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Why did the British Attack the Chinese? – The First Opium War?

wars have been fought throughout history for a plethora of reasons territory religion secession ideology so for even the casual history buff it doesn’t come as a surprise that such a thing as an opium war once existed but what was this oddly named conflict really about and what actually happened opium has been used for centuries as both a medicine and an often addictive recreational substance and one empire decided to take steep advantage of it it all began back in the 17th century.

Why did the British Attack the Chinese - The First Opium War

when the east india company established budding trade relations with china these ties would strengthen over time as the east india company grew to dominate european trade with china and eventually led in the mid 18th century to the foundation of the canton system in which the contemporary chinese qing dynasty would be able to better control.

the booming trade with the british the only issue with this though for the brits at least was that the qing dynasty really controlled the trade relations british merchants could only trade with a specific group of chinese merchants they could only use one of the 13 factories from canton and were not allowed to learn to speak chinese nonetheless there was extremely high demand for chinese goods over.

in britain and the trade of silk porcelain and tea was still flourishing this in itself slowly became an inconvenience for the east india company however given the facts that the chinese merchants would accept only one thing in exchange for their products silver as a consequence silver was leaving britain at a rapid rate and while they satisfied the demand for chinese goods simultaneously the inability to keep silver.

in their pockets began to bother the brits the solution if you ask the east india company it would be opium to be transparent opium was not new to china when the british started to bring it in fact the use of the drug medicinally had begun back during the tang dynasty and was initially brought to china by arab merchants the opium trade was soon dominated by british merchants by 1781 opium exports to china via the brits slowly began to become a regular occurrence since this trade would be the british key to solving the waning silver predicament.

the british east india company quickly established tight control over the industry and ensured that opium would be traded for the necessary silver and that related payments would end up in british pockets this plan worked for the east india company and great britain and for a while it also worked for the chinese by giving more silver to the brits this allowed more chinese goods to be sold to britain in return and the profitable cycle could continue that was however only until the opium itself became a problem for the qing authorities opium being.

an often addictive drug was creating a subsequent society of addicts which began to destabilize the chinese society by 1799 the government had both banned the drug and put an end to the trade of it the british merchants however were not willing to give up the solution that they had so happily found to the silver debacle unbothered by the bands they continued to smuggle opium into china under the noses of the officials to then sell it to chinese opium dealers the trade thus continued.

and even flourished especially as more european and american merchants decided to join the industry eventually the qing authorities began to seriously crack down on both the opium trade and british trade and monopoly as a whole this angered the british merchants and sparked a new wave of tensions between britain and china the discord continued to escalate as both sides wanted to hold their ground and the final straw soon came in the mid-19th century.

The British Attack on the Chinese

Why did the British Attack the Chinese - The First Opium War

when the chinese officials began to seize british opium for destruction a few skirmishes broke out in response until finally the decision was made to go to war the mindset of the british was simple this was not a normal war it was a punitive expedition and the chinese would face consequences for their attack on british trade the chinese on the flip side were not quite as prepared since they did not expect the brits to return after their previous skirmishes.

nevertheless in the early summer of 1840 the first wave of british forces returned to china and demanded that the ching authorities pay compensation for all the destroyed goods they had seized and additional damage done by the interference with british trade predictably the qing officials refused to do so the brits now resorted to plan b through a coalition of naval and ground forces.

the british then took the region of dinghai on the zhoushin island and were able to force brief negotiations with the qing government although this failed to resolve the conflict and the war continued the second battle of chun-pi in january of 1841 ended in favor of the brits and the chinese attempted to make peace once again out of concern for their own ability or lack of to win the war the convention of chun po was written up.

in hopes of doing just that but both governments simultaneously refused to sign the document and henceforth continued the war the british swiftly seized more ching territory with the battle of the bogue and the battle of first bar that february riding on their increasing wave of momentum for the months to come the qing administration still fought back as mightily as they could but so far it seems that nothing could stop.

the british war machine one remarkable moment of aggression came in march when the brits had decided to consider negotiation with the chinese government and sent the ship under the flag of truce which the qing shortly fired upon in response the stunned brits targeted the fort at fault and said it ablaze on march 18th the british attacked and partially occupied canton finally reopening trade for british merchants.

after negotiating with the chinese kohong merchants two days later though a truce was declared and the brits partially withdrew after a failed night attack by the qing troops in may attempting to exterminate the brits from the city of canton and by may 30th all of canton consequently fell under british authority the following day a treaty was signed between the local leadership and the brits which prompted.

the latter to withdraw further back to the bogue forts the war dragged on for months more and the british luck began to change slightly in two incidents british ships were wrecked and survivors of the accidents were taken hostage and many later executed or killed by neglect in what would be named the near buddha incident still the tide soon favored the brits again with the second capture of chusan and the seizure of a ningbo fort a few days later followed shortly by the occupation of the entire city.

a short break in the war came now with the winter of 1841 but by the following march the conflict was back on with the british victory at the battle of ningpo and the immediate capture of the city of sushi more and more battles broke out and the british troops again and again came out triumphant though still the ching authorities were not ready to give in thanks to the stubborn strength of the chinese the war raged on until august of 1842.

when the qing government at last decided to negotiate peace with the british once more weeks of diplomatic talks were required for the two sides to finally come to any kind of satisfactory agreement but eventually on august 29 1842 the treaty of nang king was signed on the hms cornwallis and officially ended the first opium war the terms of the treaty greatly changed the former canton system for foreign trade.

in china in favor of the british merchants which helped resolve the initial tensions that had built up to the point of the war additionally the qing authorities were to pay 6 million silver dollars in compensation to the brits for the stolen opium and millions more for other reparations demanded by the british all british prisoners of war were further released by the chinese officials and all chinese citizens.

who had assisted the british efforts were to be granted amnesty few similar terms were forced on by the brits contrarily and lastly hong kong seceded to the british crown as a new crown colony a later treaty known as the treaty of the bogue was then signed the following year and saw the qing government recognize Britain.

Why did the British Attack the Chinese - The First Opium War

as an equal to china and another year later comparable treaties would be signed between the qing and the united states and the qing and france although it would take less than two decades for the second opium war to break out nonetheless the end of the first opium war closed the door on a strange few years in history and put an end to the trade conflict between the british and chinese even if only temporarily.

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