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The War for Drugs...The Opium Wars

Unequal TreatiesThe Opium Wars, or rather, the First Opium War (from 1839 to 1842) and the Second Opium War (from 1856 to 1860) were the result of disputes over trade between the Qing Dynasty and the British empire.

The Canton System began in 1756 under the Qing dynasty. It's purpose was to restrict trade to only Guangdong (广东), so the Qing could monitor the input of goods and ideas into the nation. Furthermore, the Ming and Qing believed that only the silver standard would work - they only accepted silver as payment.

As a result, Britain and other trading nations were forced to first buy silver from Spain (which wasn't cheap) and then buy Chinese luxury goods like tea and porcelain.


To fix this deficit, the British empire chose to farm poppy flowers in Benares and Patna (in Bengal, British India). In case you don't know what those do, poppy flowers are used to make opium, which is a very very bad drug. In fact, heroin and morphine are made using opium.

They sold opium to Chinese smugglers, who then distributed the drug in China. The Daoguang Emperor of China then decided that he had to fix this issue. Lin Zexu was sent to Guangzhou, where he demanded that foreign companies had to turn over their opium to the Chinese government.

They refused to do so. Lin Zexu stopped trade and forced the merchants to give up their opium anyways. All the opium was set on fire.

Because of this, the British government sent naval forces to China. The Chinese navy was outmatched, and in every battle, the British lost far less troops than China. The Qing could have lasted forever - if not for one major naval pathway.


The Grand Canal.

The Grand Canal was the pathway through which the Qing could send rice from the south to the north. The north depended on the Grand Canal like a drug addict was dependent on his drugs - except withdrawal would be much more severe. If the Qing lost the Grand Canal, the whole north would starve to death.

The Grand Canal was situated on the Yangtze River, and when British naval forces sailed up the Yangtze, the Qing knew that it was time to quit. In the Treaty of Nanjing (which is a city located on the Yangtze), China gave up Hong Kong, lowered their tariffs, granted extraterritorial rights to foreigners in China which were not offered to themselves, a most favored nation clause, as well as diplomatic representation. 

When the court still refused to accept foreign ambassadors and obstructed the trade clauses of the treaties, dispu
tes over the treatment of British merchants in Chinese ports and on the seas led to the Second Opium War and the Treaty of Tianjin. France and the United States later joined in.
These treaties, soon followed by similar arrangements with the United States and France, later became known as the Unequal Treaties. The Opium Wars mark the start of China's Century of humiliation, which made Hong Kong a colony of Britain. This still causes strained relationships between China and the Western World.

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