What had begun as a conflict of interests between English desire for profits from the trade in silk, porcelain, and tea and the Confucian ideal of self-sufficiency and exclusion of corrupting influences resulted in the partitioning of China by the Western powers (including the ceding of Hong Kong to Great Britain), humiliating defeats on land and sea by technologically and logistically superior Western forces, and the traditional values of an entire culture undermined by Christian missionaries and rampant trading in Turkish and Indian opium. No wonder the Boxer rebels' chief goal was to purify and reinvigorate their nation by the utter annihilation of all "foreign devils."
In a survey of historic textbooks from England and China, Ms. Lovell found that there was initial shame over the opium trade in her home country, but that the conflict quickly faded into the broader history of British colonialism and imperialism.
In China, the opposite happened. The big stories of the 19th century were civil wars like the Taiping Rebellion, not foreign ones. It was only in the years between the two world wars — when Mao Zedong’s Communists and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists were battling for control — that the Opium War became a handy propaganda tool.
As with all historical events, the Opium Wars' portrayal in modern explanation varies according to who writes the history textbooks. For Britain, China is added to a long list of colonized and imperialized countries, but to China the Opium Wars represent their great downfall after thousands of years of greatness. They were, in many ways, the reason for the Cultural Revolution to take place.
[Lin Zexu] is most recognized for his conduct and his constant position on the "high moral ground" in his fight, as a "shepherd" of his people, against the opium trade in Guangzhou. Although the non-medicinal consumption of opium was banned by Emperor Yongzheng in 1729, by the 1830s China's economy and society were being seriously affected by huge imports of opium from British and other traders based in the city. Lin's forceful opposition to the trade on moral and social grounds is considered to be the primary catalyst for the First Opium War of 1839–42.
The second opium was in some ways a repeat of the first, but with some important differences. Again, the British had specific treaty demands that they desired to negotiate, which the Chinese government would not agree to without coercion. Again, they resolve to go to war, and identified a flimsy casus belli, this time an incident in which the Chinese government boarded a small boat flying a British flag, and arrested twelve of its crew.
The Opium Wars arose from China's attempts to suppress the opium trade. British traders had been illegally exporting opium to China, and the resulting widespread addiction was causing serious social and economic disruption in the country. In 1839 the Chinese government confiscated all opium warehoused at Canton by British merchants. The antagonism between the two sides increased a few days later when some drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager. The British government, which did not trust the Chinese legal system, refused to turn the accused men over to the Chinese courts.
The Opium Wars of 1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860 marked a new stage in China’s relations with the West. China’s military defeats in these wars forced its rulers to sign treaties opening many ports to foreign trade. The restrictions imposed under the Canton system were abolished. Opium, despite imperial prohibitions, now became a regular item of trade. As opium flooded into China, its price dropped, local consumption increased rapidly, and the drug penetrated all levels of society.
Two things happened in the eighteenth century that made it difficult for England to balance its trade with the East. First, the British became a nation of tea drinkers and the demand for Chinese tea rose astronomically. It is estimated that the average London worker spent five percent of his or her total household budget on tea. Second, northern Chinese merchants began to ship Chinese cotton from the interior to the south to compete with the Indian cotton that Britain had used to help pay for its tea consumption habits. To prevent a trade imbalance, the British tried to sell more of their own products to China, but there was not much demand for heavy woolen fabrics in a country accustomed to either cotton padding or silk.
Opium can cause euphoria, followed by a sense of well-being and a calm drowsiness or sedation. Breathing slows, potentially to the point of unconsciousness and death with large doses... Long-term use can lead to drug tolerance, meaning the user needs more of the drug to get similar euphoric effects. Opium use can also lead to physical dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can occur if long term use is reduced or stopped.
The Opium Wars, during which Britain forced China to open its ports to international trade, including the selling of Opium, is possibly the most ignominious series of wars ever engaged in by the British Empire. The British were at the time, near the height of their power, prosperous, highly civilized, and 'socially conscientious' enough to have enacted democratic reforms within their own realm, such as outlawing slavery and restricting child labor. The importation of Opium was in fact, illegal within Britain itself, and yet they submitted to the idea of fighting a one-sided war with China for the purpose of forcing the Opium trade upon a government that was only trying to prevent illegal foreign trafficking of a baneful substance.
Opium had been banned in China even though it had been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. But in the 15th Century it was mixed with tobacco and smoked for pleasure. Soon people from all levels of Chinese society were hooked on the rituals of the opium den. The social impact was huge and damaging, with addicts prone to sell all their possessions to feed their habit. The sale and smoking of the drug was banned by Emperor Yongzheng in 1729, but 100 years later there was still strong demand and the British were exploiting it.