Opium Wars

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For the 1967 conflict between marooned elements of the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Kingdom of Laos, see 1967 Opium War.
For other uses, see Opium Wars (disambiguation).

The Opium Wars is a collective term for two wars in the mid-19th century involving Anglo-Chinese disputes over British trade in China and China's sovereignty. The disputes included the First Opium War (1839–1842) and the Second Opium War (1856–1860).[1][2]

The Chinese sought to stop Britain from illegally importing and selling opium in the country; Britain sought to legalize its opium trade and to liberalize other trade. Earlier, China, inward-facing, had little demand for foreign goods, while European nations sought various Chinese goods, so China had a very favorable trade balance, and was accumulating silver bullion. If Chinese payments for smuggled opium, provided from India and Turkey by British and other merchants, were increased, then the imbalance of trade would be reduced. Increased smuggling led to China having a negative trade balance in the 1830s, and China took actions to halt or reduce the trade. France joined in the fighting of the second war, and the U.S. engaged in some relatively small incidents within the second war. China was defeated in the wars, and a major result was that China was forced to open ports to foreign trade.

Although the two wars are referred to collectively as the Opium Wars, some historians argue that they were quite different. The importance and relationship of the two wars should not be overstated. China endured disasters and events before, during, and after the two wars, including the Taiping Rebellion, which contributed significantly to the loss of Qing dynasty power and affected China's separation from the rest of the world.

The two segments of warfare it refers are:

First Opium War[edit]

Main article: First Opium War

The First Opium War, during 1839–1842, was concluded by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. The treaty ceded the island of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, and it established five treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ningpo, Fuchow, and Amoy. Another treaty the next year gave most favoured nation status to the United Kingdom and added provisions for British extraterritoriality. Then the United States and France secured concessions on the same terms as the British, in treaties of 1843 and 1844.

Second Opium War[edit]

Main article: Second Opium War

During 1856–1860, British forces fought towards legalization of the opium trade, to expand coolie trade, to open all of China to British merchants, and to exempt foreign imports from internal transit duties. France joined the British; the U.S. had a minor involvement uncoordinated with the major efforts of the U.K. and France. The war is also known as the "Arrow War", referring to the name of a vessel at the starting point of the conflict. The Arrow War resulted in a second group of treaty ports being set up; eventually more than 80 treaty ports were established in China, involving many foreign powers. All foreign traders gained rights to travel within China.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor Wallbank; Bailkey; Jewsbury;Lewis; Hackett (1992). ""A Short History of the Opium Wars" (from: Civilizations Past And Present, Chapter 29: South And East Asia, 1815-1914)". 
  2. ^ Kenneth Pletcher. "Chinese history: Opium Wars". Encyclopedia Britannica.