Opium Wars

Opium Wars were two different armed conflicts between the Qing dynasty of China on one side and the British Empire on the other.

France entered the second opium war on the side of the British forces. Both wars occurred in the mid-19th century on the territory of China.

Both times, the reason for the conflict was the British trade of Opium that was illegal in China, as well as China’s sovereignty.
Opium War

The western powers won both wars, which weakened the Chinese economy and the Qing dynasty.

First Opium War

  • Since the 18thcentury, British and other traders exported opium from India to China. This was illegal in China, but the authorities could not find a means to stop it.
  • It got even worse around 1820. The Chinese became so addicted to opium that the economy dropped significantly.

    For that reason, the Chinese government confiscated and immediately destroyed over 20,000 chests (about 1,400 tons) of opium that belonged to the British.

  • After several incidents, the British sent an expeditionary force to Hong Kong, China in 1840. During the next two years, British forces captured several Chinese cities.
  • The war ended in the Treaty of Nanjing. China had to pay indemnity to Britain, give Hong Kong Island to them, and allow them to trade and reside in several treaty ports, rather than just one.
  • In 1843, the British demanded and were given several privileges, such as extraterritoriality and most-favored-nation status.

    Other countries, such as the USA and France, quickly asked for – and got – the same privileges.

Second Opium War

Second Opium War

  • The Chinese Qing government was struggling to suppress a major civil rebellion when the British decided it was the right time to restart fighting and achieve their goals.
  • The British wanted to trade opium throughout China without the hassle and to enjoy special treatment in other areas.

    For example, they wanted to be free from internal transit duties as they import their merchandises (mostly opium). The British also wanted to expand trade in unskilled, cheap laborers, called the coolies.

  • The conflicts between the British and China renewed in October of 1856 when some Chinese officers entered the ship called Arrow, which belonged to the British.

    A couple of crew members – all Chinese – got arrested, and the British flag was allegedly lowered.

  • During the same month, the British sent a warship to attack Canton – which was previously a free trade port that they used. Fighting began and all the trade stopped.

    In December, some foreign trading warehouses and factories were burned down by the Chinese.

  • A French missionary was killed during the same year, and the French government used it as an excuse to enter the war.

    In 1857, the western allies captured Canton, and the next year they took Tianjin.

  • The Chinese government was forced into negotiations and then signing the treaties of Tianjin.

    According to the peace terms, foreign representatives could reside in Beijing, and a number of new ports could be used by foreigners.

    Eventually, the importation of opium was legalized in Shanghai.

  • The conflicts started the next year again, because the Chinese were reluctant to ratify the treaty. The British and French won again, and the list of peace terms expanded.

    Now the westerners got even 80 ports. Hong Kong, as well as the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, was ceded to the British.

Battle of Taku Fort

Q&A

How many opium wars there were?

There were two opium wars.

What was the goal of the British side in the opium wars?

The British wanted free opium trade in China.

What were the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing?

China was forced to pay indemnity to Britain, allow the British to trade freely, and give Hong Kong Island to them.

Who joined the British in the second opium war?

France joined Britain.