Opium Wars

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Opium war

From the 18th century Asia became a victim of European imperialism. By the 19th century Britain had acquired control over India and Burma and France controlled indo-china and the Dutch gained stronghold in Indonesia. By this time USA along with other European nations began paying serious attention towards eastward nations like china and Japan. Their aim was to open these Asian nations as a field for their economic expansion.

Predominant in trade between the western countries and china was the English east India Company. There existed several conflicts between the Chinese and British regarding Chinese attitude towards foreign trade, the monopolistic nature of the canton trade and the Qing dynasty’s legal, jurisdictional code. Tensions on both sides surfaced time and again and increased after 1770’s as British traders worried by the trade defects that forced them to offer hundreds of thousands of pounds of silver bullion in exchange for Chinese silk porcelain and teas. The stakes increased each year as passion for tea drinking grew both in Britain and America and by 1800 the company was buying over 23 million pounds of china tea at a cost o 3.6 million pounds. This was draining huge amounts from their pockets thus British started looking for a commodity which could be used in place of silver. This ultimately resulted in the trade of opium to china which slowly resulted in china becoming addicted to this drug to the extent that Chinese had to pay in silver for export of opium ad ultimately leading to Anglo Sino or the opium war.

In the initial phase canton trade was tilted in china’s favor, as imports were negligible and its exports were extensive and in huge demand especially the silk and tea. The growing demand in Europe and America for Chinese tea, porcelain, silk and decorative goods was not matched by any of Chinese demands for western exports like cotton, fur, tin, woolen goods and other mechanical curiosities. The result was a serious balance of payment problem for the west which became a source of alarm for the British government. To balance this trade by the 18th century Britain developed a alternative product to exchange in china for Chinese goods i.e. opium and by the 1820s the trade was o longer tilted in china’s favor and enough opium was coming into china to sustain the habits of 1 million addicts.

The lead in opium importation was taken by the British in 1773 from the Portuguese the British noticed that opium was imported in small quantities for medicinal use. They thought if opium gains popularity in china they could it instead of silver for making payments. A monopoly over purchase of Indian opium was established and licenses were sold to selected western merchants to trade. Having sold their opium in china the country traders as they were known deposited the silver received in payment with the company agents in canton in exchange for letters of credit. The silver was used by company to buy tea, porcelain and other Chinese goods. Thus the triangular trade of goods from Britain to India, India to china and china to Britain developed at each steps of which high profits could be made. The increasing demand for opium and its widespread consumption in china led to a consequent rise in the imports of the drug. The British sales of opium to china increased from 200 chests in 1729 to 570 chests in 1832. In the 19th century the habit gradually spread to people of all walks of life government officials,soldiers,women, merchants, servants etc. The Qing government was unsure of how to deal with this problem, as the legimate need for opium as a medicinal drug existed, its rampant non medicinal use was extremely harmful. The severe addiction among all sections off the Chinese population meant a dip in the demand for other commodities and the constant demand for opium lead to a continuous drain of silver which led to serious economic repercussions. For china the situation worsened due to the...
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