Throughout Chinese history political and economic events have led to drastic changes in China’s economy and government. Many of these events have been internal, involving struggles within China. Others have been external, such as the Opium War. The Opium War was a political and economic event in China’s history that has led to social, economic and political changes in China. The Opium War is more than just a war, the results and changes it made created a deep impact on China and the Western World.
Before the Opium War, China’s relationship with the Western World was radically different. China considered itself better than any other civilizations. The Chinese believed the Chinese empire was the Central Kingdom in the ideal world order. The Emperor of China was thought to be the elder brother of all surrounding kings and emperors. China had little contact with the West due to the fact that natural and political barriers were in the way. It was only when the West turned to China for spices did China confront the Western World. China lacked all appreciation for the West, and as trade with the West opened up in the early 16th century, foreigners were continually looked down upon.
As the trade between China and the West grew, the unequal trading between the two became very obvious. The growing demand in the West for tea, Chinese silk, medicine, and porcelain led to the booming trade in China. These goods were expensive, but the West had little to offer to China except for silver.
However, China was going through a silver and copper crisis. China’s economy had a bi-metallic standard with copper and sliver. Silver was worth much more than copper, the exchange rate being around 1,000 copper cash for one ounce (tael) of silver. But while silver was worth more than copper, more and more copper was being produced. This led to inflation of copper. Since taxes could only be paid in copper according the value of copper in silver, people were losing money. In order to meet the silver tax quota, 50%-60% more copper was needed. At the same time there was an annual drain of silver. In 1837 Tls. 30,000,000 was being drained from Kwangtung, Tls. 10,000,000 from the South China Coast north of Kwangtung, Tls. 20,000,000 from Teintsin. This drain of silver scared people which led them to hoard and value their silver, leaving more silver out of circulation. So while silver was being hoarded for it’s value and drained from the country, copper was being produced at the same time.
The East India Company, which was a British trading Company, was soon trading silver for tea as the demand for tea increased in the West. This trade led the East India Co. into a huge debt. Trading monopolies with Chinese merchants and the unfair tariffs and taxes made the situation even more difficult. A triangle trade was created to work off the debt, by having the cotton from India sold, and then that money was used to by tea. However, the East India Co. was still in debt and silver was still needed. So finally the East India Co. turned to opium for trade.
Opium was an ideal trade item. It was used as a medicine in China for thousands of years. Being an addictive drug, it became very popular in China. The East India Co. was afraid of a direct trade with opium, so the opium was sold to agency houses and that profit was used to buy tea. Because of this, silver was soon being traded for opium, and the outflow of silver from China quickened. China became addicted to the drug. Opium was used as a mean of escape from the difficult time that the economy had created. By 1820, the city of Soochow had 100,000 addicts. Even though opium was prohibited, it was still accessible and cheep. “Opium was costing China far more than the health of it’s addicts—undermining agrarian foundations of the entire society.”
China hastened to stop the addiction to opium. The trading of opium had led to the loss of silver in exchange for opium, the loss of value in silver and copper, and although China prohibited the export of silver in 1822, silver was being hoarded for its value. In 1838, Lin Tse-hsu was appointed the Tao-kuang Emperor’s designee. He was responsible for stopping the opium traffic. Lin acted quickly by first threatening the addicts, rounding up the drug dealers, and discouraging foreigners from dealing the drug by confiscating stores and forcing them to sign bonds of good conduct.
Unfortunately, Lin’s efforts to stop the opium traffic weren’t enough. Determined to stop the opium traffic by any means Lin did what would be similar to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. On March 24, 1839 Lin seized illegal stocks of opium from Chinese dealers and destroyed 20,000 chest of British opium. Lin’s action’s angered the British and led the British to declare war on China. Thus, Lin’s attempts to stop opium traffic eventually led to the Opium War.
The Opium War itself was a small event. Lasting only 3 years from 1839 to 1842, the Opium War was extremely advantageous for the British. At that time, England was known for it’s superb army and navel fleet. Through a strong military strategy, England defeated China in 1842. China’s defeat led to the Treaty of Nanking.
The Treaty of Nanking, or what the Chinese call the unequal treaties, forced China to agree to harsh requirements. There are 8 basic points about the Treaty of Nanking. The first point was the cession of Hong Kong to the English. The second was the opening of 5 treaty ports to foreign consuls, businessmen, and missionaries at Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai. The third point was the payment of 21 million silver dollars to the British Crown. The fourth point was to abolish the Cohong monopoly. The fifth point was the establishment of a moderate tariff and limitation of inland transit dues. The sixth was according foreign officials equal status and access to Chinese officials. The seventh point was the recognition of extraterritorial rights for foreigners to be tried by their own government. And the eighth was the adoption of nation principle in diplomatic agreements with the Western countries. Ironically enough, the treaty never mentions a word concerning opium. This treaty changed the entire relationship between China and the Western nations. The treaty forced China into treating and responding to the Western World with equality, shedding off it’s former opinion of being higher than the west. The treaty opened China up to England as well as the United States, Russia and France. Trading monopolies could no longer exist with new trade in Hong Kong. The majority of trading used to take place in Canton but trade moved to Hong Kong due to England’s cession over Hong Kong. China also lost a considerable amount of power to the West. In 1860, Russia took miles of Chinese territory in the Treaty of Aigun, and France managed to obtain a special concession in Shanghai. By 1851, China had made treaties with several other European nations. The actual purpose of the war was to end the opium traffic, but the final result was much more than that.
The Opium War, however, had many social and economic effects. It created an entire new level of crime and disorder in Southeast China. The British navy drove away the pirates along the coast and up into Kwangtung-Kwangsi highlands. There, the pirates would periodically raid plentiful villages up the river. To add to the crime, former militiamen used their weapons for banditry. Feuds between the Punti and Hakkas (two different clans between the North and the South) rose with the crime level. Villages were divided amongst each other like Montagues and Capulets. Unemployment was another issue. When Shanghai opened up to foreign trade, it shifted the occupations for the coolies and boatmen who would transport tea and silk throughout the regions in Canton. These thousands of workers were now unemployed since the majority of trade moved from Canton to Shanghai. The Opium War had led the people of China to witness the destruction of their military and navy by the strongest military force at the time. It led to the a greater understanding and appreciation for West, despite their hatred for it. This led many people to consider and try to understand Western doctrines and beliefs.
The Opium War was also one of the many factors that led on the famous Taiping Rebellion. Directly after the opium war the feuds between the Punti and Hakkas clans rose. The Hakkas were Chinese from the North that had immigrated to Southern China. Treated as ethnic minorities by the Cantonese natives, or Punti’s, led to competition between the two in farming and economy. Punti’s were even known to desert entire villages because of Hakkas. In the 1850’s the feuds and wars between these two clans resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. The dislike and contempt towards the Hakkas eventually led them into following the Taiping Rebellion’s leader Hung Hsiu-ch’üan. Hung Hisu-ch’üan was the revolutionary leader who incorporated the Western ideals and beliefs of Christianity with classical Chinese themes. He believed himself to be the younger brother of Christ, and was sent on a mission to return Christianity to China. This belief was soon adopted by thousands of Hakkas alike, because of the loss of faith in the Ch’ing dynasty. This loss of faith in the Ch’ing dynasty was partially due to the defeat in the Opium War, it’s social and economic effects afterwards, the silver and copper crisis, and the mass population growth. The movement to change and restore China with Christianity finally resulted in the Taiping rebellion against the Ch’ing dynasty.
The Taiping rebellion lasted from 1851 to 1864, causing the loss of millions and millions of lives. The Ch’ing dynasty’s power was questionable during this time because the rebellion lasted over 14 years. Finally, the Ch’ing dynasty managed to organize an new army to overthrow the Taipings. This new army and organizations was aided by Western countries who wanted the Ch’ing dynasty to continue. If the Ch’ing dynasty was overthrown it would end the unequal treaties with between China and the West.
The Opium War was more than just a war. In the end it resulted in the dramatic changes in China economically, socially, and politically. It changed China’s view and relationship with the Western world incredibly. It resulted in a major change in the economy and the social relationship between the people of China and the Ch’ing Dynasty. Because of the Opium War, China was left with internal struggles and warfare, increased crime, an economy downfall in Canton, the once major trading city of china, and the economic rise at Shanghai and Hong Kong. It led to the major influence of the Western cultures and belief in China, and the loss of power and control China had over Western nations to the gain of power in the Western nations over China.
The Opium War was more than just your average war. The outcomes of this event changed China socially, economically, and politically. It resulted in a major change between the relationship of China and Western nations. The unfair treaties left China in weak position to the West, and opened China to Western influence. China’s welfare and economy completely changed, leaving people without work and money. Instead it changed and effected China’s economic, polictal, and social events and developed China into a different direction