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The First Anglo-Chinese War as an Opium War

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The First Anglo-Chinese War as an Opium War

The Chinese customarily calls the Anglo-Chinese War 1839-1842 the
Opium War because from their point of view, the opium trade was the
main cause of the war. From the British standpoint, the motive for the
war was not opium prohibition but rather the repeated insults and
humiliation; the British had received from the Chinese government.
They claimed that the conflict between China and Britain had been
brewing for many decades. Even without opium, it would still have been
erupted as a result of their differing conceptions of international
relations, trade and jurisdiction. According to their view, the opium
prohibition was merely its precipitating, immediate cause, but not the
importance of opium in contributing to the war. It was opium that
strained the Sino-British relationship, deepened their quarrels and
finally acted as a spark that led to war. Of course, besides opium,
there were other underlying causes too; the cultural conflict claimed
by the British, may also be one of these causes.

Opium trade was important to both Chinese and the British. For the
Chinese, since opium smoking for pleasure was known, there was a
growing demand for this drug. This led to increased foreign
importation and to native cultivation in Szechuan, Fukien as well as
other provinces. After the abolition of the East India Company’s
monopoly of the China trade, there was a further extension of opium
traffic in China. It was estimated that the total number of smokers
was somewhere between 2 and 10 million – more than 1% of the Chinese

... middle of paper ...

... the surrender of the guilty. The
discontent engendered by the Canton System could not be expressed to
the Peking authorities for these was the absence of diplomatic
representation between the two countries and the improvement of the
system on a peaceful basis was totally impossible.

Attempts had been made to ameliorate unsatisfactory Canton System of
trade. The Macartney Mission1793, the Amherst Mission 1816 and the
Napier Mission 1834, however, all these attempts ended in failure. It
seemed that peaceful negotiation was impossible to heal up the wound.
The only one alternative left was by force. Therefore, even though
opium suppression was to some extent important to the contribution of
outbreak of war, the ultimate cause of the war was not this drug, but
rather the cultural conflicts between the East and the West.

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