The Opium War

The Opium War

The Opium War, also called the Anglo-Chinese

War, was the most humiliating defeat China ever suffered. In European history,
it is perhaps the most sordid, base, and vicious event in European history,
possibly, just possibly, overshadowed by the excesses of the Third Reich
in the twentieth century.

By the 1830\'s, the English had become
the major drug-trafficking criminal organization in the world; very few
drug cartels of the twentieth century can even touch the England of the
early nineteenth century in sheer size of criminality. Growing opium in

India, the East India Company shipped tons of opium into Canton which it
traded for Chinese manufactured goods and for tea. This trade had produced,
quite literally, a country filled with drug addicts, as opium parlors proliferated
all throughout China in the early part of the nineteenth century. This
trafficing, it should be stressed, was a criminal activity after 1836,
but the British traders generously bribed Canton officials in order to
keep the opium traffic flowing. The effects on Chinese society were devestating.

In fact, there are few periods in Chinese history that approach the early
nineteenth century in terms of pure human misery and tragedy. In an effort
to stem the tragedy, the imperial government made opium illegal in 1836
and began to aggressively close down the opium dens.

Lin Tse-hsü

The key player in the prelude to war was
a brilliant and highly moral official named Lin Tse-hsü. Deeply concerned
about the opium menace, he maneuverd himself into being appointed Imperial

Commissioner at Canton. His express purpose was to cut off the opium trade
at its source by rooting out corrupt officials and cracking down on British
trade in the drug.

He took over in March of 1839 and within
two months, absolutely invulnerable to bribery and corruption, he had taken
action against Chinese merchants and Western traders and shut down all
the traffic in opium. He destroyed all the existing stores of opium and,
victorious in his war against opium, he composed a letter to Queen Victoria
of England requesting that the British cease all opium trade. His letter
included the argument that, since Britain had made opium trade and consumption
illegal in England because of its harmful effects, it should not export
that harm to other countries. Trade, according to Lin, should only be in
beneficial objects.

To be fair to England, if the only issue
on the table were opium, the English probably (just probably) would have
acceded to Lin\'s request. The British, however, had been nursing several
grievances against China, and Lin\'s take-no-prisoners enforcement of Chinese
laws combined to outrage the British against his decapitation of the opium
trade. The most serious bone of contention involved treaty relations; because
the British refused to submit to the emperor, there were no formal treaty
relations between the two countries. The most serious problem precipitated
by this lack of treaty relations involved the relationship between foreigners
and Chinese law. The British, on principle, refused to hand over British
citizens to a Chinese legal system that they felt was vicious and barbaric.

The Chinese, equally principled, demanded that all foreigners who were
accused of committing crimes on Chinese soil were to be dealt with solely
by Chinese officials. In many ways, this was the real issue of the Opium

War. In addition to enforcing the opium laws, Lin aggressively pursued
foreign nationals accused of crimes.

The English, despite Lin\'s eloquent letter,
refused to back down from the opium trade. In response, Lin threatened
to cut off all trade with England and expel all English from China. Thus
began the Opium War.

The War

War broke out when Chinese junks attempted
to turn back English merchant vessels in November of 1839; although this
was a low-level conflict, it inspired the English to send warships in June
of 1840. The Chinese, with old-style weapons and artillery, were no match
for the British gunships, which ranged up and down the coast shooting at
forts and fighting on land. The Chinese were equally unprepared for the
technological superiority of the British land armies, and suffered continual
defeats. Finally, in 1842, the Chinese were forced to agree to an ignomious
peace under the Treaty of Nanking.

The treaty imposed on the Chinese was
weighted entirely to the British side. Its first and fundamental demand
was for British "extraterritoriality"; all British citizens would be subjected
to British, not Chinese, law if they committed any crime on Chinese soil.

The British would no longer have to pay tribute to the imperial administration
in order to trade with China, and they gained five open ports for British
trade: Canton, Shanghai, Foochow, Ningpo, and Amoy. No restrictions were
placed on British trade,