China’s War on Drugs

China warred with the British empire over the latter’s profitable opium commerce, leaving a bitter legacy
The seventeenth and 18th centuries noticed an elevated demand in Britain for Chinese language commodities—significantly silk, porcelain and tea. China, against this, had little curiosity in British items, rejecting the comparatively tough woolen and cotton textiles London sought in useless to export. The ensuing commerce imbalance left the British with little selection however to pay for his or her tea utilizing silver, particularly Spanish silver, the one type of fee the Chinese language really trusted. Thus fortunes in silver flowed out of Britain. When the Spanish sided with the People of their Revolutionary Struggle, nonetheless, that vital foreign money dried up.
The Honourable East India Firm (HEIC), a semi-private enterprise ruling a lot of the Indian subcontinent on the British authorities’s behalf, sensed a possibility to alleviate the imbalance.
The answer lay in an ever-increasing demand in China for opium. The HEIC managed opium grown in India, and it started exporting the narcotic to China. However the imperial courtroom at Peking, involved concerning the ensuing outflow of silver, to not point out the unfavorable affect opium was having on Chinese language society, finally banned its import, save for small portions for medicinal functions.
That refusal sparked a collection of navy conflicts that will topic Qing dynasty China to the overwhelming and devastating firepower of the British military and Royal Navy, kill and injure tens of 1000’s of Chinese language, and doom a whole lot of 1000’s of others to lives of wretched dependancy.
The Qing authorities’s rebuff of opium imports didn’t cease the HEIC’s quest for revenue. To sidestep the ban, the corporate auctioned opium to third-party “nation merchants.” These retailers loaded the opium in India and sailed for China, the place they illegally offered the drug to Chinese language retailers. The HEIC reasoned that because the opium legally ceased to be their property following the public sale, they might wash their fingers of the matter ought to Chinese language authorities intercept a dealer’s ship. It was all a sham, because the nation merchants operated underneath HEIC licenses.
The titular head of British forces, Queen Victoria (depicted at left reviewing troops in an 1859 painting by George Housman Thomas) had no command authority during the Opium Wars. / Royal Collection Trust
The titular head of British forces, Queen Victoria (depicted at left reviewing troops in an 1859 portray by George Housman Thomas) had no command authority in the course of the Opium Wars. / Royal Assortment Belief
The system labored as a result of Chinese language retailers and corrupt officers profited handsomely from the commerce and easily ignored the ban. Imperial edicts have been toothless, as authorities seldom enforced them, prompting ever extra retailers to disregard them. Even the British treasury profited, gathering taxes from the opium auctions. Within the early 1700s the variety of opium chests (every containing 120–140 kilos of uncooked opium) exported to China annually numbered some 200. By the late 1760s it had risen to 1,000; in 1838 the whole hit a staggering 40,000 chests.
For hundreds of years the Chinese language had used opium in small portions, largely for medicinal functions, although additionally as a reputed aphrodisiac. Someday after New World merchants had launched tobacco to China, people who smoke realized they might improve their pleasure by including opium syrup to their pipes. Over time they transitioned from tobacco to pure opium. Many individuals turned hopelessly addicted.
The British, too, demanded the drug. Europeans of the period used opium as a painkiller and to deal with bowel issues, normally taking it with alcohol as a tincture. Employees in northern England took an opium-based drug known as “elevation” to spice up vitality, whereas infants got Godfrey’s Cordial, additionally containing opium, to calm them. Leisure use of opium was additionally widespread. Amongst different outstanding customers was famed abolitionist William Wilberforce, who suffered unspecified gastrointestinal sicknesses.
That stated, some Britons strongly opposed the opium commerce on ethical grounds. The Rev. Algernon Thelwall, an evangelical clergyman, printed a ebook on the topic during which he derided it as an “iniquitous commerce” that “introduced the best dishonour upon the British flag.” But the overall inhabitants remained largely unaware of the controversial commodity, which proved more and more profitable. In 1835–36 alone the opium commerce with China reaped a powerful $428 million in present-day {dollars}.
Regardless of recurring political clashes between Britain and China, the opium commerce continued unabated properly into the nineteenth century. In 1839, nonetheless, the Daoguang emperor—the seventh of the Qing dynasty—resolved to behave. Rejecting requires opium to be legalized and taxed, he dispatched Lin Zexu, a morally scrupulous Chinese language viceroy, to Canton. All overseas commerce with China had been restricted to that port metropolis, the place Western international locations operated workplaces and warehouses generally known as “factories.”
Lin launched his warfare on opium by ordering the arrests of greater than 1,700 Chinese language concerned within the commerce, confiscating tens of 1000’s of opium pipes and interesting to Queen Victoria to abolish the commerce. When all efforts proved fruitless, Lin resorted to drive, directing Chinese language troops to confiscate and destroy greater than 20,000 chests of opium saved in British and different overseas warehouses and aboard British service provider ships. London responded with gunboat diplomacy, ordering a navy expedition to China and unabashedly making ready to go to warfare over the fitting to promote a narcotic.
British troops advance against Chinese-held forts on Chuenpi and Taikoktow islands on Jan. 7, 1841, during the First Opium War. / Granger
British troops advance towards Chinese language-held forts on Chuenpi and Taikoktow islands on Jan. 7, 1841, in the course of the First Opium Struggle. / Granger
That September British and Chinese language vessels skirmished off Kowloon, however the preliminary main motion of the First Opium Struggle got here two months later. Searching for to defuse rigidity over Lin’s actions, Sir Charles Elliot, the British plenipotentiary and chief superintendent of commerce in China, ordered a blockade of all British transport on the Pearl River. However on November 3 the service provider ship Royal Saxon signed a bond with Chinese language authorities to not promote opium, ignored the blockade and approached Canton with a cargo of cotton. HMS Volage and HMS Hyacinth responded by firing warning pictures.
Watching occasions from harbor was Chinese language Adm. Guan Tianpei, who instantly sailed to Royal Saxon’s help with a fleet of warfare junks. Within the ensuing First Battle of Chuenpi the junks proved no match for the Royal Navy warships, which sank 4 of Guan’s vessels.
In January 1840 the Daoguang emperor ratcheted up tensions with a requirement that different overseas retailers buying and selling in China stop any cooperative efforts with the British. On receiving the information in London, hawkish Overseas Secretary Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, despatched directions to George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland and governor-general of India, to arrange naval and navy forces for a punitive expedition to China.
The plan was to proceed the Pearl River blockade and seize Chusan Island to be used as a ahead working base. The Royal Navy would then blockade the Yangtze River and ship warships to the Bohai Sea, inland of the Yellow Sea. By doing so, Lord Palmerston hoped to drive the emperor to just accept a listing of calls for, crucial being to open further ports to British commerce.
The British expedition—its naval component underneath Commodore Sir James Bremer and land forces underneath Maj. Gen. Hugh Gough—arrived in Chinese language waters in June and sailed for Chusan. The native Chinese language commander refused Elliot’s demand to give up, so on July 5 the British took the island by drive, occupying the capital of Tinghai the following morning. “The gate was discovered strongly barricaded inside by giant sacks of grain,” Brig. Gen. George Burrell recalled. “An organization of the forty ninth [Regiment of Foot]…took possession of the principal gate of the town of Tinghae-heen [sic], upon which the British flag was hoisted.” Its preliminary goal achieved, the expeditionary drive break up, one fleet heading up the Pearl, the opposite to the Yellow Sea.
Forcing his method upriver towards Canton, Commodore Bremer discovered the forts within the strait of Humen (aka Bogue) closely garrisoned and bristling with weapons. On Jan. 7, 1841, his warships opened the Second Battle of Chuenpi, sinking seven junks whereas touchdown events seized the forts. At that time the Chinese language sought to barter, sending Lin Zexu’s successor, Qishan, to talk with Elliot. Inside days the ensuing Conference of Chuenpi reopened commerce at Canton, ceded Hong Kong to Britain and compensated British retailers for his or her opium losses. In return the British agreed to evacuate Chusan. Not everybody was glad, nonetheless. Palmerston refused to ratify the treaty and dismissed Elliot for not having demanded sufficient from the Chinese language, whereas the Daoguang emperor had Qishan arrested and really practically executed for having ceded an excessive amount of.
The unresolved rigidity led to the February 26 Battle of the Bogue, an amphibious assault on Chinese language forts within the Humen, adopted the following day by the Battle of the First Bar—each ending in British victory. Persevering with up the Pearl, the British destroyed a number of forts and captured Whampoa on March 2. Between March 13 and 15 a naval drive despatched up the Broadway River destroyed many junks and captured a number of forts. Outstanding among the many British warships was Capt. William Corridor’s HEIC-owned 46-gun iron steamship Nemesis, capable of navigate shallow waters and wreak havoc on the Chinese language shore defenses. On March 18 the British attacked Canton, liberating their manufacturing facility earlier than taking the excessive floor overlooking the town.
Many people in China became hopelessly addicted to opium. / Welcome Library
Many individuals in China turned hopelessly hooked on opium. / Welcome Library
Commerce at Canton resumed till the Chinese language recaptured the manufacturing facility on Could 21. 4 days later the British counterattacked, bombarding the town and forcing Chinese language defenders to flee. Preventing ended with the seize of Canton on Could 30. Elliot and Yishan (Qishan’s successor as viceroy) agreed to a brand new cease-fire, adopted by the signing of one other peace treaty and the withdrawal of British forces past the Bogue. The emperor remained dissatisfied and refused peace.
In the meantime, Palmerston, changed Elliot’ as plenipotentiary and commerce superintendent with Sir Henry Pottinger, who arrived in Hong Kong on August 10. One other newcomer was British naval commander Adm. Sir William Parker, who with Gough resolved to proceed operations towards China, setting sail for Amoy on August 21. Plenty of actions in central China adopted, together with the Battle of Amoy on August 26, the recapture of Chusan on October 1, the Battle of Ningpo on March 10, 1842, and the Battle of Chapu on Could 18. The British prevailed.
When the emperor nonetheless refused to relent, Gough struck up the Yangtze in hopes of advancing into inside China. British and Chinese language forces clashed on the Battle of Woosung on June 16, resulting in the British seize of Shanghai. On July 21, within the final main motion of the warfare, the British stormed the town of Chinkiang. Amid bitter avenue preventing, on realizing defeat was imminent, many Chinese language dedicated suicide. “Discovering lifeless our bodies of [Chinese] in each home we entered,” Gough recalled, “principally ladies and kids, thrown into wells or in any other case murdered by their very own folks, I used to be glad to withdraw the troops from this frightful scene of destruction.”
The battle had additionally disrupted China’s Caoyun system, a significant grain transportation waterway, forcing the emperor to sue for peace.
The First Opium Struggle ended on August 29 when Pottinger and imperial representatives met aboard HMS Cornwallis to signal the Treaty of Nanking. Successfully ending the restrictive Canton system, its phrases opened the ports of Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai to overseas commerce. It additionally ceded Hong Kong to Britain and awarded reparations to Britain for misplaced opium and war-related bills. The settlement marked the primary in a collection of one-sided accords China later dubbed the “unequal treaties.”
Regardless of the beneficial properties Britain achieved by the Treaty of Nanking, London quickly demanded additional concessions, together with extraterritorial rights for British topics in China (exempting them from Chinese language regulation) and most-favored-nation standing (extending to Britain any future rights granted to different overseas powers). Underneath strain the Chinese language agreed, signing the supplementary Treaty of the Bogue in October 1843.
As years handed the British pushed for additional concessions from China. Neither treaty had legalized the opium commerce, a step the Chinese language resisted, thus the unique casus belli was unresolved. London additionally felt Peking was disrespecting British diplomats and dragging its toes over implementation of the treaty provisions. Lord Palmerston, appointed prime minister in 1855, arrogantly proclaimed the Chinese language wanted “a dressing [down] each eight to 10 years to maintain them so as.” To declare warfare, nonetheless, he wanted a pretext.
A chance offered itself in October 1856, when Chinese language officers boarded the cargo ship Arrow at Canton and arrested its crew. Although Arrow had been registered as a British ship and helmed by a British captain, authorities believed members of its Chinese language crew had been pirates. Moreover, Arrow’s registration had expired, thus it was not underneath British authorized safety. The Chinese language boarding occasion duly lowered Arrow’s Union Jack. Sir Harry Parkes, British consul at Canton, demanded native viceroy Ye Mingchen launch the crew and apologize for having lowered the flag. Ye launched the crew, however when he refused to apologize over the flag incident, Parkes ordered British warships to bombard Canton. The Chinese language retaliated by burning down the factories. “The English barbarians have attacked the provincial metropolis and wounded and injured our troopers and folks,” a livid Ye proclaimed to the Cantonese. “I herewith distinctly command you to hitch collectively to exterminate them.”
Two key occasions delayed the British response. First, opposition within the Home of Commons to a renewal of hostilities led to a parliamentary vote, forcing a common election in April 1857. British voters returned a good larger majority for Palmerston’s authorities. A month later the unrest in India that will flare into the Sepoy Mutiny grew worse, forcing London to divert China-bound troops to quell the riot. In the meantime, Britain gained an unlikely ally. Involved the British have been dominating commerce with China, France appeared to hitch the warfare. Paris’ casus belli was the homicide of French missionary Auguste Chapdelaine in Guangxi province for having dared to minister to a area closed to foreigners.
The British captured Canton on New Yr’s Day 1858 and arrested Ye, exiling him to Calcutta. In Could an Allied drive underneath British Rear Adm. Michael Seymour took the strategically vital Taku forts on the Peiho River. The following seize of Tientsin led to the signing of one more treaty, in June 1858. That accord offered for overseas diplomatic legations at Peking, the opening of 10 extra ports and the free motion of foreigners throughout inside China. Though a break within the preventing adopted, neither London nor Peking would ratify the treaty, resulting in a resumption of hostilities.
Because the Treaty of Tientsin had returned the Peiho River forts to the Chinese language, the forts must be retaken. Sadly for the Allies, in late June 1859 they misplaced the Second Battle of the Taku Forts to Chinese language forces underneath Mongol commander Sengge Rinchen. The loss proved humiliating again residence in Britain and France. On September 12 a horrified Instances of London thundered, “We will train such a lesson to these perfidious hordes that the identify ‘European’ will hereafter be a passport of worry!”
On Aug. 21, 1860, an Allied drive underneath British Lt. Gen. Sir James Hope Grant and French Lt. Gen. Charles Cousin-Montauban launched the Third Battle of the Taku Forts. This time the attackers have been victorious. “The garrison was pushed again step-by-step and hurled pell-mell by the embrasures on the other facet,” Grant recalled of the second French troops entered one of many forts. “The bottom outdoors the fort was actually strewn with the enemy’s lifeless and wounded: Three of the Chinese language have been impaled on [their own] stakes.”
Avenged for his or her humiliation, the Allies fought their technique to Peking, reoccupying Tiensin on August 25. They defeated Rinchen at Chang-chia-wan on September 18 and once more at Palikao three days later. With Peking underneath menace the Xianfeng emperor, the eighth of the Qing dynasty, fled the capital, leaving his brother, Prince Gong, to face the enemy. Opening negotiations, the Allies demanded the discharge of diplomatic prisoners taken earlier within the marketing campaign, together with Consul Parkes. When the talks stalled, the Allies threatened to smash their method into Peking. On October 13, as British artillery ready to bombard the town, Gong flung open the gates. “Our troops took speedy possession, the French marching in after us,” Lt. Col. Garnet Wolseley recalled. “A couple of minutes afterward the Union Jack was floating from the partitions of Peking, the far-famed celestial capital, the pleasure of China.”
Talks resumed, however James Bruce, the eighth Earl of Elgin after which plenipotentiary, turned more and more annoyed with Chinese language efforts to delay the negotiations and thwart Allied calls for. On October 18, eager to make an enduring impression on China, he ordered troops to raze the emperor’s Summer season Palace, simply outdoors Peking. “To this place he introduced our hapless countrymen,” Elgin wrote in justification, “so that they may bear their severest tortures inside its precincts.” Condemned by later historians as cultural vandalism, the burning of the palace did drive Prince Gong to just accept the Allied phrases.
Depicting the ongoing fight against addiction, clenched fists break a massive pipe in a memorial in Humen, Guangdong. / Alamy
Depicting the continued battle towards dependancy, clenched fists break a large pipe in a memorial in Humen, Guangdong. / Alamy
The Second Opium Struggle formally ended on October 24 with the signing of the Conference of Peking. The most recent “unequal treaty” ceded Kowloon to the British, established freedom of faith in China, stipulated a punishing indemnity and legalized the opium commerce.
Commerce in that narcotic continued with China till World Struggle I. Rising opposition in Britain lastly ended it, although by that time the Chinese language had begun producing their very own opium, and unimaginable numbers of individuals turned addicted. Within the Nineteen Thirties Japanese occupation authorities sought to encourage opium use among the many Chinese language, believing a inhabitants on medicine can be simpler to handle. Not till the Nineteen Fifties did the respective Chinese language governments on the mainland and Taiwan get a deal with on opium use. Among the many darkest chapters in British imperial historical past, the Opium Wars created a lingering legacy of distrust among the many Chinese language towards the West. MH
British navy historian Mark Simner is an everyday contributor to Army Historical past and several other worldwide historical past magazines. For additional studying he recommends his personal The Lion and the Dragon: Britain’s Opium Wars With China, 1839–1860; The Opium Struggle: Medicine, Goals and the Making of Trendy China, by Julia Lovell; and Imperial Twilight: The Opium Struggle and the Finish of China’s Final Golden Age, by Stephen R. Platt.
This text appeared within the March 2021 challenge of Army Historical past journal. For extra tales, subscribe right here and go to us on Fb:

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