British to resume the opium trade. It also paved the way for opening of the lucrative Chinese market to other commerce and the opening of Chinese society to missionary endeavors.
Among the most notable figures in the events leading up to military action in the Opium War was the man that Daoguang Emperor assigned to suppress the opium trade; Lin Zexu, known for his superlative service under the Qing Dynasty as "Lin the Clear Sky".
Although he had some initial success, with the arrest of 1,700 opium dealers and the destruction of 1.2 million kilograms (2.6 million lb) of opium, he was made a scapegoat for the actions leading to British retaliation, and was blamed for ultimately failing to stem the tide of opium import and use in China. Nevertheless, Lin Zexu is popularly viewed as a hero of 19th century China, and his likeness has been immortalised at various locations around the world.
The First Opium War was the beginning of a long period of weakening of the state and anti-Qing rebellions, such as the Taiping Rebellion, a war from 1850–64 in which at least 20 million Chinese died. The Qing Dynasty, led by ethnic Manchus, was seen by much of the Chinese population, who were mainly Han Chinese, as an ineffective and corrupt foreign regime.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to First Opium War.|
Contemporaneous Qing Dynasty wars:
- Sino-Sikh war (1841–1842)
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