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原标题:The Opium War - Lost in Compensation l HISTORY OF CHINA

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For centuries, China had remained largely aloof from the intrigues of world over trading rights, would bring about a full-scale war, which was to then bring about a huge influx of foreign influence and herald the beginning of a "century of humiliation".


The Middle Kingdom would never be the same again, and it all started with two highly addictive and lucrative goods: tea and opium.


Regular trade between China and Europe had been ongoing since the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th Century. As European economic power expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries, Chinese goods like silk and porcelain became highly fashionable in the cities and courts of the West, and trade in these products was very lucrative.


In Britain, however, there was no Chinese product which created a greater demand than tea, for which the British developed an insatiable appetite. There were two problems with that, though.


When the Portuguese first introduced tobacco from North America, many Chinese had started smoking the two drugs together recreationally.It became a popular social pastime and by the late 18th Century, increasingly large amounts of opium, produced by the British East India Company, were being shipped to China.


The Chinese imperial government tried to ban the opium trade several times,but the British were able to bypass these laws with the help of smugglers and cooperative local authorities eager to exploit the demand.


British companies flooded the black market with thousands of tons of the drug during the 1830s receiving silver in return. The number of Chinese opium addicts grew as large as 12 million, obviously a cause for concern. In December 1838, the Daoguang Emperor sent commissioner Lin Zexu to Canton to deal with the problem.


Lin declared the death penalty would be applied to anyone found importing or possessing opium.He also confiscated over 1000 tons of opium (worth £2 million) following a blockade of the merchant's quarter. He then had the opium destroyed in May 1839.


By June, the expeditionary force had arrived on the Chinese coast. It blockaded the Pearl River before heading north to bring the demands to the Emperor.


On July 6th, the British captured the island of Zhoushan near the mouth of the Yangtze,


virtually annihilating Chinese defences in a nine-minute barrage after local officials refused to surrender. They headed further north in August, blockading more ports. In battle after battle, the dire state of the Chinese military had become clear: Soldiers were equipped with bows, spears, and swords, and the occasional matchlock musket.


Military units, scattered across a vast empire, would take many months to march to where they were needed. Chinese coastal defences were crumbling stone forts, and the small war junks simply weren't equipped to fight the battleships and frigates of the Royal Navy.


Also, local authorities and military leaders were unwilling to bear news of defeats to Beijing, and the Emperor instead received fabricated reports of heroic victories. Seeing the whole business with Britain as a mere sideshow, many refused to acknowledge that there was a war on at all.


Indeed, when the British fleet first arrived, Daoguang was informed
that it was simply an unusually large flotilla of opium smugglers.


Following the withdrawal from Canton, the fleet headed north again,
occupying several cities between August and October 1841.
Campaigns the following year captured Chapu and Shanghai, then still a small town.


The final major battle of the war took place at Zhenjiang Jen-jiahng,
where the British assault destroyed much of the city and killed many of the men defending it.


With the road to Nanjing open, and with it control of the entire Yangtze region,
the Chinese government became fully aware of how serious the situation was, and sued for peace.
On August 29, 1842, Britain and China signed the Treaty of Nanking.


Among other things, China agreed to pay 20 million silver dollars in indemnities,
abolish the Cohong monopoly, adhere to fixed customs duties, open five ports to foreign trade
(including Canton and Shanghai), and cede the island of Hong Kong to Britain.


This was the first of many "Unequal Treaties" that China was to sign over the following decades.
The 1850s saw Britain and France fight China in a second Opium War,
which culminated in the burning of the Emperor's Summer Palace in Beijing,
fully legalised the opium trade and opened yet more ports to foreign merchants.


So what do you think? Was the forceful opening of China an inevitable consequence of rising European Imperialism nd China's military weakness, or might things have gone differently if the opium dispute had taken a different course? Let us know in the comments.