Enjoying continued prosperity and expansion, the Qing remained disinterested in revolutionary changes taking place elsewhere.
Expansion of the Empire The Qing enjoyed a powerful military, which extended China’s boundaries, and the fruits of New World crops, which helped stimulate agricultural production. Commercialization spread as the population rose. Peasant handicrafts industries spread.
Problems of the Empire Population growth, however, began to pinch resources even as the Qing court moved slowly to deal with changes. The tax system remained vulnerable to abuse and corruption. Rebellions arose. Despite problems, China continued as a strong and dominant power so long as Chinese goods continued to be extremely popular in Europe.
The Opium War and the “Opening” of China Opium, however, changed everything. In greater and greater numbers, Chinese accustomed to tobacco began to use opium brought by Europeans. Although the Qing court banned the drug, usage spread. Seeking to trade opium for tea, the East India Company induced Indian peasants to raise opium, which could then be shipped to China. Enormous quantities of opium made their way to China, swelled by the number of merchants involved. By the 1820s, the value of opium coming into China exceeded the value of goods exported out. Thus, the Chinese had to pay silver in addition to their goods to get opium. Silver shortages began to hurt peasants. To stop the trade, the Qing emperor sent a special commissioner, Lin Zexu, who froze all legitimate trade in Canton until foreign merchants handed over their opium stores. The opium traders eventually complied, giving Lin a short-lived victory. In 1840, however, British naval ships attacked and subdued Qing forces.
Forcing More Trade The resulting Treaty of Nanjing gave Hong Kong to Britain and broke up China’s restrictions on foreign trade by opening new treaty ports. It also exempted foreigners from Chinese law and gave...