INTERESTING FACTS FIGURES & QUOTES–51: THE FIRST OPIUM WAR

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    The First Opium War was fought over illegal opium trade. In the late 18th century, the British East India Company or EIC, contravening Chinese laws, began smuggling Indian opium to China through various means, and became the leading suppliers by 1773. By 1787, the Company was illegally sending 4,000 chests of opium to China a year, each chest weighing 170 lbs or 77 kilos.

    The Chinese Jiaqing Emperor passed many decrees making opium trade illegal in 1729, 1799, 1814 and 1831, but smuggling still continued as the British paid smugglers kept taking opium to China, causing the population to become more and more addicted. This in turn let tons of opium into China’s markets.  Some Americans too entered the trade by smuggling opium from Turkey into China. Some of the individual American opium smugglers included the grandfather of President Franklin D Roosevelt and ancestors of Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. By 1833, the number of chests of opium trafficked into China soared to some 30,000. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the East India Company sent the opium to their warehouses in the free trade region of Canton (also known as Guangzhou), from where Chinese smugglers would take the opium deeper into China. In 1834, the East India Company monopoly ceased. But the illegal trade, however, continued. In 1839, after Chinese scholar Lin Tsehsu wrote a letter to the British monarch Queen Victoria, pleading for a halt of opium contraband, ignored until now, the Chinese Emperor issued a proclamation ordering the seizure of all the opium in Canton, including that held by foreign governments and placed matters in the hands of the scholar, Lin Tse-hsu. The smugglers lost 20,000 chests (1,300 metric tons) of opium without compensation.

    China initially attempted to get foreign companies to forfeit their opium stores in exchange for tea, but this ultimately failed. Then China resorted to using force in the western merchants’ enclave. Forces confiscated all supplies and ordered a blockade of foreign ships to get them to surrender their illegal opium supply.

    The British trade commissioner in Canton, Captain Charles Elliot, wrote to London advising the use of military force against the Chinese. Almost a year passed before the British government decided, in May 1840, to send troops to impose reparations for the economic losses of the British illegal traders in Canton including financial compensation, and to guarantee future security for smugglers. However, the first hostilities had occurred some months earlier with a skirmish between British and Chinese vessels in the Kowloon Estuary on 4 September 1839. On 21 June 1840 a British naval force arrived off Macao then moving to bombard the port of Ting-ha. In the ensuing conflict, the Royal Navy used its naval and gunnery power to inflict a series of decisive defeats on the Chinese Empire, a tactic later referred to as gunboat diplomacy.

    The war was concluded by the Treaty of Nanking (or Nanjing) in 1842. It was the first of the treaties between China and foreign and illegal drug trading imperialist powers. The treaty forced China to cede the Hongkong Island with surrounding smaller islands, to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, and it established five treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ningbo, Fuzhou, and Amoy (Xiamen). The treaty also demanded a twenty-one million dollar payment to Great Britain, with six million paid immediately and the rest through specified instalments thereafter. Another treaty the following year gave most favoured nation status to the British Empire and added provisions for British extraterritoriality. France secured concessions on the same terms as the British, in treaties of 1843 and 1844. Well the opium war did not stop there. It was followed by a second opium war.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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