The First Opium War (), also known as the Opium War or the Anglo-Chinese War, was a series of military engagements fought between Britain and the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last Dynasties in Chinese history, dynasty in the History of China#Imperial China, imperial history of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912, w ...
between 1839 and 1842. The immediate issue was China's official seizure of opium stocks at Canton to stop the banned
opium trade Opium (or poppy tears, scientific name: ''Lachryma papaveris'') is dried latex obtained from the seed capsules of the opium poppy '' Papaver somniferum''. Approximately 12 percent of opium is made up of the analgesic An analgesic or painkil ...
, and threatening the death penalty for future offenders. The British government insisted on the principles of
free trade Free trade is a trade policy A commercial policy (also referred to as a trade policy or international trade policy) is a government's policy governing international trade International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and service ...
, equal diplomatic recognition among nations, and backed the merchants' demands. The
British navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the Unite ...
defeated the Chinese using technologically superior ships and weapons, and the British then imposed a treaty that granted territory to Britain and opened trade with China. Twentieth century nationalists considered 1839 the start of a
Century of Humiliation upA political cartoon depicting Britain), Wilhelm II, German Emperor">Kaiser Wilhelm II (German Empire, Germany), Nicholas II of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II (Russian Empire, Russia), Marianne (French Third Republic, France) and a samurai (Empire of ...
, and many historians considered it the beginning of modern Chinese history. In the 18th century, the demand for Chinese luxury goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) created a trade imbalance between China and Britain. European silver flowed into China through the
Canton System The Canton System (1757–1842) served as a means for China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a ...
, which confined incoming foreign trade to the southern port city of
Canton Canton may refer to: Administrative division terminology * Canton (administrative division), territorial/administrative division in some countries, notably Switzerland * Township (Canada), known as ''canton'' in Canadian French Arts and entert ...

. To counter this imbalance, the
British East India Company The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), East India Trading Company (EITC), the English East India Company or (after 1707) the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, Com ...
began to grow
opium Opium (or poppy tears, scientific name: ''Lachryma papaveris'') is dried latex Latex is a stable dispersion (emulsion An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally Miscibility, immiscible (unmixable or unblendable) o ...

Bengal Bengal (; Bengali language, Bengali: ', ) is a geopolitical, cultural and historical region in South Asia, specifically in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal, predominantly covering present-day Bang ...

and allowed private British merchants to sell opium to Chinese smugglers for illegal sale in China. The influx of narcotics reversed the Chinese
trade surplus The balance of trade, commercial balance, or net exports (sometimes symbolized as NX), is the difference between the monetary value of a nation's exports An export in international trade International trade is the exchange of capital, g ...
, drained the economy of silver, and increased the numbers of opium addicts inside the country, outcomes that seriously worried Chinese officials. In 1839, the
Daoguang Emperor The Daoguang Emperor (; 16 September 1782 – 26 February 1850), born Mianning, was the seventh List of emperors of the Qing dynasty, Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the sixth Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigning from 1820 to 185 ...
, rejecting proposals to legalise and tax opium, appointed
Viceroy A viceroy () is an official who runs a polity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organized by some form of institutionalized social relations, and have a capacity to mo ...
Lin Zexu Lin Zexu (30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the Sinosphere, including ...

Lin Zexu
to go to
Canton Canton may refer to: Administrative division terminology * Canton (administrative division), territorial/administrative division in some countries, notably Switzerland * Township (Canada), known as ''canton'' in Canadian French Arts and entert ...

to halt the opium trade completely.Fay (2000) p. 73 Lin wrote an open letter to
Queen Victoria Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of En ...

Queen Victoria
, which she never saw, appealing to her moral responsibility to stop the opium trade.Fay (2000) p.&nbs
/ref> Lin then resorted to using force in the western merchants' enclave. He arrived in Guangzhou at the end of January and organized a coastal defense. In March, British opium dealers were forced to hand over 2.37 million pounds of tobacco. On June 3, Lin ordered the opium to be destroyed in public on Humen Beach to show the Government's determination to ban smoking. All other supplies were confiscated and a blockade of foreign ships on the Pearl River was ordered. The British government responded by dispatching a military force to China. In the ensuing conflict, the
Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of England, English and Kingdom of Scotland, Scottish kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were foug ...
used its superior naval and gunnery power to inflict a series of decisive defeats on the Chinese Empire. In 1842, the Qing dynasty was forced to sign the
Treaty of Nanking The Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was a peace treaty which ended the First Opium War (1839–1842) between the United Kingdom and China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of ...
—the first of what the Chinese later called the
unequal treaties Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed between China (mostly referring to the Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last Dynasties in Chinese history, dynasty in t ...
—which granted an
indemnity In contract law, indemnity is a contractual obligation of one Party (law), party (''indemnifier'') to Financial compensation, compensate the loss incurred to the other party (''indemnity holder'') due to the acts of the indemnitor or any other pa ...
extraterritoriality In international law International law, also known as public international law and law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally accepted in relations between nations. It establishes normative guidelines and a common con ...
to British subjects in China, opened five
treaty ports Treaty ports (; ja, 条約港) were the port cities in China and Japan that were opened to foreign trade mainly by the unequal treaties Unequal treaty is the name given by the Chinese to a series of treaties signed between the Qing dynasty ...
to British merchants, and ceded
Hong Kong Island 250px, Kornhill and Shau Kei Wan, located in the northern part of Eastern District Hong Kong Island is an Islands and peninsulas of Hong Kong, island in the southern part of Hong Kong. It has a population of 1,289,500 and its population de ...

Hong Kong Island
to the British Empire. The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the
Second Opium War The Second Opium War (), also known as the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, was a war War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A gov ...
(1856–60). The resulting social unrest was the background for the
Taiping Rebellion The Taiping Rebellion, also known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, was a massive rebellion Rebellion, uprising, or insurrection is a refusal of obedience or order. It refers to the open resistance against the orders of an ...
, which further weakened the Qing regime.


Establishment of trade relations

Direct maritime trade between Europe and China began in 1557 when the
Portuguese Portuguese may refer to: * anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Portugal ** Portuguese cuisine, traditional foods ** Portuguese language, a Romance language *** Portuguese dialects, variants of the Portuguese language ** Portug ...
leased an outpost from the Ming dynasty in
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a and of the in the western by the . With a population of about 680,000 and an area of , it is the most in the ...

. Other European nations soon followed the Portuguese lead, inserting themselves into the existing Asian maritime trade network to compete with
Arab The Arabs (singular Arab ; singular ar, عَرَبِيٌّ, : , Arabic pronunciation: , plural ar, عَرَبٌ, : , Arabic pronunciation: ) are an mainly inhabiting the . In modern usage the term refers to those who originate from an Arab co ...

Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a populat ...

Indian Indian or Indians refers to people or things related to India, or to the indigenous people of the Americas, or Aboriginal Australians until the 19th century. People South Asia * Indian people, people of Indian nationality, or people who come ...
, and
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

merchants in intra-regional commerce. After the
Spanish Spanish may refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards, a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Canada * Spanish River (disambiguation), the name of several ...

conquest Conquest is the act of military subjugation of an enemy by force of Weapon, arms. Military history provides many examples of conquest: the Gallic Wars, Roman conquest of Gaul, the Maurya Empire, Mauryan conquest of Afghanistan and of vast areas ...
of the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...

the exchange of
goods In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods ...
between China and Europe accelerated dramatically. From 1565, the
Manila Galleon fil, Galyon ng Maynila , english_name = Manila Galleon , duration = From 1565 to 1815 (250 years) , venue = Between Manila Manila ( , ; fil, Maynila, ), officially the City of Manila ( f ...
s brought silver into the Asian trade network from mines in
South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single continent called (see the ). The reference to South America instead of other cultural ...
. China was a primary destination for the precious metal, as the imperial government mandated that Chinese goods could only be exported in exchange for silver
bullion Bullion is non-ferrous metal In metallurgy Metallurgy is a domain of Materials science, materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic Chemical element, elements, their Inter-metallic alloy, in ...
. (2011) pp. 123–163 British ships began to appear sporadically around the coasts of China from 1635 on. Without establishing formal relations through the
Chinese tributary system The tributary system of China (), or Cefeng system () was a network of loose international relations focused on China which facilitated trade and foreign relations by acknowledging China's predominant role in East Asia. It involved multiple relation ...
, by which most Asian nations were able to negotiate with China, British merchants were only allowed to trade at the ports of
Zhoushan Zhoushan , formerly romanized Romanization or romanisation, in linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and mo ...

Xiamen Xiamen ( , ; ), also known as Amoy (, from Hokkien Hokkien (; , Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ''Hok-kiàn-ōe'', ) or Minnan (閩南語/闽南语), known as Quanzhang or Tsuan-Tsiang (泉漳) in linguistics, is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minn ...

, and
Guangzhou Guangzhou (, ; ; or ; ), also known as Canton and alternatively romanized as Kwongchow or Kwangchow, is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the ...

. Official British trade was conducted through the auspices of the
British East India Company The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), East India Trading Company (EITC), the English East India Company or (after 1707) the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, Com ...
, which held a
royal charter A royal charter is a formal grant issued by a monarch under royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing ...

royal charter
for trade with the Far East. The East India Company gradually came to dominate Sino-European trade from its position in
India India, officially the Republic of India (: ), is a country in . It is the by area, the country, and the most populous in the world. Bounded by the on the south, the on the southwest, and the on the southeast, it shares land borders wit ...
and due to the strength of the
Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of England, English and Kingdom of Scotland, Scottish kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were foug ...
. Trade benefited after the newly risen
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last Dynasties in Chinese history, dynasty in the History of China#Imperial China, imperial history of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912, w ...
relaxed maritime trade restrictions in the 1680s.
Formosa , t2 = , s2 = , l2 = beautiful island , bpmf2 = ㄈㄨˊ ㄦˇ ㄇㄛˊ ㄕㄚ , w2 = Fu²-êr³-mo²-sha¹ , p2 = Fúĕrmóshā , tp2 = Fúĕrmósha , mps2 = Fúĕrmóshā , gr2 = Fwu'eelmosha , poj = Tâi-oân , tl = Tâi-uân , h = Thòi-và ...

Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

) came under Qing control in 1683 and rhetoric regarding the tributary status of Europeans was muted.
Guangzhou Guangzhou (, ; ; or ; ), also known as Canton and alternatively romanized as Kwongchow or Kwangchow, is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the ...

(known as Canton to Europeans) became the port of preference for incoming foreign trade. Ships did try to call at other ports, but these locations could not match the benefits of Canton's geographic position at the mouth of the
Pearl River The Pearl River, also known by its Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by populati ...
, nor did they have the city's long experience in balancing the demands of
Beijing Beijing ( ), as Peking ( ), is the of the . It is the world's , with over 21 million residents within an of 16,410.5 km2 (6336 sq. mi.). It is located in , and is governed as a under the direct administration of the with .Figures ...

with those of Chinese and foreign merchants. From 1700 onward Canton was the center of maritime trade with China, and this market process was gradually formulated by Qing authorities into the "
Canton System The Canton System (1757–1842) served as a means for China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, with a ...
". From the system's inception in 1757, trading in China was extremely lucrative for European and Chinese merchants alike as goods such as tea, porcelain, and silk were valued highly enough in Europe to justify the expenses of traveling to Asia. The system was highly regulated by the Qing government. Foreign traders were only permitted to do business through a body of Chinese merchants known as the
Cohong The ''Cohong'', sometimes spelled or , a guild A guild is an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as confraternities of tradesmen, belon ...
and were forbidden to learn Chinese. Foreigners could only live in one of the
Thirteen Factories The Thirteen Factories, also known as the , was a neighbourhood along the Pearl River in southwestern Guangzhou Guangzhou (; , or ; ), also known as Canton and Postal romanization, alternately romanized as Kwangchow, is the capital city, c ...
and were not allowed to enter or trade in any other part of China. Only low-level government officials could be dealt with, and the imperial court could not be lobbied for any reason excepting official diplomatic missions. The Imperial laws that upheld the system were collectively known as the Prevention Barbarian Ordinances ().Alain Peyrefitte, ''The Immobile Empire – The first great collision of East and West – the astonishing history of Britain's grand, an ill-fated expedition to open China to Western Trade, 1792–94'' (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), pp. 520–545 The Cohong were particularly powerful in the
Old China Trade The Old China Trade () refers to the early commerce between the Qing Empire The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing (), was the last imperial dynasty A dynasty (, ) is a sequence of rulers from the same family,''Oxford Englis ...
, as they were tasked with appraising the value of foreign products, purchasing or rebuffing said imports and charged with selling Chinese exports at an appropriate price.Fay (2000) pp. 38–45, 55–54, 60–68 The Cohong was made up of between (depending on the politics of Canton) 6 to 20 merchant families. Most of the merchant houses these families ruled had been established by low-ranking
mandarins Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat Language * Mandarin Chinese, branch of Chinese spoken in northern and southwester ...
, but several were Cantonese or Han in origin. Another key function of the Cohong was the traditional bond signed between a Cohong member and a foreign merchant. This bond stated that the receiving Cohong member was responsible for the foreign merchant's behavior and cargo while in China.Fay (2000) p. 65 In addition to dealing with the Cohong, European merchants were required to pay customs fees, measurement duties, provide gifts, and hire navigators. Despite restrictions, silk and porcelain continued to drive trade through their popularity in Europe, and an insatiable demand for Chinese tea existed in Britain. From the mid-17th century onward around 28 million kilograms of silver were received by China, principally from European powers, in exchange for Chinese products.

European trade deficits

A brisk trade between China and European powers continued for over a century. While this trading heavily favoured the Chinese and resulted in European nations sustaining large trade deficits, the demand for Chinese goods continued to drive commerce. In addition, the colonisation and conquest of the Americas resulted in European nations (namely Spain, Great Britain, and France) gaining access to a cheap supply of silver, resulting in European economies remaining relatively stable despite the trade deficit with China. This silver was also shipped across the Pacific Ocean to China directly, notably through the Spanish-controlled Philippines. In stark contrast to the European situation, Qing China sustained a trade surplus. Foreign silver flooded into China in exchange for Chinese goods, expanding the Chinese economy but also causing inflation and forming a Chinese reliance on European silver. The continued economic expansion of European economies in 17th and 18th centuries gradually increased the European demand for precious metals, which were used to mint new coins; this increasing need for hard currency to remain in circulation in Europe reduced the supply of bullion available for trade in China, driving up costs and leading to competition between merchants in Europe and European merchants who traded with the Chinese. This market force resulted in a chronic trade deficit for European governments, who were forced to risk silver shortages in their domestic economies to supply the needs of their merchants in Asia (who as private enterprises still turned a profit by selling valuable Chinese goods to consumers in Europe).Peyrefitte 1993, pp. 487–503 This gradual effect was greatly exacerbated by a series of large-scale colonial wars between Great Britain and Spain in the mid 18th century; these conflicts disrupted the international silver market and eventually resulted in the independence of powerful new nations, namely the United States and Mexico. Without cheap silver from the colonies to sustain their trade, European merchants who traded with China began to take silver directly out of circulation in the already-weakened economies of Europe to pay for goods in China. This angered governments, who saw their economies shrink as a result, and fostered a great deal of animosity towards the Chinese for their restriction of European trade. The Chinese economy was unaffected by fluctuations in silver prices, as China was able to import Japanese silver to stabilise its money supply. European goods remained in low demand in China, ensuring the longstanding trade surplus with the European nations continued. Despite these tensions, trade between China and Europe grew by an estimated 4% annually in the years leading up to the start of the opium trade.

Opium trade

Opium Opium (or poppy tears, scientific name: ''Lachryma papaveris'') is dried latex Latex is a stable dispersion (emulsion An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally Miscibility, immiscible (unmixable or unblendable) o ...

as a medicinal ingredient was documented in Chinese texts as early as the
Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum An interregnum (plural interregna or interregnums) is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organizat ...
, but the recreational usage of
narcotic Heroin, a powerful opioid and narcotic The term narcotic (, from ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It i ...
opium was limited. As with India, opium (then limited by distance to a dried powder, often drunk with tea or water) was introduced to China and Southeast Asia by Arab merchants.Fay (2000) pp. 38 The
Ming dynasty The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol The Mongols ( mn, Монголчууд, , ''Mongolchuud'', ; ) are an East Asian ethnic group nativ ...

Ming dynasty
tobacco Tobacco is the common name of several plants in the ' of the , and the general term for any product prepared from the of these plants. of tobacco are known, but the chief commercial crop is . The more potent variant is also used in som ...

as a decadent good in 1640, and opium was seen as a similarly minor issue. The first restrictions on opium were passed by the Qing in 1729 when Madak (a substance made from powdered opium blended with tobacco) was banned. At the time, Madak production used up most of the opium being imported into China, as pure opium was difficult to preserve. Consumption of Javanese opium rose in the 18th century, and after the
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major World war, global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic W ...
resulted in the British occupying
Java Java ( id, Jawa, ; jv, ꦗꦮ; su, ) is one of the Greater Sunda Islands in Indonesia. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the south and the Java Sea to the north. With a population of 147.7 million people, Java is the world's List of ...

, British merchants became the primary traders in opium. The British realised they could reduce their trade deficit with Chinese manufactories by counter-trading in narcotic opium, and therefore efforts were made to produce more opium in the Indian colonies. Limited British sales of Indian opium began in 1781, with exports to China increasing as the East India Company solidified its control over India. The British opium was produced in
Bengal Bengal (; Bengali language, Bengali: ', ) is a geopolitical, cultural and historical region in South Asia, specifically in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent at the apex of the Bay of Bengal, predominantly covering present-day Bang ...

and the Ganges River Plain. Rather than develop the Indian opium industry themselves, the British were able to inherit an existing opium industry from the declining
Mughal Empire The Mughal, Mogul, or Moghul Empire was an early modern The early modern period of modern history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, ge ...
, which had for centuries profited by selling unrefined opium inside the empire. However, unlike the Mughals, the British saw opium as a potentially valuable export.Fay (2000) pp. 13, 14, 42 The East India Company tightly controlled the opium industry, and all opium was considered company property until it was sold at auction.Fay (2000) pp. 75–81 From
Calcutta Kolkata ( or , ; also known as Calcutta , the official name until 2001) is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger upperca ...
, the company's Board of Customs, Salt, and Opium concerned itself with
quality control Quality control (QC) is a process by which entities review the quality of all factors involved in production. ISO 9000 The ISO 9000 family of quality management systems A quality management system (QMS) is a collection of business process ...

quality control
by managing the way opium was packaged and shipped. No poppies could be cultivated without the company's permission, and the company banned private businesses from refining opium. All opium in India was sold to the company at a fixed rate, and the company hosted a series of public opium auctions every year. The difference of the company-set price of raw opium and the sale price of refined opium at auction (minus expenses) was profit made by the East India Company. In addition to securing poppies cultivated on lands under its direct control, the company's board issued licences to the independent
princely states A princely state, also called a native state, feudatory state or Indian state (for those states on the subcontinent), was a vassal state A vassal state is any state that has a mutual obligation to a superior state or empire, in a status simi ...
Malwa Malwa is an Indian historical region, historical list of regions in India, region of west-central India occupying a plateau of volcanic origin. Geologically, the Malwa Plateau generally refers to the volcanic plateau, volcanic upland north of ...
, where significant quantities of poppies were grown. By the late 18th century, company and Malwan farmlands (which were traditionally dependent on cotton growing) had been hard hit by the introduction of factory-produced cotton cloth, which used cotton grown in
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identi ...

or the
American South The Southern United States, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, Dixie, the Southland, or simply the South, is a geographic and cultural region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally ...
. Opium was considered a lucrative replacement, and was soon being auctioned in ever larger amounts in Calcutta. Private merchants who possessed a company charter (to comply with the British royal charter for Asiatic trade) bid on and acquired goods at the Calcutta auction before sailing to Southern China. British ships brought their cargoes to islands off the coast, especially
Lintin Island Nei or Inner Lingding Island, Postal Map Romanization, formerly romanization of Chinese, romanized as Lintin or is an island in the Pearl River (China), Pearl River estuary in the southeastern China, Chinese province of Guangdong. Although it is ...
, where Chinese traders with fast and well-armed small boats took the goods inland for distribution, paying for the opium with silver. The Qing administration initially tolerated opium importation because it created an indirect tax on Chinese subjects, as increasing the silver supply available to foreign merchants through the sale of opium encouraged Europeans to spend more money on Chinese goods. This policy provided the funds British merchants needed to then greatly increase tea exports from China to England, delivering further profits to the Qing monopoly on tea exports held by the imperial treasury and its agents in Canton. However, opium usage continued to grow in China, adversely affecting societal stability. From Canton, the habit spread outwards to the North and West, affecting members from every class of Chinese society. This spread led to the Qing government issuing an edict against the drug in 1780, followed by an outright ban in 1796, and an order from the governor of Canton to stop the trade in 1799.Fay (2000) pp. 73, 74 To circumnavigate the increasingly stringent regulations in Canton, foreign merchants bought older ships and converted them into floating warehouses. These ships were anchored off of the Chinese coast at the mouth of the Pearl River in case the Chinese authorities moved against the opium trade, as the ships of the Chinese navy had difficulty operating in open water.Fay (2000) pp. 41–62 Inbound opium ships would unload a portion of their cargo onto these floating warehouses, where the narcotic was eventually purchased by Chinese opium dealers. By implementing this system of smuggling, foreign merchants could avoid inspection by Chinese officials and prevent retaliation against the trade in legal goods, in which many smugglers also participated. In the early 19th century American merchants joined the trade and began to introduce opium from Turkey into the Chinese market—this supply was of lesser quality but cheaper, and the resulting
competition Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting competitive relationship. Rivalry is the "against each other" spirit between two competing sides. The relationship itself may also be called "a riv ...
among British and American merchants drove down the price of opium, leading to an increase in the availability of the drug for Chinese consumers. The demand for opium rose rapidly and was so profitable in China that Chinese opium dealers (who, unlike European merchants, could legally travel to and sell goods in the Chinese interior) began to seek out more suppliers of the drug. The resulting shortage in supply drew more European merchants into the increasingly lucrative opium trade to meet the Chinese demand. In the words of one trading house agent, " piumit is like gold. I can sell it anytime." From 1804 to 1820, a period when the Qing treasury needed to finance the suppression of the
White Lotus Rebellion The White Lotus Rebellion (, 1794–1804) was a rebellion initiated by followers of the White Lotus movement during the Qing dynasty of China. Motivated by Millenarianism, millenarian Buddhists who promised the immediate return of the Buddha, it e ...
and other conflicts, the flow of money gradually reversed, and Chinese merchants were soon exporting silver to pay for opium rather than Europeans paying for Chinese goods with the precious metal. European and American ships were able to arrive in Canton with their holds filled with opium, sell their cargo, use the proceeds to buy Chinese goods, and turn a profit in the form of silver bullion. This silver would then be used to acquire more Chinese goods. While opium remained the most profitable good to trade with China, foreign merchants began to export other cargoes, such as machine-spun cotton cloth,
rattan Rattan, also spelled ratan, is the name for roughly 600 of s belonging to subfamily . The greatest diversity of rattan palm species and genera are in the closed- s of , though they can also be found in other parts of tropical and . Most ...
ginseng Image:Insam (ginseng).jpg, 330px, A root of cultivated Korean ginseng ''(P. ginseng)'' Ginseng () is the root of plants in the genus ''Panax'', such as Korean ginseng (''Panax ginseng, P. ginseng''), South China ginseng (''Panax notoginseng, P. not ...

, fur, clocks, and steel tools. However, these goods never reached the same level of importance as narcotics, nor were they as lucrative. The Qing imperial court debated whether or how to end the opium trade, but their efforts to curtail opium abuse were complicated by local officials and the Cohong, who profited greatly from the bribes and taxes involved in the narcotics trade. Efforts by Qing officials to curb opium imports through regulations on consumption resulted in an increase in drug smuggling by European and Chinese traders, and corruption was rampant. In 1810, the Daoguang Emperor issued an edict concerning the opium crisis, declaring,

Changing trade policy

In addition to the start of the opium trade, economic and social innovations led to a change in the parameters of the wider Sino-European trade.
Report from the Select Committee on the Royal Mint: together with the minutes of evidence, appendix and index, Volume 2
' (Great Britain. Committee on Royal Mint, 1849), p. 172.
The formulation of
classical economics Classical economics or classical political economy is a school of thought in economics that flourished, primarily in Kingdom of Great Britain, Britain, in the late 18th and early-to-mid 19th century. Its main thinkers are held to be Adam Smith, Je ...
Adam Smith Adam Smith ( 1723 – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish economist, philosopher as well as a moral philosopher Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and ...

Adam Smith
and other economic theorists caused academic belief in
mercantilism Mercantilism is an economic policy The economic policy of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Li ...

to decline in Britain.L.Seabrooke (2006). "Global Standards of Market Civilization". p. 192. Taylor & Francis 2006 Under the prior system, the Qianlong Emperor restricted trade with foreigners on Chinese soil only for licensed Chinese merchants, while the British government on their part issued a monopoly charter for trade only to the
British East India Company The East India Company (EIC), also known as the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), East India Trading Company (EITC), the English East India Company or (after 1707) the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, Com ...
. This arrangement was not challenged until the 19th century when the idea of free trade was popularised in the West. Fueled by the
Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe Continental Europe or mainland Europe is the contiguous continent A continent is any of several large landmasse ...
, Britain began to use its growing naval power to spread a broadly liberal economic model, encompassing open markets and relatively barrier free international trade, a policy in line with the credo of Smithian economics. This stance on trade was intended to open foreign markets to the resources of Britain's colonies, as well as provide the British public with greater access to
consumer goods A final good or consumer good is a final product In Production (economics), production, a final product, or finished product is a product (business), product that is ready for sale.Wouters, Mark; Selto, Frank H.; Hilton, Ronald W.; Maher, Michae ...
such as tea. In Great Britain, the adoption of the
gold standard Gold certificates were used as paper currency in the United States">paper_currency.html" ;"title="Gold certificates were used as paper currency">Gold certificates were used as paper currency in the United States from 1882 to 1933. These certifi ...
in 1821 resulted in the empire
minting Minting is a village and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. The village is situated south from the A158 road. The population (including Gautby) at the 2011 census was 286. Minting Priory was located here. Mint ...
standardised silver shillings, further reducing the availability of silver for trade in Asia and spurring the British government to press for more trading rights in China. In contrast to this new economic model, the Qing dynasty continued to employ a
Confucian , Shanxi Shanxi (; ; Chinese postal romanization, formerly romanised as Shansi) is a landlocked Provinces of China, province of the China, People's Republic of China and is part of the North China region. The capital and largest city of th ...
Modernist Modernism is both a philosophical movement A philosophical movement refers to the phenomenon defined by a group of philosophers A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and ...
, highly organised economic philosophy that called for strict government intervention in industry for the sake of preserving societal stability. While the Qing government was not explicitly anti-trade, a lack of need for imports and increasingly heavy taxes on luxury goods limited pressure on the government to open further ports to international trade. China's rigid merchant hierarchy also blocked efforts to open ports to foreign ships and businesses.Gao, Feng (2003) p. 141. Chinese merchants operating in inland China wanted to avoid market fluctuations caused by importing foreign goods that would compete with domestic production, while the Cohong families of Canton profited greatly by keeping their city the only entry point for foreign products.T., Rowe, William (2009). ''China's last empire : the great Qing''. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. . . At the turn of the 19th-century countries such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, and the United States began to seek additional trading rights in China. Foremost among the concerns of the western nations was the end of the Canton System and the opening of China's vast consumer markets to trade. Britain in particular was keenly increasing its exports to China, as the empire's implementation of the gold standard forced it to purchase silver and gold from continental Europe and Mexico to further fuel its rapidly industrialising economy. Attempts by a British embassy (led by Macartney in 1793), a Dutch mission (under Jacob van Braam in 1794), Russia (headed by in 1805), and the British again ( in 1816) to negotiate increased access to the Chinese market were all vetoed by successive Qing Emperors. Upon his meeting the
Jiaqing Emperor The Jiaqing Emperor (13 November 1760 – 2 September 1820), personal name Yongyan, was the sixth emperor An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch, and usually the sovereignty, sovereign ruler of an empire or an ...
in 1816, Amherst refused to perform the traditional
kowtow Kowtow, which is borrowed from ''kau tau'' in Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of t ...
, an act that the Qing saw as a severe breach of
etiquette Etiquette ( and ; ) is the set of conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society, usually in the form of an ethical code Ethical codes are adopted by organizations to assist members in understanding the difference between right ...

. Amherst and his party were expelled from China, a diplomatic rebuke that angered the British government. One major reason was that British consumers had developed a strong liking for Chinese tea, as well as other goods like porcelain and silk. But Chinese consumers had no similar preference for any goods produced in Britain. Because of this trade imbalance, Britain increasingly had to use silver to pay for its expanding purchases of Chinese goods. Britain suffers from a huge trade deficit during the Sino-British trade. Meanwhile, the high tariff made the British government very dissatisfied with the Qing government. The Chinese only allowed silver in exchange for the products they were offering a significant amount of this commodity was leaving the British Empire. As its merchants gained increasing influence in China, Great Britain bolstered its military strength in Southern China. Britain began sending warships to combat piracy on the Pearl River, and in 1808 established a permanent garrison of British troops in Macau to defend against French attacks.

Foreign merchants in Canton

As the opium-fuelled China Trade increased in scope and value, the foreign presence in Canton and Macau grew in size and influence. The Thirteen Factories district of Canton continued to expand, and was labelled the "foreign quarter." A small population of merchants began to stay in Canton year round (most merchants lived in Macau for the summer months, then moved to Canton in the winter), and a local chamber of commerce was formed. In the first two decades of the 19th century, the increasingly sophisticated (and profitable) trade between Europe and China allowed for a clique of European merchants to rise to positions of great importance in China. The most notable of these figures were William Jardine and
James Matheson Sir James Nicolas Sutherland Matheson, 1st Baronet, FRS (17 November 179631 December 1878), was a Scottish Tai-Pan. Born in Shiness, Lairg, Sutherland, Scotland, he was the son of Captain Donald Matheson. He attended Edinburgh Edinburgh ( ...

James Matheson
(who went on to found
Jardine Matheson Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited (also known as Jardines) is a Hong Kong Hong Kong (, ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR) (), is a metropolitan area and Special administr ...
), British merchants who operated a consignment and shipping business in Canton and Macau, with associates such as
Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, 1st Baronet Jejeebhoy of Bombay, Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, CMG (15 July 1783 – 14 April 1859), also spelt Jeejeebhoy or Jeejebhoy, was a Parsi-Indian merchant and philanthropist. He made a hug ...

Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy
, who became their principal supplier in India. While all three dealt in legal goods, they also profited greatly from selling opium. Jardine in particular was effective in navigating the political environment of Canton to allow for more narcotics to be smuggled into China. He was also contemptuous of the Chinese legal system, and often used his economic influence to subvert Chinese authorities. This included his (with Matheson's support) petitioning for the British government to attempt to gain trading rights and political recognition from Imperial China, by force if necessary. In addition to trade, some western missionaries arrived and began to proselytise Christianity to the Chinese. While some officials tolerated this (Macau-based Jesuits had been active in China since the early 17th century), some officials clashed with Chinese Christians, raising tensions between western merchants and Qing officials.Fay (2000) pp. 110–113 While the foreign community in Canton grew in influence, the local government began to suffer from civil discord inside China. The
White Lotus Rebellion The White Lotus Rebellion (, 1794–1804) was a rebellion initiated by followers of the White Lotus movement during the Qing dynasty of China. Motivated by Millenarianism, millenarian Buddhists who promised the immediate return of the Buddha, it e ...
(1796–1804) drained the Qing dynasty's treasury of silver, forcing the government to levy increasingly heavy taxes on merchants. These taxes did not abate after the rebellion was crushed, as the Chinese government began a massive project to repair state-owned properties on the
Yellow River The Yellow River (Chinese: , Jin: uə xɔ Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is ...
, referred to as the "Yellow River Conservancy". The merchants of Canton were further expected to make contributions to fight banditry. These taxes weighed heavily on the profits made by the Cohong merchants; by the 1830s, the once-prosperous Cohong had seen their wealth greatly reduced. In addition, the declining value of China's domestic currency resulted in many people in Canton using foreign silver coins (Spanish coins were the most valued, followed by American coins) as they contained higher amounts of silver. Using western coins allowed Cantonese coiners to make many Chinese coins from melted-down western coins, greatly increasing the city's wealth, and tax revenue while tying much of the economy of the city to the foreign merchants. A significant development came in 1834 when reformers (some of whom were financially backed by Jardine) in Britain, advocating for free trade, succeeded in ending the monopoly of the British East India Company under the Charter Act of the previous year. This shift in trade policy ended the need for merchants to comply with the royal charter for trade in the far east; with this centuries-old restriction lifted, the British China trade was opened to private entrepreneurs, many of whom joined the highly profitable opium trade. On the eve of the Qing government's crackdown on opium, a Chinese official described the changes in society caused by the drug;
At the beginning, opium smoking was confined to the fops of wealthy families who took up the habit as a form of conspicuous consumption, even they knew that they should not indulge in it to the greatest extreme. Later, people of all social strata—from government officials and members of the gentry to craftsmen, merchants, entertainers, and servants, and even women, Buddhist monks and nuns, and Taoist priests—took up the habit and openly bought and equipped themselves with smoking instruments. Even in the center of our dynasty—the nation's capital and its surrounding areas—some of the inhabitants have also been contaminated by this dreadful poison.

Napier Affair

In late 1834, to accommodate the revocation of the East India Company's monopoly, the British sent Lord William John Napier to Macau along with John Francis Davis and Sir George Best Robinson, 2nd Baronet, as British superintendents of trade in China. Napier was instructed to obey Chinese regulations, communicate directly with Chinese authorities, superintend trade pertaining to the contraband trade of opium, and to survey China's coastline. Upon his arrival in China, Napier tried to circumvent the restrictive system that forbade direct contact with Chinese officials by sending a letter directly to the Viceroy of Canton. The Viceroy refused to accept it, and on 2 September of that year an edict was issued that temporarily closed British trade. In response, Napier ordered two Royal Navy vessels to bombard Chinese forts on the Pearl River in a show of force. This command was followed through, but war was avoided due to Napier falling ill with typhus and ordering a retreat. The brief gunnery duel drew condemnation by the Chinese government, as well as criticism from the British government and foreign merchants. Other nationalities, such as the Americans, prospered through their continued peaceful trade with China, but the British were told to leave Canton for either Whampoa anchorage, Whampoa or Macau. Lord Napier was forced to return to Macau, where he died of typhus a few days later. After Lord Napier's death, Captain Charles Elliot received the King's Commission as Superintendent of Trade in 1836 to continue Napier's work of conciliating the Chinese.

Escalation of tensions

Crackdown on opium

By 1838, the British were selling roughly 1,400 tons of opium per year to China. Legalization of the opium trade was the subject of ongoing debate within the Chinese administration, but a proposal to legalise the narcotic was repeatedly rejected, and in 1838 the government began to actively sentence Chinese drug traffickers to death. There were also long-term factors that pushed the Chinese government into action. Historian Jonathan D. Spence lists these factors that led to war: :the social dislocations that began to appear in the Qing world, the spread of addiction, the growth of a hard-line mentality toward foreigners, foreign refusal to accept Chinese legal norms, changes in international trade structures, and the ending of Western intellectuals' admiration for China.... When the tough prohibitions of 1838 began to take effect, the market diminished and dealers found themselves dangerously oversupplied. A second contributing factor was that the new British post of superintendent of foreign trade in China was held by a deputy the British crown....If the Chinese crossed the superintendent, they would be insulting the British nation rather than the business corporation....[The superintendent could] call directly on the aid of British armed Forces and the Royal Navy in times of serious trouble. In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor appointed scholar-official
Lin Zexu Lin Zexu (30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850), courtesy name A courtesy name (), also known as a style name, is a name bestowed upon one at adulthood in addition to one's given name. This practice is a tradition in the Sinosphere, including ...

Lin Zexu
to the post of Special Imperial Commissioner (China), Imperial Commissioner with the task of eradicating the opium trade. Lin's famous open "Lin Zexu#Campaign to suppress opium, Letter To Queen Victoria" appealed to Victoria of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria's moral reasoning. Citing what he mistakenly understood to be a strict prohibition on opium within Great Britain, Lin questioned how Britain could declare itself moral while its merchants profited from the legal sale in China of a drug that was banned in Britain. He wrote: "Your Majesty has not before been thus officially notified, and you may plead ignorance of the severity of our laws, but I now give my assurance that we mean to cut this harmful drug forever." The letter never reached the Queen, with one source suggesting that it was lost in transit. Lin pledged that nothing would divert him from his mission, "If the traffic in opium were not stopped a few decades from now we shall not only be without soldiers to resist the enemy, but also in want of silver to provide an army." Lin banned the sale of opium and demanded that all supplies of the drug be surrendered to the Chinese authorities. He also closed the Pearl River (China), Pearl River Channel, trapping British traders in Canton. As well as seizing opium stockpiles in warehouses and the thirteen factories, Chinese troops boarded British ships in the Pearl River and South China Sea before destroying the opium on board. The British Superintendent of Trade in China, Charles Elliot, protested the decision to forcibly seize the opium stockpiles. He ordered all ships carrying opium to flee and prepare for battle. Lin responded by besieging the foreign dealers in the foreign quarter of Canton, and kept them from communicating with their ships in port. To defuse the situation, Elliot convinced the British traders to cooperate with Chinese authorities and hand over their opium stockpiles with the promise of eventual compensation for their losses by the British government. While this amounted to a tacit acknowledgment that the British government did not disapprove of the trade, it also placed a huge liability on the exchequer. This promise, and the inability of the British government to pay it without causing a political storm, was used as an important ''casus belli'' for the subsequent British attack. During April and May 1839, British and American dealers surrendered 20,283 chests and 200 sacks of opium. The stockpile was publicly destroyed on the beach outside Canton. After the opium was surrendered, trade was restarted on the strict condition that no more opium be shipped into China. Looking for a way to effectively police foreign trade and purge corruption, Lin and his advisers decided to reform the existing bond system. Under this system, a foreign captain and the ''Cohong'' merchant who had purchased the goods off of his ship swore that the vessel carried no illegal goods. Upon examining the records of the port, Lin was infuriated to find that in the 20 years since opium had been declared illegal, not a single infraction had been reported. As a consequence, Lin demanded that all foreign merchants and Qing officials sign a new bond promising not to deal in opium under penalty of death. The British government opposed their signing of the bond, feeling that it violated the principle of free trade, but some merchants who did not trade in opium (such as Olyphant & Co.) were willing to sign against Elliot's orders. Trade in regular goods continued unabated, and the scarcity of opium caused by the seizure of the foreign warehouses caused the black market to flourish. Some newly arrived merchant ships were able to learn of the ban on opium before they entered the Pearl River estuary, and so they unloaded their cargoes at Lintin Island. The opportunity caused by the sharp rise in the price of opium was seized upon by some of the ''Cohong'' trading houses and smugglers, who were able to evade commissioner Lin's efforts and smuggled more opium into China. Superintendent Elliot was aware of the smugglers' activities on Lintin and was under orders to stop them, but feared that any action by the Royal Navy could spark a war and withheld his ships.

Skirmish at Kowloon

In early July 1839 a group of British merchant sailors in Kowloon became intoxicated after consuming rice liqueur. Two of the sailors became agitated with and beat to death Lin Weixi, a villager from nearby Tsim Sha Tsui. Superintendent Elliot ordered the arrest of the two men, and paid compensation to Lin's family and village. However, he refused a request to turn the sailors over to Chinese authorities, fearing they would be killed in accordance with the Chinese legal code. Commissioner Lin saw this as an obstruction of justice, and ordered the sailors to be handed over. Elliot instead held a trial for the accused men aboard a warship at sea, with himself serving as the judge and merchant captains serving as jurors. He invited the Qing authorities to observe and comment on the proceedings, but the offer was declined.Hoe & Roebuck 1999, p. 92 The naval court convicted 5 sailors of assault and rioting, and sentenced them to fines along with hard labour in Britain (this verdict would later be overturned in British courts.) Angered by the violation of China's sovereignty, Lin recalled Chinese labourers from Macau and issued an edict preventing the sale of food to the British. War Junks were deployed to the mouth of the Pearl River, while signs were placed and rumours spread by the Qing that they had poisoned the freshwater springs traditionally used to restock foreign merchant ships. On 23 August a ship belonging to a prominent opium merchant was attacked by lascar pirates while travelling downriver from Canton to Macau. Rumors spread among the British that it had been Chinese soldiers who had attacked the ship, and Elliot ordered all British ships to leave the coast of China by 24 August. That same day Macau barred British ships from its harbour at the request of Lin. The commissioner travelled in person to the city, where he was welcomed by some of the inhabitants as a hero who had restored law and order.Fay (2000) pp. 205 The flight from Macau ensured that by the end of August over 60 British ships and over 2000 people were idling off of the Chinese coast, fast running out of provisions. On 30 August HMS Volage (1825), HMS ''Volage'' arrived to defend the fleet from a potential Chinese attack, and Elliot warned Qing authorities in Kowloon that the embargo on food and water must be ended soon. Early on 4 September Elliot dispatched an armed schooner and a Cutter (boat), cutter to Kowloon to buy provisions from Chinese peasants. The two ships approached three Chinese war junks in the harbour and requested permission to land men in order to procure supplies. The British were allowed through and basic necessities were provided to the British by Chinese sailors, but the Chinese commander inside Kowloon fort refused to allow the locals to trade with the British and confined the townspeople inside the settlement. The situation grew more intense as the day went on, and in the afternoon Elliot issued an ultimatum that, if the Chinese refused to allow the British to purchase supplies, they would be fired upon. A 3:00 pm deadline set by Elliot passed and the British ships opened fire on the Chinese vessels. The junks returned fire, and Chinese gunners on land began to fire at the British ships. Nightfall ended the battle, and the Chinese junks withdrew, ending what would be known as the Battle of Kowloon. Many British officers wanted to launch a land attack on Kowloon fort the next day, but Elliot decided against it, stating that such an action would cause "great injury and irritation" to the town's inhabitants. After the skirmish, Elliot circulated a paper in Kowloon, reading; Having driven off the Chinese ships, the British fleet began to purchase provisions from the local villagers, often with the aid of bribed Chinese officials in Kowloon.Waley 1958, p. 70 Lai Enjue, the local commander at Kowloon, declared that a victory had been won against the British. He claimed that a two masted British warship had been sunk, and that 40–50 British had been killed. He also reported that the British had been unable to acquire supplies, and his reports severely understated the strength of the Royal Navy.

First Battle of Chuenpi

In late October 1839 the merchant ship ''Thomas Coutts'' arrived in China and sailed to Canton. ''Thomas Coutts''s Quakers, Quaker owners refused on religious grounds to deal in opium, a fact that the Chinese authorities were aware of. The ship's captain, Warner, believed Elliot had exceeded his legal authority by banning the signing of the "no opium trade" bond, and negotiated with the governor of Canton. Warner hoped that all British ships not carrying opium could negotiate to legally unload their goods at Chuenpi, an island near Humen Town, Humen. To prevent other British ships from following ''Thomas Coutts''s precedent, Elliot ordered a blockade of British shipping in the Pearl River (China), Pearl River. Fighting began on 3 November 1839, when a second British ship, , attempted to sail to Canton. The British
Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by Kingdom of England, English and Kingdom of Scotland, Scottish kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were foug ...
ships HMS Volage (1825), HMS ''Volage'' and HMS Hyacinth (1829), HMS ''Hyacinth'' fired warning shots at ''Royal Saxon''. In response to this commotion, a fleet of Chinese Junks, war junks under the command of Guan Tianpei sailed out to protect ''Royal Saxon''. The ensuing Battle of Chuenpi, First Battle of Chuenpi resulted in the destruction of 4 Chinese war junks and the withdrawal of both fleets. The Qing navy's official report on the Battle of Chuenpi claimed that the navy had protected the British merchant vessel and reported a great victory for the day. In reality, the Chinese had been out-classed by the British vessels and several Chinese ships were disabled. Elliot reported that his squadron was protecting the 29 British ships in Chuenpi, and began to prepare for the Qing reprisal. Fearing that the Chinese would reject any contacts with the British and eventually attack with fire rafts, he ordered all ships to leave Chuenpi and head for Causeway Bay, from Macau, hoping that offshore anchorages would be out of range of Lin. Elliot asked Adrião Acácio da Silveira Pinto, the Portuguese governor of Macau, to let British ships load and unload their goods there in exchange for paying rents and any duties. The governor refused for fear that the Chinese would discontinue supplying food and other necessities to Macau, and on 14 January 1840 the Daoguang Emperor asked all foreign merchants in China to halt material assistance to the British.

Reaction in Britain

Parliamentary debates

Following the Chinese crackdown on the opium trade, discussion arose as to how Britain would respond, as the public in the United States and Britain had previously expressed outrage that Britain was supporting the opium trade.Glenn Melancon (2003)
''Britain's China Policy and the Opium Crisis: Balancing Drugs, Violence and National Honour, 1833–1840''
Ashgate. p. 126.
Many British citizens sympathised with the Chinese and wanted to halt the sale of opium, while others want to contain or regulate the international narcotics trade. However, a great deal of anger was expressed over the treatment of British diplomats and towards the protectionist trading policies of Qing China. The Whigs (British political party), Whig controlled government in particular advocated war with China, and the pro-Whig press printed stories about Chinese "despotism and cruelty." p. 228 Since August 1839, reports had been published in London newspapers about troubles at Canton and the impending war with China. The Queen's Annual Address to the House of Lords on 16 January 1840 expressed the concern that "Events have happened in China which have occasioned an interruption of the commercial intercourse of my subjects with that country. I have given, and shall continue to give, the most serious attention to a matter so deeply affecting the interests of my subjects and the dignity of my Crown." The Whig Melbourne Government was then in a weak political situation. It barely survived a motion of non-confidence on 31 January 1840 by a majority of 21. The Tories saw the China Question as an opportunity to beat the Government, and James Graham moved a motion on 7 April 1840 in the House of Commons, censuring the Government's "want of foresight and precaution" and "their neglect to furnish the superintendent at Canton with powers and instructions" to deal with the opium trade. This was a deliberate move of the Tories to avoid the sensitive issues of war and opium trade and to obtain maximum support for the motion within the party. Calls for military action were met with mixed responses when the matter went before Parliament. Foreign Secretary Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Palmerston, a politician known for his aggressive foreign policy and advocacy for free trade, led the pro war camp. Palmerston strongly believed that the destroyed opium should be considered property, not contraband, and as such reparations had to be made for its destruction. He justified military action by saying that no one could "say that he honestly believed the motive of the Chinese Government to have been the promotion of moral habits" and that the war was being fought to stem China's balance of payments deficit. After consulting with William Jardine, the foreign secretary drafted a letter to Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, William Melbourne calling for a military response. Other merchants called for an opening of free trade with China, and it was commonly cited that the Chinese consumers were the driving factor of the opium trade. The periodic expulsion of British merchants from Canton and the refusal of the Qing government to treat Britain as a diplomatic equal were seen as a slight to national pride. Few Tory or liberal politicians supported the war. Sir James Graham, 2nd Baronet, Sir James Graham, Philip Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, Lord Phillip Stanhope, and William Ewart Gladstone headed the anti-war faction in Britain, and denounced the ethics of the opium trade. After three days of debate, the vote was taken on Graham's motion on 9 April 1840, which was defeated by a majority of only 9 votes (262 votes for vs 271 votes against ). The Tories in the House of Commons thus failed to deter the Government from proceeding with the war and stop the British warships already on their way to China. The House of Commons agreed on 27 July 1840 to a resolution of granting £173,442 for the expenses of the expedition to China, long after the war with China had broken out.

Cabinet Decision and Palmerston letters

Under strong pressure and lobbying from various trade and manufacturer associations, the Whigs (British political party), Whig cabinet under Prime Minister William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, Melbourne decided on 1 October 1839 to send an expedition to China. War preparations then began. In early November 1839, Palmerston instructed Auckland, Governor General of India, to prepare military forces for deployment in China. On 20 February 1840 Palmerston (who remained unaware of the First Battle of Chuenpi in November 1839) drafted two letters detailing the British response to the situation in China. One letter was addressed to the Elliots, the other to the Daoguang Emperor and the Qing government. The letter to the Emperor informed China that Great Britain had sent a military expeditionary force to the Chinese coast. In the letter, Palmerston stated that,
These measures of hostility on the part of Great Britain against China are not only justified, but even rendered absolutely necessary, by the outrages which have been committed by the Chinese Authorities against British officers and Subjects, and these hostilities will not cease, until a satisfactory arrangement shall have been made by the Chinese Government.
In his letter to the Elliots, Palmerston instructed the commanders to set up a blockade of the Pearl River and forward to a Chinese official the letter from Palmerston addressing the Chinese Emperor. They were to then capture the Chusan Islands, blockade the mouth of the Yangtze River, start negotiations with Qing officials, and finally sail the fleet into the Bohai Sea, where they would send another copy of the aforementioned letter to Beijing. Palmerston also issued a list of objectives that the British government wanted accomplished, with said objectives being: * Demand to be treated with the respect due to a royal envoy by the Qing authorities. * Secure the right of the British superintendent to administer justice to British subjects in China. * Seek recompense for destroyed British property. * Gain most favoured trading status with the Chinese government. * Request the right for foreigners to safely inhabit and own private property in China. * Ensure that, if contraband is seized in accordance with Chinese law, no harm comes to the person(s) of British subjects carrying illicit goods in China. * End the system by which British merchants are restricted to trading solely in Canton. * Ask that the cities of Canton, Amoy, Shanghai, Ningpo, and the province of northern
Formosa , t2 = , s2 = , l2 = beautiful island , bpmf2 = ㄈㄨˊ ㄦˇ ㄇㄛˊ ㄕㄚ , w2 = Fu²-êr³-mo²-sha¹ , p2 = Fúĕrmóshā , tp2 = Fúĕrmósha , mps2 = Fúĕrmóshā , gr2 = Fwu'eelmosha , poj = Tâi-oân , tl = Tâi-uân , h = Thòi-và ...

be freely opened to trade from all foreign powers. * Secure island(s) along the Chinese coast that can be easily defended and provisioned, or exchange captured islands for favourable trading terms. Lord Palmerston left it to Superintendent Elliot's discretion as to how these objectives would be fulfilled, but noted that while negotiation would be a preferable outcome, he did not trust that diplomacy would succeed, writing;
To sum up in a few words the result of this Instruction, you will see, from what I have stated, that the British Government demands from that of China satisfaction for the past and security for the future; and does not choose to trust to negotiation for obtaining either of these things; but has sent out a Naval and Military Force with orders to begin at once to take the Measures necessary for attaining the object in view.


Opening moves

The Chinese naval forces in Canton were under the command of Admiral Guan Tianpei, who had fought the British at Chuenpi. The Qing southern army and garrisons were under the command of Yang Fang (general), General Yang Fang. Overall command was invested in the
Daoguang Emperor The Daoguang Emperor (; 16 September 1782 – 26 February 1850), born Mianning, was the seventh List of emperors of the Qing dynasty, Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the sixth Qing emperor to rule over China proper, reigning from 1820 to 185 ...
and his court. The Chinese government initially believed that, as in the 1834 Napier Affair, the British had been successfully expelled. Few preparations were made for a British reprisal, and the events leading to the eventual outbreak of the Sino-Sikh War in 1841 were seen as a greater cause for concern.Elliott, Mark (June 1990).
Bannerman and Townsman: Ethnic Tension in Nineteenth-Century Jiangnan
. ''Late Imperial China'' 11 (1): 51.
The Sino-Indian Border Disputes, by Alfred P. Rubin, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Jan., 1960), pp. 96–125. Left without a major base of operations in China, the British withdrew their merchant shipping from the region while maintaining the Royal Navy's China squadron in the islands around the mouth of the Pearl River. From London, Palmerston continued to dictate operations in China, ordering the East India Company to divert troops from India in preparation for a limited war against the Chinese. It was decided that the war would not be fought as a full-scale conflict, but rather as a punitive expedition. Superintendent Elliot remained in charge of Britain's interests in China, while James Bremer, Commodore James Bremer led the Royal Marines and the China Squadron. Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough, Major General Hugh Gough was selected to command the British land forces, and was promoted to overall commander of British forces in China. The cost of the war would be paid by the British Government. Per Lord Palmerston's letter, plans were drawn up by the British to launch a series of attacks on Chinese ports and rivers. British plans to form an expeditionary force were started immediately after the January 1840 vote. Several infantry regiments were raised in the British isles, and the completion of ships already under construction was expedited. To conduct the upcoming war, Britain also began to draw on forces from its overseas empire.Fay (2000) pp. 210–223 British India had been preparing for a war since word had arrived that the opium had been destroyed, and several regiments of Bengali volunteers had been recruited to supplement the regular British Indian Army and East India Company forces. In terms of naval forces, the ships earmarked for the expedition were either posted in remote colonies or under repair, and Oriental Crisis of 1840 (and the resulting risk of war between Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire over Syria) drew the attention of the Royal Navy's European fleets away from China. Orders were dispatched to British South Africa and Australia to send ships to Singapore, the assigned rendezvous point for the expedition. A number of steamers were purchased by the Royal Navy and attached to the expedition as transports. The unseasonable summer weather of India and the Strait of Malacca slowed the British deployment, and a number of accidents decreased the combat readiness of the expedition. Most notably, both of the 74-gun ships of the line that the Royal Navy intended to use against Chinese fortifications were temporarily put out of action by hull damage. Despite these delays, by mid-June 1840 British forces had begun to assemble in Singapore. While they waited for more ships to arrive, the Royal Marines practised amphibious invasions on the beach, first by landing ashore in boats, then forming lines and advancing on mock fortifications.Fay (2000) pp. 240–243

British offensive begins

In late June 1840 the first part of the expeditionary force arrived in China aboard 15 barracks ships, four steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats. The flotilla was under the command of Commodore Bremer. The British issued an ultimatum demanding the Qing Government pay compensation for losses suffered from interrupted trade and the destruction of opium, but were rebuffed by the Qing authorities in Canton. In his letters, Palmerston had instructed the joint plenipotentiaries Elliot and his cousin Admiral George Elliot (Royal Navy officer, born 1784), George Elliot to acquire the cession of at least one island for trade on the Chinese coast. With the British expeditionary force now in place, a combined naval and ground assault was launched on the Chusan Archipelago. Zhoushan Island, the largest and best defended of the islands was the primary target for the attack, as was its vital port of Dinghai District, Dinghai. When the British fleet arrived off of Zhoushan, Elliot demanded the city surrender. The commander of the Chinese garrison refused the command, stating that he could not surrender and questioning what reason the British had for harassing Dinghai, as they had been driven out of Canton. Fighting began, a fleet of 12 small junks was destroyed by the Royal Navy, and British marines captured the hills to the south of Dinghai. The British Capture of Chusan, captured the city itself after an intense naval bombardment on 5 July forced the surviving Chinese defenders to withdraw. The British occupied Dinghai harbour and prepared to use it as a staging point for operations in China. In the fall of 1840 disease broke out in the Dinghai garrison, forcing the British to evacuate soldiers to Manila and Calcutta. By the beginning of 1841 only 1900 of the 3300 men who had originally occupied Dinghai were left, with many of those remaining incapable of fighting. An estimated 500 British soldiers died from disease, with the Cameron and Bengali volunteers suffering the most deaths, while the Royal Marines were relatively unscathed.Fay (2000) pp. 288, 289 Having captured Dinghai, the British expedition divided its forces, sending one fleet south to the Pearl River while sending a second fleet north to the Yellow Sea. The northern fleet sailed to Peiho, where Elliot personally presented Palmerston's letter to the Emperor to Qing authorities from the capital. Qishan (official), Qishan (ᡴᡳᡧᠠᠨ), a high-ranking Manchu official, was selected by the Imperial Court to replace Lin as the Viceroy of Liangguang after the latter was discharged for his failure to resolve the opium situation. Negotiations began between the two sides, with Qishan serving as the primary negotiator for the Qing and Elliot serving as the representative for the British Crown. After a week of negotiations, Qishan and Elliot agreed to relocate to the Pearl River for further negotiations. In return for the courtesy of the British to withdraw from the Yellow Sea, Qishan promised to requisition imperial funds as restitution for British merchants who had suffered damages. The war, however, was not concluded and both sides continued to engage each other. In the late spring of 1841 reinforcements arrived from India in preparation for an offensive against Canton. A flotilla of transports brought 600 men of the professionally trained 37th Madras Native Infantry to Dinghai, where their arrival boosted British morale. Accompanying the fleet as far as Macau was the newly constructed iron steamer HMS Nemesis (1839), HMS ''Nemesis'', a weapon to which the Chinese navy had no effective counter. On 19 August three British warships and 380 marines Battle of the Barrier, drove the Chinese from the land bridge (known as "The Barrier") separating Macau from the Chinese mainland. The defeat of the Qing soldiers coupled with the arrival of the ''Nemesis'' in Macau's harbour resulted in a wave of pro-British support in the city, and several Qing officials were driven out or killed. Portugal remained neutral in the conflict, but after the battle was willing to allow British ships to dock in Macau, a decision that granted the British a functioning port in Southern China. With the strategic harbours of Dinghai and Macau secured, the British began to focus on the war on the Pearl River. Five months after the British victory at Chusan, the northern elements of the expedition sailed south to Humen, known to the British as The Bogue. Bremer judged that gaining control of the Pearl River and Canton would put the British in a strong negotiating position with the Qing authorities, as well as allow for the renewal of trade when the war ended.

Pearl River campaign

While the British campaigned in the north, Qing Admiral Guan Tianpei greatly reinforced the Qing positions in Humen (Bocca Tigris), suspecting (sources state that Guan had been preparing for an eventual attack on the position since Napier's attack in 1835) that the British would attempt to force their way up the Pearl River to Canton. The Humen forts blocked transit of the river, and were garrisoned with 3000 men and 306 cannon. By the time the British fleet was ready for action, 10,000 Qing soldiers were in position to defend Canton and the surrounding area.Haijian, Mao (2016). ''The Qing Empire and the Opium War''. Cambridge University Press. . pp. 200–204. The British fleet arrived in early January, and began to bombard the Qing defences at Chuenpi after a group of Chinese fire-rafts were sent drifting towards the Royal navy ships. On 7 January 1841 the British won a decisive victory in the Second Battle of Chuenpi, destroying 11 Junks of the Chinese southern fleet and capturing the Humen forts. The victory allowed the British to set up a blockade of The Bogue, a blow that forced the Qing navy to retreat upriver.MacPherson 1843, pp. 312, 315–316. Knowing the strategic value of Pearl River Delta to China and aware that British naval superiority made a reconquest of the region unlikely, Qishan attempted to prevent the war from widening further by negotiating a peace treaty with Britain.Dillon (2010) p. 55 On 21 January Qishan and Elliot drafted the Convention of Chuenpi, a document which both parties hoped would end the war.''Bulletins of State Intelligence'' 1841, p. 32 The convention would establish equal diplomatic rights between Britain and China, exchange
Hong Kong Island 250px, Kornhill and Shau Kei Wan, located in the northern part of Eastern District Hong Kong Island is an Islands and peninsulas of Hong Kong, island in the southern part of Hong Kong. It has a population of 1,289,500 and its population de ...

Hong Kong Island
for Zhoushan, Chusan, facilitate the release of shipwrecked and kidnapped British citizens held by the Chinese, and reopen trade in Canton by 1 February 1841. China would also pay six million silver dollars as recompense for the opium destroyed at Humen in 1838. However, the legal status of the opium trade was not resolved and instead left open to be discussed at a future date. Despite the success of the negotiations between Qishan and Elliot, both of their respective governments refused to sign the convention. The Daoguang Emperor was infuriated that Qing territory would be given up in a treaty that had been signed without his permission, and ordered Qishan arrested (he was later sentenced to death; the sentence was then commuted to military service.) Lord Palmerston recalled Elliot from his post and refused to sign the convention, wanting more concessions to be forced from the Chinese per his original instructions. The brief interlude in the fighting ended in the beginning of February after the Chinese refused to reopen Canton to British trade. On 19 February a longboat from HMS ''Nemesis'' came under fire from a fort on North Wangtong Island, prompting a British response. The British commanders ordered another blockade of the Pearl River and resumed combat operations against the Chinese. The British captured the remaining Bogue forts on 26 February during the Battle of the Bogue and the Battle of First Bar on the following day, allowing the fleet to move further upriver towards Canton. Admiral Tianpei was killed in action during the fighting on 26 February. On 2 March the British destroyed a Qing fort near Pazhou and Battle of Whampoa, captured Whampoa, an action that directly threatened Canton's east flank.Bingham 1842, pp. 73–74 Major General Gough, who had recently arrived from Madras aboard , personally directed the attack on Whampoa. Superintendent Elliot (who was unaware that he had been dismissed), and the Governor-General of Canton declared a 3-day truce on 3 March. Between the 3rd and the 6th the British forces that had evacuated Chusan per the Convention of Chuenpi arrived in the Pearl River. The Chinese military was likewise reinforced, and by 16 March General Yang Fang commanded 30,000 men in the area surrounding Canton.McPherson, Carruthers (2013) pp. 54–55, 60 While the main British fleet prepared to sail up the Pearl River to Canton, a group of three warships departed for the Xi River estuary, intending to navigate the waterway between Macau and Canton. The fleet, led by James Scott (Royal Navy officer), Captain James Scott and Superintendent Elliot, was composed of the frigate and the steamships ''HMS Nemesis'' and . Although the waterway was in places only 6 feet deep, the shallow Draft (hull), drafts of the steamships allowed the British to approach Canton from a direction the Qing believed to be impossible. In a series of engagements along the river from 13–15 March, the British captured or destroyed Chinese ships, guns, and military equipment. 9 junks, 6 fortresses, and 105 guns were destroyed or captured in what was known as the Broadway expedition.Bernard, Hall (1847) pp. 138–148 With the Pearl River cleared of Chinese defences, the British debated advancing on Canton. Although the truce had ended on 6 March, Superintendent Elliot believed that the British should negotiate with the Qing authorities from their current position of strength rather than risk a battle in Canton. The Qing army made no aggressive moves against the British and instead began to fortify the city. Chinese military engineers began to establish a number of mud earthworks on the riverbank, sank junks to create Blockship, riverblocks, and started constructing Fire ship, fire rafts and gunboats. Chinese merchants were ordered to remove all of the silk and tea from Canton to impede trade, and the local populace was barred from selling food to the British ships on the river. On 16 March a British ship approaching a Chinese fort under a flag of truce was fired upon, leading to the British setting the fort on fire with rockets. These actions convinced Elliot that the Chinese were preparing to fight, and following the return of the ships of the Broadway expedition to the fleet, the British Battle of Canton (March 1841), attacked Canton on 18 March, taking the Thirteen Factories with very few casualties and raising the Union Jack above the British factory. The city was partially occupied by the British and trade was reopened after negotiation with the ''Cohong'' merchants. After several days of further military successes, British forces commanded the high ground around Canton. Another truce was declared on 20 March. Against the advice of some of his captains, Elliot withdrew most of the Royal Navy warships downriver to the Bocca Tigris. In mid April Yishan (official), Yishan (Qishan's replacement as Viceroy of Liangguang and the Daoguang Emperor's cousin) arrived in Canton. He declared that trade should continue to remain open, sent emissaries to Elliot, and began to gather military assets outside Canton. The Qing army camped outside of the city soon numbered 50,000, and the money earned from the reopened trade was spent repairing and expanding Canton's defences. Concealed artillery batteries were built along the Pearl River, Chinese soldiers were deployed in Whampoa and the Bocca Tigris, and hundreds of small river craft were armed for war. A bulletin sent from the Daoguang Emperor commanded the Qing forces to "Exterminate the rebels at all points," and orders were given to drive the British from the Pearl River before reclaiming Hong Kong and driving the invaders out of China altogether. This order was leaked and became widely circulated in Canton among foreign merchants, who were already suspicious of Chinese intentions after learning of the Qing military buildup. In May many ''Cohong'' merchants and their families left the city, raising further concerns about a renewal of hostilities. Rumors spread that Chinese divers were being trained to drill holes in the hulls of British ships, and that fleets of fire rafts were being prepared for deployment against the Royal Navy. During the buildup the Qing army was weakened by infighting between units and lack of confidence in Yishan, who openly distrusted Cantonese civilians and soldiers, instead choosing to rely on forces drawn from other Chinese provinces.Lovell, Julia (2015). ''The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams, and the Making of Modern China''. The Overlook Press. . On 20 May Yishan issued a statement, asking the "people of Canton, and all foreign merchants who are respectfully obedient, not to tremble with alarm and be frightened out of their wits at the military hosts that are gathering around, there being no probability of hostilities." The next day Elliot requested that all British merchants evacuate the city by sundown, and several warships were recalled to their positions in front of Canton. On the night of 21 May the Qing launched a coordinated night attack on the British army and navy. Artillery batteries hidden in Canton and on the Pearl River (many of which the British believed they had disabled earlier) opened fire, and Qing soldiers retook the British Factory. A large formation of 200 fire rafts connected by a chain was sent drifting towards the British ships at Canton, and fishing boats armed with Matchlock, matchlock guns began to engage the Royal Navy. The British warships were able to evade the attack, and stray rafts set Canton's waterfront on fire, illuminating the river and foiling the night attack. Downriver at Whampoa the Chinese attacked the British vessels at anchor there and attempted to prevent ships from reaching Canton. Having suspected an attack, (and as a consequence delaying his own offensive) Major General Gough consolidated the British forces at Hong Kong and ordered a rapid advance upriver to Canton. These reinforcements arrived on 25 May, and the British counter-attacked, taking the last four Qing forts above Canton and bombarding the city. The Qing army fled in panic when the city heights were taken, and the British pursued them into the countryside. On 29 May a crowd of around 20,000 Cantonese villagers and townspeople attacked and defeated a company of 60 Indian sepoys in what became known as the Sanyuanli Incident, and Gough ordered a retreat back to the river. The fighting subsided on 30 May 1841 and Canton came fully under British occupation.Wakeman, p. 14 Following the capture of Canton the British command and the governor-general of Canton agreed to a cease-fire in the region. Under the terms of the limited peace (later widely referred to as "The Ransom of Canton"), the British were paid to withdraw beyond the Bogue forts, an action they completed by 31 May. The peace treaty was signed by Elliot without consulting the British army or Navy, an act which displeased General Gough. The defence of Canton was declared a diplomatic success by Yishan. In a letter to the Emperor, he wrote that the barbarians had begged "the chief general that he would implore the great Emperor in their behalf, that he would have mercy upon them, and cause their debts to be repaid them, and graciously permit them to carry on their commerce, when they would immediately withdraw their ships from the Bocca Tigris, and never dare again to raise any disturbance." However, General Yang Fang was reprimanded by the Emperor for his agreeing to a truce rather than forcefully resisting the British. The Emperor was not informed the British expedition had not been defeated and was very much intact. The imperial court continued to debate China's next course of action for the war, as the Daoguang Emperor wanted Hong Kong retaken.

Central China

Following their withdrawal from Canton, the British relocated the expeditionary force to Hong Kong. Just as with the Chinese commanders, the British leaders debated how the war should be continued. Elliot wanted to cease military operations and reopen trade, while Major General Gough wanted to capture the city of Amoy and blockade the Yangtze River. In July, a typhoon struck Hong Kong, damaging British ships in the harbour and destroying some of the facilities the expedition was building on the island. The situation changed when, on 29 July, Elliot was informed that he had been replaced as Superintendent by Henry Pottinger, who arrived in Hong Kong on 10 August to begin his administration. Pottinger wanted to negotiate terms with the Qing for the entire country of China, rather than just the Pearl River, and so he turned away Chinese envoys from Canton and gave permission for the expeditionary force to proceed with its war plans. Sir William Parker, 1st Baronet, of Shenstone, Admiral Sir William Parker also arrived in Hong Kong to replace Humphrey Fleming Senhouse (who had died of a fever on 29 June) as the commander of the British naval forces in China. It was agreed by the British commanders that combat operations should be moved north to put pressure on Peking, and on 21 August the fleet sailed for Amoy. On 25 August, the British fleet entered the Jiulong River estuary and arrived at Amoy. The city was prepared for a naval assault, as Qing military engineers had built several artillery batteries into the granite cliffs overlooking the river. A purely naval assault was considered too risky by Parker, prompting Gough to order a combined naval and ground attack on the defences. On 26 August British marines and regular infantry (under the Suppressive fire, covering fire of the Royal Navy) flanked and destroyed the Chinese defences guarding the river. Several large British ships failed to destroy the largest of the Chinese batteries (which withstood over 12,000 cannonballs being fired at it), so the position was scaled and Battle of Amoy, captured by the British infantry. The city of Amoy was abandoned on 27 August, and British soldiers entered the inner town where they blew up the Citadel, citadel's powder magazine. 26 Chinese junks and 128 cannons were captured, with the captured guns being thrown into the river by the British. As Lord Palmerston wanted Amoy to become an international trade port at the end of the war, Gough ordered that no looting be tolerated and had officers enforce the death penalty for anyone found to be plundering. However, many Chinese merchants refused to ask for British protection out of fear of being branded as traitors to the Qing dynasty. The British withdrew to an island on the river, where they established a small garrison and blockaded the Jiulong River. With the city empty of any army, peasants, criminals, and deserters looted the town. The Qing army retook the city and restored order several days later, after which the city governor declared that a victory had been won and 5 British ships sunk. In Britain, changes in Parliament resulted in Lord Palmerston being removed from his post as Foreign Minister on 30 August. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne replaced him, and sought a more measured approach to the situation in China. Lamb remained a supporter of the war. In September 1841, the British transport ship ''Nerbudda (ship), Nerbudda'' was shipwrecked on a reef off the northern coast of Formosa, Taiwan after a brief gunnery duel with a Chinese fort. This sinking was followed by the loss of the brig ''Ann'' on another reef in March 1842. The survivors of both ships were captured and marched to southern Taiwan, where they were imprisoned. 197 were executed by Qing authorities on 10 August 1842, while an additional 87 died from ill-treatment in captivity. This became known as the Nerbudda incident. October 1841 saw the British solidify their control over the central Chinese coast. Chusan had been exchanged for Hong Kong on the authority of Qishan in January 1841, after which the island had been re-garrisoned by the Qing. Fearing that the Chinese would improve the island's defences, the British began a military invasion. The British attacked the Qing on 1 October. The battle of the Capture of Chusan (1841), Second Capture of Chusan ensued. The British forces killed 1500 Qing soldiers and captured Chusan. The victory reestablished British control over Dinghai's important harbour. On 10 October a British naval force Battle of Chinhai, bombarded and captured a fort on the outskirts of Ningbo in central China. A battle broke out between the British army and a Chinese force of 1500 men on the road between the town of Chinhai and Ningbo, during which the Chinese were routed. Following the defeat, Chinese authorities evacuated Ningbo and the empty city was taken by the British on 13 October. An imperial cannon manufactory in the city was captured by the British, reducing the ability of the Qing to replace their lost equipment, and the fall of the city threatened the nearby Qiantang River. The capture of Ningbo forced the British command to examine their policy towards occupied Chinese territory and Prize of war, prizes of war. Admiral Parker and Superintendent Pottinger wanted a percentage of all captured Chinese property to be turned over to the British as legal prizes of war, while General Gough argued that this would only turn the Chinese population against the British, and that if property had to be seized, it should be public property rather than Private property, private. British policy eventual settled that 10% of all property captured by the British expeditionary forces would be seized as war loot in retaliation for injustices done to British merchants. Gough later stated that this edict would compel his men to "punish one set of robbers for the benefit of another." Fighting ceased for the winter of 1841 while the British resupplied. False reports sent by Yishan to the Emperor in Beijing resulted in the continued British threat being downplayed. In late 1841 the Daoguang Emperor discovered that his officials in Canton and Amoy had been sending him embellished reports. He ordered the governor of Guangxi, Liang Chang-chü, to send him clear accounts of the events in Canton, noting that since Guangxi was a neighbouring province, Liang must be receiving independent accounts. He warned Liang that he would be able to verify his information by obtaining secret inquiries from other places. Yishan was recalled to the capital and faced trial by the imperial court, which removed him from command. Now aware of the severity of the British threat, Chinese towns and cities began to fortify against naval incursions. In the spring of 1842 the Daoguang Emperor ordered his cousin Yijing (prince), Yijing to retake the city of Ningpo. In the ensuing Battle of Ningpo on 10 March the British garrison repelled the assault with rifle fire and naval artillery. At Ningpo the British lured the Qing army into the city streets before opening fire, resulting in heavy Chinese casualties.''Bulletins of State Intelligence'' 1842, pp. 578, 594Arthur Waley, Waley, Arthur (2013) p. 171 The British pursued the retreating Chinese army, Battle of Tzeki, capturing the nearby city of Cixi City, Cixi on 15 March. The important harbour of Zhapu was captured on 18 May in the Battle of Chapu. A British fleet bombarded the town, forcing its surrender. A holdout of 300 soldiers of the Eight Banners stalled the advance of British army for several hours, an act of heroism that was commended by Gough.''Bulletins of State Intelligence'' 1842, p. 918

Yangtze river campaign

With many Chinese ports now blockaded or under British occupation, Major General Gough sought to cripple the finances of the Qing Empire by striking up the Yangtze River. 25 warships and 10,000 men were assembled at Ningpo and Zhapu in May for a planned advance into the Chinese interior.Hall & Bernard 1846, p. 330 The expedition's advance ships sailed up the Yangtze River, Yangtze and captured the emperor's tax barges, a devastating blow that slashed the revenue of the imperial court in Beijing to a fraction of what it had been. file:British troops capture Chin-Keang-Foo.jpg, British troops Battle of Chinkiang, capture Zhenjiang in the last major battle of the war, 21 July 1842On 14 June, the mouth of the Huangpu River was captured by the British fleet. On 16 June, the Battle of Woosung occurred, after which the British captured the towns of Wusong District, Wusong and Baoshan District, Shanghai, Baoshan. The undefended outskirts of Shanghai were occupied by the British on 19 June. Following the battle, Shanghai was looted by retreating Qing banner-men, British soldiers, and local civilians. Qing Admiral Chen Huacheng was killed while defending a fort in Woosong.Rait 1903, pp. 267–268 The fall of Shanghai left the vital city of Nanjing (Known as Jiangning under the Qing) vulnerable. The Qing amassed an army of 56,000 Manchu Banner-men and Han Green Standards to defend Liangjiang Province, and strengthened their river defences on the Yangtze. However, British naval activity in Northern China led to resources and manpower being withdrawn to defend against a feared attack on
Beijing Beijing ( ), as Peking ( ), is the of the . It is the world's , with over 21 million residents within an of 16,410.5 km2 (6336 sq. mi.). It is located in , and is governed as a under the direct administration of the with .Figures ...

. The Qing commander in Liangjiang Province released 16 British prisoners with the hope that a ceasefire could be reached, but poor communications led both the Qing and the British to reject any overtures at peace. In secret, the Daoguang Emperor considered signing a peace treaty with the British, but only in regards to the Yangtze River and not the war as a whole. Had it been signed, the British forces would have been paid to not enter the Yangtze River. On 14 July, the British fleet on the Yangtze began to sail up the river. Reconnaissance alerted Gough to the logistical importance of the city of Zhenjiang (Chinkiang), and plans were made to capture it. Most of the city's guns had been relocated to Wusong and had been captured by the British when said city had been taken. The Qing commanders inside the city were disorganised, with Chinese sources stating that over 100 traitors were executed in Zhenjiang prior to the battle. The British fleet arrived off of the city on the morning of 21 July, and the Chinese forts defending the city were blasted apart. The Chinese defenders initially retreated into the surrounding hills, causing a premature British landing. Fighting erupted when thousands of Chinese soldiers emerged from the city, beginning the Battle of Chinkiang, Battle of Zhenjiang. British engineers blew open the western gate and stormed into the city, where fierce street to street fighting ensued. Zhenjiang was devastated by the battle, with many Chinese soldiers and their families committing suicide rather than be taken prisoner. The British suffered their highest combat losses of the war (36 killed) taking the city. After capturing Zhenjiang, the British fleet cut the vital Grand Canal (China), Grand Canal, paralysing the Caoyun system and severely disrupting the Chinese ability to distribute grain throughout the Empire. The British departed Zhenjiang on 3 August, intending to sail to Nanking. They arrived outside the Jiangning District on 9 August, and were in position to assault the city by 11 August. Although explicit permission to negotiate had not yet been granted by the emperor, Qing officials inside the city agreed to a British request to negotiate.

Treaty of Nanking

On 14 August a Chinese delegation led by the Manchu high court official Keying (official), Qiying (Kiying) and Llipu departed Nanking for the British fleet. Negotiations lasted for several weeks as the British delegation insisted the treaty be accepted by the Daoguang Emperor. The court advised the emperor to accept the treaty, and on 21 August the Daoguang Emperor authorised his diplomats to sign the peace treaty with the British. The First Opium war officially ended on 29 August 1842 with the signing of the
Treaty of Nanking The Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was a peace treaty which ended the First Opium War (1839–1842) between the United Kingdom and China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of ...
.Greenwood ch.4 The document was signed by officials of the British and Qing empires aboard .

Technology and tactics


The British military superiority during the conflict drew heavily on the strength of the Royal Navy. British warships carried more guns than their Chinese opponents and were manoeuvrable enough to evade Chinese boarding actions. Steam ships such as Nemesis (1839), HMS ''Nemesis'' were able to move against winds and tides in Chinese rivers, and were armed with heavy guns and congreve rockets. Several of the larger British warships in China (notably the third-rates HMS ''Cornwallis'', HMS Wellesley (1815), HMS ''Wellesley'', and HMS Melville (1817), HMS ''Melville'') carried more guns than entire fleets of Chinese junks. British naval superiority allowed the Royal Navy to attack Chinese forts with very little risk to themselves, as British naval cannons out-ranged the vast majority of the Qing artillery. British soldiers in China were equipped with Brunswick rifles and Brown Bess musket, rifle-modified Brown Bess muskets, both of which possessed an effective firing range of 200–300 metres. British marines were equipped with percussion caps that greatly reduced weapon misfires and allowed firearms to be used in damp environments. In terms of gunpowder, the British formula was better manufactured and contained more sulphur than the Chinese mixture. This granted British weapons an advantage in terms of range, accuracy and projectile velocity. British artillery was lighter (owing to improved forging methods) and more manoeuvrable than the cannons used by the Chinese. As with the naval artillery, British guns out-ranged the Chinese cannon. In terms of tactics, the British forces in China followed doctrines established during the
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major World war, global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic W ...
that had been adapted during the various colonial wars of the 1820s and 1830s. Many of the British soldiers deployed to China were veterans of British conquest of India, colonial wars in India and had experience fighting larger but technologically inferior armies. In battle, the British line infantry would advance towards the enemy in columns, forming ranks once they had closed to firing range. Companies would commence Volley fire, firing volleys into the enemy ranks until they retreated. If a position needed to be taken, an advance or charge with bayonets would be ordered. Light infantry, Light infantry companies screened the line infantry formations, protecting their flanks and utilising skirmishing tactics to disrupt the enemy. British artillery was used to Counter-battery fire, destroy the Qing artillery and break up enemy formations. During the conflict, the British superiority in range, rate of fire, and accuracy allowed the infantry to deal significant damage to their enemy before the Chinese could return fire. The use of naval artillery to support infantry operations allowed the British to take cities and forts with minimal casualties.Hederic, p. 234 The overall strategy of the British during the war was to inhibit the finances of the Qing Empire, with the ultimate goal of acquiring a colonial possession on the Chinese coast. This was accomplished through the capture of Chinese cities and by blockading major river systems.Cone, Daniel
An Indefensible Defense:The Incompetence of Qing Dynasty Officials in the Opium Wars, and the Consequences of Defeat
Once a fort or city had been captured, the British would destroy the local arsenal and disable all of the captured guns. They would then move on to the next target, leaving a small garrison behind. This strategy was planned and implemented by Major General Gough, who was able to operate with minimal input from the British government after Superintendent Elliot was recalled in 1841. The large number of private British merchants and East India Company ships deployed in Singapore and the India colonies ensured that the British forces in China were adequately supplied. File:Attack on war junks.jpg, A Royal Navy steamship destroying a Chinese junk with a Congreve rocket. Lightly armoured Chinese warships were decimated by heavy guns and explosive weaponry. File:Joss House, Chapoo 1842.jpg, British line infantry advancing on a Chinese position.

Qing dynasty

China did not have a unified navy, instead allowing individual provinces to manage naval defenses. Although the Qing had invested in naval defences for their adjacent seas in earlier periods, after the death of the Qianlong Emperor in 1799, the navy decayed as more attention was directed to suppressing the Miao Rebellion and
White Lotus Rebellion The White Lotus Rebellion (, 1794–1804) was a rebellion initiated by followers of the White Lotus movement during the Qing dynasty of China. Motivated by Millenarianism, millenarian Buddhists who promised the immediate return of the Buddha, it e ...
. These conflicts left the Qing treasury bankrupt. The remaining naval forces were badly overstretched, undermanned, underfunded and uncoordinated. From the onset of the war, the Chinese navy was severely disadvantaged. Chinese war junks were intended for use against pirates or equivalent types of vessels, and were more effective in close range river engagements. Due to their ships' slow speeds, Qing captains consistently found themselves sailing towards much more maneuverable British ships, and as a consequence the Chinese could only use their bow guns. The size of the British ships made traditional boarding tactics useless, and the junks carried smaller numbers of inferior weaponry. In addition, the Chinese ships were poorly armoured; in several battles, British shells and rockets penetrated Chinese magazines and detonated gunpowder stores. Highly maneuverable steamships such as HMS ''Nemesis'' could decimate small fleets of junks, as the junks had little chance of catching up to and engaging the faster British steamers. The only western-style warship in the Qing Navy, the converted East Indiaman Porcher (1799 ship), ''Cambridge'', was destroyed in the Battle of First Bar. The defensive nature of the conflict resulted in the Chinese relying heavily on an extensive network of fortifications. The Kangxi Emperor (1654–1722) began the construction of river defences to combat pirates, and encouraged the use of western style cannons. By the time of the First Opium War, multiple forts defended most major Chinese cities and waterways. Although the forts were well armed and strategically positioned, the Qing defeat exposed major flaws in their design. The cannons used in the Qing defensive fortifications were a collection of Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, and British pieces. The domestically produced Chinese cannon were crafted using sub-par forging methods, limiting their effectiveness in combat and causing excessive gun barrel wear. The Chinese blend of gunpowder also contained more charcoal than the British mixture did; while this made it more stable and thus easier to store, it also limited its potential as a propellant, decreasing projectile range and accuracy. Overall, Chinese cannon technology was considered to be 200 years behind that of the British. Chinese forts were unable to withstand attacks by European weaponry, as they were designed without angled glacis and many did not have protected magazines.Rait (1903) pp. 189, 231 The limited range of the Qing cannon allowed the British to bombard the Qing defences from a safe distance, then land soldiers to storm them with minimal risk. Many of the larger Chinese guns were built as fixed emplacements and were unable to be maneuvered to fire at British ships.PBS.org, "''The Story of China; Age of Revolution''". Aired 7/11/2017. https://www.pbs.org/video/3001741892/ The failure of the Qing fortifications coupled with the Chinese underestimation of the Royal Navy allowed the British to force their way up major rivers and impede Qing logistics. Most notably, the powerful series of forts at Humen were well positioned to stop an invader from proceeding upriver to Canton, but it had not been considered that an enemy would attack and destroy the forts themselves, as the British did during the war. At the start of the war the Qing army consisted of over 200,000 soldiers, with around 800,000 men being able to be called for war. These forces consisted of Bannermen (ethnic group), Manchu Bannermen, the Green Standard Army, provincial militias, and imperial garrisons. The Qing armies were armed with matchlocks and shotguns, which had an effective range of 100 metres. Chinese historians Liu and Zhang note that the Chinese soldiery "were equipped with sixty or seventy percent traditional weapons, of which the most important were the long lance, the side sword, the bow and arrow, and the rattan shield, and only thirty or forty percent [of their armament consisted of] gunpowder weapons, of which the most important were the matchlock musket, the heavy musket, the cannon, the fire arrow, and the earthshaking bomb and such things." Chinese soldiers were also equipped with halberds, spears, swords, and crossbows. The Qing dynasty also employed large batteries of artillery in battle. The tactics of the Qing remained consistent with what they had been in previous centuries. Soldiers with firearms would form ranks and fire volleys into the enemy while men armed with spears and pikes would drive (described by the Chinese as Tuī (推) push) the enemy off of the battlefield. Cavalry was used to break infantry formations and pursue routed enemies, while Qing artillery was used to scatter enemy formations and destroy fortifications. During the First Opium War, these tactics were unable to successfully deal with British firepower. Chinese melee formations were decimated by artillery, and Chinese soldiers armed with matchlocks could not effectively exchange fire with British ranks, who greatly outranged them. Most battles of the war were fought in cities or on cliffs and riverbanks, limiting the Qing usage of cavalry. Many Qing cannon were destroyed by British counter-battery fire, and British light infantry companies were consistently able to outflank and capture Chinese artillery batteries. A British officer said of the opposing Qing forces, "The Chinese are robust muscular fellows, and no cowards; the Tartars [i.e. Manchus] desperate; but neither are well commanded nor acquainted with European warfare. Having had, however, experience of three of them, I am inclined to suppose that a Tartar bullet is not a whit softer than a French one." The strategy of the Qing dynasty during the war was to prevent the British from seizing Chinese territory. This defensive strategy was hampered by the Qing severely underestimating the capacity of the British military. Qing defences on the Pearl and Yangtze rivers were ineffective in stopping the British push inland, and superior naval artillery prevented the Chinese from retaking cities. The Qing imperial bureaucracy was unable to react quickly to the prodding British attacks, while officials and commanders often reported false, faulty, or incomplete information to their superiors. The Qing military system made it difficult to deploy troops to counter the mobile British forces. In addition, the ongoing conflict with Sikhs on the Qing border with India drew away some of the most experienced Qing units from the war with Britain. File:Chinese soldiers with gingals.jpg, Chinese soldiers armed with a gingal during the First Opium War. File:98th Foot at Chinkiang.jpg, Painting of a battle between Qing matchlock-armed infantry and British line infantry at the Battle of Chinkiang. The retreat of the Qing infantry into the city and the ensuing close-quarters combat led to heavy casualties on both sides.


The war ended in the signing of China's first Unequal Treaties, Unequal Treaty, the
Treaty of Nanking The Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was a peace treaty which ended the First Opium War (1839–1842) between the United Kingdom and China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of ...
. In the supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, the Qing empire also recognised Britain as an equal to China and gave British subjects Extraterritoriality, extraterritorial privileges in treaty ports. In 1844, the United States and France concluded similar treaties with China, the Treaty of Wanghia and Treaty of Whampoa, respectively.

Legacy and memory

The opium trade faced intense enmity from the later British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. As a member of Parliament, Gladstone called it "most infamous and atrocious" referring to the opium trade between China and British India in particular. Gladstone was fiercely against both of the Opium Wars Britain waged in China: the First Opium War initiated in 1840 and the
Second Opium War The Second Opium War (), also known as the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, was a war War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A gov ...
initiated in 1857. He denounced British violence against the Chinese and was ardently opposed to the British trade in opium to China. Gladstone lambasted it as "Palmerston's Opium War" and said in May 1840 that he felt "in dread of the judgments of God upon England for our national iniquity towards China". Gladstone made a famous speech in Parliament against the First Opium War. Gladstone criticised it as "a war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated in its progress to cover this country with permanent disgrace". His hostility to opium stemmed from the effects opium brought upon his sister Helen. Due to the First Opium war brought on by Palmerston, there was initial reluctance to join the government of Peel on part of Gladstone before 1841. The war marked the start of what 20th century Chinese nationalists called the "Century of humiliation, Century of Humiliation". The ease with which the British forces defeated the numerically superior Chinese armies damaged the dynasty's prestige. The Treaty of Nanking was a step to opening the lucrative Chinese market to global commerce and the opium trade. The interpretation of the war, which was long the standard in the People's Republic of China, was summarised in 1976: The Opium War, "in which the Chinese people fought against British aggression, marked the beginning of modern Chinese history and the start of the Chinese people's bourgeois-democratic revolution against imperialism and feudalism."''The History of Modern China'' (Beijing, 1976) quoted in Janin, Hunt (1999). ''The India–China Opium Trade in the Nineteenth Century''. McFarland. p. 207. . The Treaty of Nanking, the Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, and two French and American agreements were all "unequal treaties" signed between 1842 and 1844. The terms of these treaties undermined China's traditional mechanisms of foreign relations and methods of controlled trade. Five ports were opened for trade, gunboats, and foreign residence: Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai. Hong Kong was seized by the British to become a free and open port. Tariffs were abolished thus preventing the Chinese from raising future duties to protect domestic industries and extraterritorial practices exempted Westerners from Chinese law. This made them subject to their own civil and criminal laws of their home country. Most importantly, the opium problem was never addressed and after the treaty was signed opium addiction doubled. China was forced to pay 21 million silver taels as an indemnity, which was used to pay compensation for the traders' opium destroyed by Commissioner Lin. A couple of years after the treaties were signed internal rebellion began to threaten foreign trade. Due to the Qing government's inability to control collection of taxes on imported goods, the British government convinced the Manchu court to allow Westerners to partake in government official affairs. By the 1850s the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, one of the most important bureaucracies in the Manchu Government, was partially staffed and managed by Western Foreigners. In 1858, opium was legalised, and would remain a problem. Commissioner Lin, often referred to as "Lin the Clear Sky" for his moral probity, was made a scapegoat. He was blamed for ultimately failing to stem the tide of opium imports and usage as well as for provoking an unwinnable war through his rigidity and lack of understanding of the changing world. Nevertheless, as the Chinese nation formed in the 20th century, Lin became viewed as a hero, and has been immortalised at various locations around China. The First Opium War both reflected and contributed to a further weakening of the Chinese state's power and legitimacy. Anti-Qing sentiment grew in the form of rebellions, such as the
Taiping Rebellion The Taiping Rebellion, also known as the Taiping Civil War or the Taiping Revolution, was a massive rebellion Rebellion, uprising, or insurrection is a refusal of obedience or order. It refers to the open resistance against the orders of an ...
, a war lasting from 185064 in which at least 20 million Chinese died. The decline of the Qing dynasty was beginning to be felt by much of the Chinese population.

Revisionist views

The evil impact of the opium habit on the Chinese people, and the arrogant manner in which the British imposed their superior power to guarantee the profitable trade, have been the staples of Chinese historiography ever since. One British historian Jasper Ridley concluded: :Conflict between China and Britain was inevitable. On the one side was a corrupt, decadent and caste-ridden despotism, with no desire or ability to wage war, which relied on custom much more than force for the enforcement of extreme privilege and discrimination, and which was blinded by a deep-rooted superiority complex into believing that they could assert their supremacy over Europeans without possessing military power. On the other side was the most economically advanced nation in the world, a nation of pushing, bustling traders, of self-help, free trade, and the pugnacious qualities of John Bull. However, Ridley adds, opposition in Britain was intense: :An entirely opposite British viewpoint was promoted by humanitarians and reformers such as the Chartists and religious nonconformists led by young William Ewart Gladstone. They argued that Palmerston (the foreign secretary) was only interested in the huge profits it would bring Britain, and was totally oblivious to the horrible moral evils of opium which the Chinese government was valiantly trying to stamp out. The American historian John K. Fairbank wrote: :In demanding diplomatic equality and commercial opportunity, Britain represented all the Western states, which would sooner or later have demanded the same things if Britain had not. It was an accident of history that the dynamic British commercial interests in the China trade was centered not only on tea but also on opium. If the main Chinese demand had continued to be for Indian raw cotton, or at any rate if there had been no market for opium in late-Ch’ing China, as there had been none earlier, then there would have been no “opium war”. Yet probably some kind of Sino-foreign war would have come, given the irresistible vigor of Western expansion and immovable inertia of Chinese institutions. Some historians claim that Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, initiated the Opium War to maintain the principle of free trade. Professor Glenn Melancon, for example, argues that the issue in going to war was not opium but Britain's need to uphold its reputation, its honour, and its commitment to global free trade. China was pressing Britain just when the British faced serious pressures in the Near East, on the Indian frontier, and in Latin America. In the end, says Melancon, the government's need to maintain its honour in Britain and prestige abroad forced the decision to go to war.Glenn Melancon, "Honor in Opium? The British Declaration of War on China, 1839–1840," ''International History Review'' (1999) 21#4 pp. 854–874. Former American president John Quincy Adams commented that opium was "a mere incident to the dispute ... the cause of the war is the
kowtow Kowtow, which is borrowed from ''kau tau'' in Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale romanization of Cantonese, Yale: ''Gwóngdūng wá'') is a language within the Varieties of Chinese, Chinese (Sinitic) branch of t ...
—the arrogant and insupportable pretensions of China that she will hold commercial intercourse with the rest of mankind not upon terms of equal reciprocity, but upon the insulting and degrading forms of the relations between lord and vassal." Australian historian Harry G. Gelber argues that opium played a role similar to the tea dumped into the harbour in the Boston Tea Party Of 1773 leading to the American Revolutionary War. Gelber argues instead that: :The British went to war because of Chinese military threats to defenceless British civilians, including women and children; because China refused to negotiate on terms of diplomatic equality and because China refused to open more ports than Canton to trade, not just with Britain but with everybody. The belief about British “guilt” came later, as part of China’s long catalogue of alleged Western “exploitation and aggression.” Western women were actually not legally permitted to enter Canton, although they were permitted to live in Macao. Into the 19th century, Western nations did not recognise diplomatic equality for entities that failed to meet their "standard of civilisation", including China. The policy of concentrating trade to a single port was also used in Western countries such as Spain and Portugal. Western merchants could also trade freely and legally with Chinese merchants in Xiamen and Macao, or when the trade was conducted through ports outside China such as Manila and Batavia. That being said, the government did hamper foreign trade, and through the Canton system concentrated trade in Canton. Furthermore Macao was restricted to Portuguese traders, and Xiamen the Spanish, who rarely made use of this privilege. The public in Western countries had earlier condemned the British government for supporting the opium trade. Opium was the most profitable single commodity trade of the 19th century. As Timothy Brook and Bob Wakabayashi write of opium, “The British Empire could not survive were it deprived of its most important source of capital, the substance that could turn any other commodity into silver.” although this thesis is controversial Opium was the most common trade good and also the most profitable, and consisted 33-54% of all goods shipped from Bengal to the East between 1815-1818. Carl Trocki described "the British Empire east of Suez as of 1800 as essentially a drug cartel." James Bradley stated: "opium accounted for 15 to 20 percent of the British Empire's revenue" and "between 1814 and 1850 [...] (removed) 11 percent of China's money supply". Although shipping was regulated, the Qianlong emperor's administration was diligent in accommodating the requisites of Western merchants. They hired a growing body of Western assistants for the Customs Office to help manage their fellow countrymen. The order to stay in Macao during the winter was lifted, tax was exempted on food, drink and basic supplies for Western merchants, and protections were granted to Westerners and their property. Qing laws prevented Chinese from pursuing foreigners through the courts. This prohibition mainly dated from the Qianlong Emperor’s strong conviction that mistreatment of foreigners had been a major cause of the overthrow of several earlier dynasties. The Qianlong Emperor granted Lord Macartney a golden scepter, an important symbol of peace and wealth, but this was dismissed by the British, who were unaware of its symbolism. The Qianlong Emperor also dismissed the "lavish" presents the British gave to facilitate diplomatic relations, concluding they were no better than other European products. In 1806, Chinese officials compromised with the British on the murder of a Chinese man by British seamen, as Westerners refused to be punished under Chinese law, and local citizens vigorously protested, for both xenophobic reasons and because of perceived injustice. In 1816, the Jiaqing Emperor dismissed a British embassy for their refusal to kowtow, but he sent them an apologetic letter with gifts (which were later found in the Foreign Office, unread). The British ignored Chinese laws and warnings not to deploy military forces in Chinese waters. The British landed troops in Macao despite a Chinese and Portuguese agreement to bar foreign forces from Macao, and then in the War of 1812 attacked American ships deep in the inner harbour of Canton (the Americans had previously robbed British ships in Chinese waters as well). These, in combination with the British support to Nepal during Sino-Nepalese War, their invasion of Tibet and later Anglo-Nepalese War, British invasion of Nepal after it became a Chinese tributary state, led the Chinese authorities to become highly suspicious of British intentions. In 1834, when British naval vessels intruded into Chinese waters again, the Daoguang Emperor commented: "How laughable and deplorable is it that we cannot even repel two barbarian ships. Our military had decayed so much. No wonder the barbarians are looking down on us."

Was the war inevitable?

Historians have often pondered whether the war could have been avoided. One factor was that China rejected diplomatic relations with Britain, or anyone else, as seen in the rejection of the Macartney Embassy, Macartney mission in 1793. As a result, diplomatic mechanisms for negotiation and resolution were missing. Michael Greenberg locates the inevitable cause in the momentum for more and more overseas trade in Britain's expanding modern economy. On the other hand, the economic forces inside Britain that were war hawks—Radicals in Parliament, and northern merchants and manufacturers—were a political minority and needed allies, especially Palmerston, before they could get their war. In Parliament the Melbourne government faced a host of complex international threats including the Chartism, Chartist riots at home, bothersome budget deficits, unrest in Ireland, rebellions in Canada and Jamaica, war in Afghanistan, and French threats to British business interests in Mexico and Argentina. The opposition demanded more aggressive answers, and it was Foreign Minister Palmerston who set up an easy war to solve the political crisis. It was not economics, or opium sales or expanding trade that caused the British to go to war, Melancon argues, it was more a matter of upholding aristocratic standards of national honour sullied by Chinese insults. One historiographical problem is that the emphasis on the British causal factors tends to ignore the Chinese. The Manchu rulers were focused on internal unrest by Chinese elements, and paid little attention to the minor issues happening in Canton. Historian James Polachek argues the reasons for trying to suppress the opium trade had to do with internal factionalism led by a purification-oriented group of literary scholars who paid no attention to the risk of international intervention by much more powerful military forces. Therefore, it was not a matter of inevitable conflict between contrasting worldviews. Lin and the Daoguang Emperor, comments historian Jonathan Spence, "seemed to have believed that the citizens of Canton and the foreign traders there had simple, childlike natures that would respond to firm guidance and statements of moral principles set out in simple, clear terms." Neither considered the possibility that the British government would be committed to protecting the smugglers.

Interactive map

Click on a battle to go directly to the relevant article.

See also

* Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms * The Opium War (film) *
Second Opium War The Second Opium War (), also known as the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, was a war War is an intense armed conflict between states, government A gov ...


* William Jardine (merchant) * William Napier, 9th Lord Napier

Contemporaneous Qing-dynasty wars

* Sino-Sikh War (1841–1842)

Fictional and narrative literature

* James Leasor, Leasor, James
London: Heinemann, 1973, e-published James Leasor Ltd, 2011 * Amitav Ghosh, ''River of Smoke'' (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), Flood of Fire and Sea of Poppies, collectively known as the Ibis trilogy, Ibis Trilogy * Timothy Mo, ''An Insular Possession'' (Chatto and Windus, 1986; Paddleless Press, 2002)


References and further reading

* Jack Beeching, Beeching, Jack, ''The Chinese Opium Wars'' (Hutchinson, 1975) * Bingham, John Elliot (1843).
Narrative of the Expedition to China from the Commencement of the War to Its Termination in 1842
' (2nd ed.). Volume 2. London: Henry Colburn. * Caquet, P. E. "Notions of addiction in the time of the first opium war." ''Historical Journal'' 58.4 (2015): 1009–1029. * Compilation Group for the "History of Modern China" Series. (2000). ''The Opium War''. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific; reprint from 1976 edition. . * Crossley, Pamela Kyle; Siu, Helen F.; Sutton, Donald S. (2006), ''Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China'', University of California Press, . * Derden, John K. "The British Foreign Office and Policy Formation: The 1840s," ''Proceedings & Papers of the Georgia Association of Historians'' (1981) pp. 64–79. * Dillon, Michael (2010)
''China: A Modern History''
I. B. Tauris. . * Downs, Jacques M. (1997)
''The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784–1844''
Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press; reprinted, Hong Kong University Press, 2014. . * Elliot, Mark C. (2001), The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China, Stanford: Stanford University Press, . * John King Fairbank, Fairbank, John King, ''Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast; the Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854'' (Harvard UP, 1953). * * Fay, Peter Ward, ''The Opium War, 1840–1842: Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the early part of the nineteenth century and the way by which they forced the gates ajar'' (Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2000). * * Greenberg, Michael. ''British Trade and the Opening of China, 1800–42.'' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Studies in Economic History, 1951). Various reprints. Uses Jardine Matheson papers to detail the British side of the trade. * * Haijian, Mao (2016). ''The Qing Empire and the Opium War''. Cambridge University Press. . * * Hoe, Susanna; Roebuck, Derek (1999). ''The Taking of Hong Kong: Charles and Clara Elliot in China Waters''. Curzon Press. . * Hsin-Pao Chang. ''Commissioner Lin and the Opium War.'' (Harvard University Press, Harvard East Asian Series, 1964). * Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Aberdeen, George Hamilton-Gordon, 4th Earl". ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' (15th ed.). Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 28. . * * Kendall Johnson, Johnson, Kendall, ''The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade'' (Johns Hopkins UP, 2017 ). * Klein, Thoralf. "Rethinking the Origins of ‘Western’ Imperialism in China: Global Constellations and Imperial Policies, 1790–1860." ''History Compass'' 10.11 (2012): 789–801
* Julia Lovell, Lovell, Julia, ''The Opium War: Drug, Dreams and the Making of China'' (London, Picador, 2011 ). Well referenced narrative using both Chinese and western sources and scholarship. * McPherson, Duncan, Carruthers, Bob. ''The First Opium War, The Chinese Expedition 1840–1842, the illustrated edition'' (Coda Books, 2013). . * MacPherson, D. (1842). iarchive:twoyearsinchina00macpgoog, ''Two Years in China: Narrative of the Chinese Expedition, from Its Formation in April, 1840, Till April, 1842 : with an Appendix, Containing the Most Important of the General Orders & Despatches Published During the Above Period''. London: Saunders and Otley. * Madancy, Joyce. "Unearthing popular attitudes toward the opium trade and opium suppression in Late Qing and Early Republican Fujian." ''Modern China'' 27.4 (2001): 436–483
* Makeham, John (2008)
''China: The World's Oldest Living Civilization Revealed''
Thames & Hudson. p. 331. . * Melancon, Glenn Paul. "Palmerston, Parliament and Peking: The Melbourne Ministry and the Opium Crisis, 1835–1840." (PhD dissertation, LSU, 1994
* Melancon, Glenn. "Honour in Opium? The British Declaration of War on China, 1839–1840." ''International History Review'' 21.4 (1999): 855–874
* Melancon, Glenn. ''Britain's China Policy and the Opium Crisis: Balancing Drugs, Violence and National Honour, 1833–1840'' (Routledge, 2017). * Morse, Hosea Ballou. ''iarchive:internationalrel00mors, The International Relations of the Chinese Empire''. Volume 1. (1910) * Manhong Lin. ''China Upside Down: Currency, Society, and Ideologies, 1808–1856.'' (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2006). . Detailed study of the economics of the trade. * * Newman, Richard K. "Opium smoking in late imperial China: a reconsideration." ''Modern Asian Studies'' 29.4 (1995): 765–794. * Polachek, James M., ''The Inner Opium War'' (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1992.) Based on court records and diaries, presents the debates among Chinese officials whether to legalise or suppress the use and trade in opium.
Perdue, Peter C., "The First Opium War: The Anglo-Chinese War of 1839–1842: Hostilities"
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011. MIT Visualizing Cultures). * Rait, Robert S. (1903). ''iarchive:cu31924088002120, The Life and Campaigns of Hugh, First Viscount Gough, Field-Marshal''. Volume 1. Westminster: Archibald Constable. * ''Frontier and Overseas Expeditions From India'', vol. 6, p. 382 * * Spence, Jonathan D. "Opium Smoking in Ch’ing China." in ''Conflict and Control in Late Imperial China. '' Edited by Frederic Wakeman Jr. and Carolyn Grant. (U of California Press, 1975). * Wakeman, Frederic E. (1997)
''Strangers at the Gate: Social Disorder in South China, 1839–1861''
University of California Press. . * Arthur Waley, Waley, Arthur, ''The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes'' (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958; reprinted Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1968). Translations and narrative based on Lin's writings. *
Correspondence Relating to China
' (1840). London: Printed by T. R. Harrison. *
The Chinese Repository
' (1840). Volume 8. * Arthur Waley, Waley, Arthur (2013) [First published 1958]
''The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes''
Taylor & Francis. . * Myers, H. Ramon; Wang, Yeh-Chien (2002), "Economic developments, 1644–1800", in Peterson Willard J. (ed.), ''Part One: The Ch'ing Empire to 1800'', The Cambridge History of China, 9, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 563–647, . * (2011)
''1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created''
Random House Digital, pp. 123–163, * Bernard, William Dallas; Hall, William Hutcheon (1847).
The Nemesis in China
' (3rd ed.). London: Henry Colburn. * Parker, Edward Harper (1888). ''Chinese Account of the Opium War''. Shanghai *
''Bulletins and Other State Intelligence''
Compiled and arranged from the official documents published in the London Gazette. London: F. Watts. 1841. * Granville G. Loch
The Closing Events of the Campaign in China: The Operations in the Yang-tze-kiang and
of Nanking
. London. 1843 [2014-07-13] * "The Count of Aberdeen to Sir Henry Pudding" The "History of the Chinese Empire" (Chinese translation) vol. 1, pp. 755–756. * Gao, Shujuan (高淑娟); Feng, Bin (冯斌) (2003)
''Comparative Outline of Chinese and Japanese Foreign Policy: Central Trade Policy in the Final Years of the Imperial Era (中日对外经济政策比较史纲: 以封建末期贸易政策为中心)''
Qinghua University Chinese Economic Historiography Series (清华大学中国经济史学丛书) (in Chinese). Qinghua University Publishing (清华大学出版社). .

External links

Hansard of the British Parliament 1840s

(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011. MIT Visualizing Cultures).
Perdue, Peter C., "The First Opium War: The Anglo-Chinese War of 1839–1842: Hostilities"
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011. MIT Visualizing Cultures).

Resources for teaching. * [https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/partner/opium-war-museum Opium War Museum, Dongguan, Guangzhou; Google Arts & Culture] {{Authority control First Opium War, 1839 in China 1840 in China 1841 in China 1842 in China Wars involving the British East India Company Smuggling History of the Royal Marines Punitive expeditions of the United Kingdom Eight Banners Military history of Taiwan