The year is 1840 and a tea infused war is brewing in the far East between the power-hungry Britain and the isolationistic China. These wars are often believed to have begun because the British wished to overrun China with Opium in order to get them to kneel. At present, many scholars argue that this is not the case but rather that the British wished to get down and dirty because the Chinese military threatened to harm defenceless British civilians. On top of this, the Chinese refused to see the British on an equal playing field and give the British more freedom to trade.
Finally, the period where these wars took place become known as the century of humiliation’ because it has a laundry list of allegations from the Chinese alleging that the British exploited them aggressively. This piece of writing sets out to investigate the reasons for the British starting this war, its consequences and how Western imperial might has impacted the way China interacts with other nations, especially Western, in international affairs?The main reason for the war was the British addiction to tea which was ruining the country.
But given the restriction from the Chinese when it came to trade the British were basically bound on hand and feet. By the late 18th century, the Qing Emperor and his government had established a trading system which restricted western merchants’ ability to trade at Southern port of Guangzhou. Furthermore, the western merchants were restricted to a certain area of the city, bringing family were prohibited and they could only stay for a period of a couple of months throughout the duration of the year. Qing officials only allowed tradesmen from the to conduct trade if they were in contact with Chinese merchants, aka Cohong, through a monopoly guild. These middle men were needed since western merchants could not contact Chinese officials directly. This resulted in no form of formal diplomatic ties between China and Britain for instance. Another major annoyance for western traders was the notion that the emperor saw trade as more of an exchange of presents rather than something that could contribute to keep the country’s economy afloat. Western traders kept their side of the deal by conducting trade through monopolies such as the East India Company. Restrictions may have been the bug rather than the feature for the time being, but this did not mean that learning could not occur. Since both parties learned by cooperating rather than working against one another trade could be lucrative. Western tradesmen and their Chinese counterparts, the Cohong developed a close bound and the Chinese merchants even taught the foreigners how to conduct business without landing on the wrong side of the Chinese bureaucracy. However, as trade grew the British wished to gain more access to China. According to Mr Joe O’Shea explains: Tea exports from China to Britain alone grew from 92.000 pounds in 1700 to 2.7 million pounds in 1751.’ (O’Shea 2012) And, he goes on to elaborate by the early 19th century, one sees the East India Company purchasing copious amount of tea, 23 million pounds of it to be exact. (O’Shea 2012) These huge amounts of tea bought made the British slightly concerned if this may ruin the economy since they were at lose. But then, they discovered opium, which was sold and planted to excess by 1757, when they acquired Bengal in India. Before discovering this gold mind, the British blamed the restrictions of the Canton trade on their failure to balance their exports and imports. Therefore, one sees Lord George McCartney attempt to promote healthier trade relations between Britain and China. But the reason this may have failed so miserably is because he presents his ideas for trade relations between China and Britain at the Qing Emperor’s birthday celebration.You, O King, live beyond the confines of many seas, nevertheless, impelled by your humble desire to partake of the benefits of our civilization, you have dispatched a mission respectfully bearing your memorial. Your Envoy has crossed the seas and paid his respects at my Court on the anniversary of my birthday. To show your devotion, you have also sent offerings of your country’s produce. (Halsall 1997)Another factor may have been the fact that he only brought one man with him who could speak Chinese. When Mr McCartney laid his demands before the Emperor, after giving his gifts, he was duly rejected. Said presents were huge instruments which were meant to impress the emperor, but they failed to impress. But he did seem genuinely pleased with the produce George III (1738-1820) send. The sole reason for these instruments failure to impress is simply because he had received something similar decades earlier. A later mission, in 1816, which failed as well told the British if they wished to get anything done force was the only way to open up’ China. And this laid the early foundation for what would later become known as the Century of Humiliation (1839-1949). The Opium War (1830-42) covered waste amount of land from the East to the West and served as a warning to other colonial powers as well as colonies that you should not make Britain furious. During the arguments and subsequent fights between China and Britain, many other allies were subject to struggles based on their commercial ties with either China, Britain or both and thus took a great interest in these disputes. One such example was the Ottoman Empire, though not too significant, they on occasion took interest in the rising tensions between these two significant Empires. This can be gathered from official documents. When Britain defeated China, many of her neighbouring countries took note, especially Japan which has been rather closed off before the onset of the Opium War. This small island nation began to change, i.e. strengthening their military might so they could fight the West. Given the fact that this mighty country could be defeated so easily by foreigners scared many of the countries who put China in high esteem. Among the Japanese, the land of the Red Dragon,’ got the affectionate name of paper tiger’ since they had such significant economic power over many East Asian countries through taxation. For this reason, the Japanese turned their attention to the West in order to find a new source for greatness. Or as Wie-Bin Zhang describes it: News of China’s defeat in the Opium War (1839-42) together with information about other exhibitions of Western force reached Japan. Those messages conveyed Western superiority in military power and knowledge. (Zhang and Andersson 1998. 53) And goes on to say that China’s defeat in the Opium War frightened the Japanese intellectual class and it triggered a shift from Chinese learning towards western science and technology.’ (Zhang and Anderson 1998. 78) On the fall out of this war Mr Chan argues the following:China’s defeats in the Opium War and subsequent military conflicts with Western powers and Japan fundamentally shaped its perspectives of international law ever since, and its approaches to international law during the dying years of its last imperial dynasty were a harbinger of its contemporary use of international law to defend its state sovereignty and define and attain its political objectives. (Chan 2014)Furthermore, Mr Fairbank points out the downsides of opium use and how this is shown throughout Chinese society by writing: Opium addiction was particularly disastrous for the old Chinese way of life, because Confucianism set so great store by self-discipline and duty to family, whereas the opium addict had to satisfy his own craving first and sacrifice his family as well as himself.’ (Fairbank 2014) Here, Mr Fairbank argues that Opium addiction will be the downfall of Confucianism since it makes individuals increasingly more self-centred since their main focus in life is to find their next fix. This shift from focusing on the collective, i.e. family, to that of the individual tells a tale of a society who needed to change but the only way it could do so was by the British capitalising on the Opium trade and thus creating a nation of addicts. Then again, one needs to realise that opium as a drug had been popular in China for centuries before the opium war. The Opium dens of imperial China was not like Opium dens in for instance Britain herself. As Andrew R. Wilson describes them: They were un-den like, they were bright and clean, the clientele looked and acted respectably. This is a far cry from the stereotypical opium fiends of popular imagination.’ (Stureon 2017) He goes on to explain that under the Qing (1644-1912) 15% of China population used Opium.’ (Stureon 2017) The huge amounts of users also meant that there would be hundreds of thousands of addicts at any one time.’ (Stureon 2017) On the contrary, during Mao’s regime one sees an effort to end centuries of Opium abuse by running large-scale campaigns. The first step in order to keep the Opium use under control was to put regulate Opium, the next would be to execute both dealers and addicts. In order to get China’s population to quit smoking hundreds upon hundreds of pamphlets which depicted Opium as the devil’s toy to control the Chinese were made. In addition to these pamphlets, youngsters were told the damage Opium can do and the dark side of abuse. Due to this effort opium dependency decreased significantly within a span of four years. There are numerous writing describing Mao’s own struggle with Opium use and some historians even argue the Mao regime’s success with stopping Opium dealers creating a new generation of addicts simply comes down to their scare tactics.The way China interacts with nations on the international stage can be traced back to the way they were treated by Western Imperial powers during the Opium War (1840-42). Since they still have a sense of injury’ brought on by the Century of Humiliation and the laundry list of unequal treaties according to the Chinese themselves. Professor Rana Mitter insists that this sense of injury’ can be traced back to a time where China was forced to trade against its will.’ Therefore, one may argue that she based on this do not regard Western efforts to open its markets as a reminder of that unhappy period.’ (Mitter 2018) Plus, according to professor Zhang the west never apologised for what it did to China.’ (Ross 2018) In Chinese history this is often referred to as the Century of Humiliation is as Mr Xi Jinping describes it as a time where China was plunged into the darkness of domestic turmoil and foreign aggression; its people were ravaged by war, saw their homeland torn, and lived in poverty and despair.’ (Jinping 2017) In short, this period in Chinese history is dark and was broad on by numerous failed treaties where the most famous no doubt is that of the Treaty of Nanjing where the British asked the Chinese to open up’ China and let them trade freely. Or as Mr Richard Cobden contest in a modern world of investment and trade, China and Japan could not possibly be allowed to remain isolated; and in any case, free trade is the blood-brother of international peace, welfare and virtue’ (Warren 1840) This quote shows that despite raging war on China, Britain wish to maintain healthy trade relations with other nations whether it was free of under British rule. Yet, they did not apologise for ruining China’s trade relations with the rest of Asia and Europe. Some may argue that this was a form of revenge for the British since the Qing did not wish to give up their controlling ways. From a historical perspective the Chinese see the outcome of the first Opium war as the downfall of imperial China and a dynastic system in ruins. In short, a literal embodiment telling the Chinese to advance in order to follow the West. In retrospect, Chinese historians insist that these wars were the hardest lesson of Chinese history and they let future generations know that if you are backwards, you will take a beating’ (Hayes 2019) and a quite severe one at that. In short, this hellish wars casts long, dark shadows and have left horrible scars on the view modern China has of the West. Or as Mrs Julia Lovell remarks a tragic reminder of what happens if China shuts its doors to the outside world.’ (Moody 2012)At the wee hours of the 19th century the English were constantly looking for their next tea infused fix. Britain’s addiction to tea started when they engaged in trade with the Chinese. Despite these magnificent powers trading with one another they had drastically different views on trade and interaction with the world around them. For instance, it was an isolated China which collided with the ever-expanding Britain. To put it bluntly, trade in China at the time was conducted purely on Chinese conditions which meant that the Chinese appetite for British commoditise would never rival the British immense craving for tea. For this reason, the trade imbalance ended up being an advantage for China. After strenuous negotiations, Britain realised that the only solution to such an issue was to force China into submission by getting them to partake in the evil cycle of drug dependency. This particular solution stirred a great deal of conflict between the two trading partners and in turn led to the kettle boiling over. The sediment of these conflicts were the Century of Humiliation which in turn have resulted in China time and time again play the victim card on the world stage because they feel it to be unfair that the West, Britain in particular, have not apologised for their treatment of China after the Opium Wars.