The Opium War, directed by Jin Xie, paints a rather impartial account of the Opium War, starting with the appointment of Lin Zexu to end the opium trade in China to the signing of the Treaty of Nanking. This film seemed to fairly depict the faults of both the Chinese and the British during the 1830’s and up to 1842. That said, The Opium War illustrated two important factors that both helped to promote the conflict and eventual military confrontation between China and Britain.
The first is the state of the Chinese government at the time of the opium trade. There was enough corruption within the government itself that it was very difficult to halt trading at its source. The trading company that dealt with the British merchants often had to bribe officials with opium in order to complete their business. Not only did this give incentive for the local government officials to continue allowing the trading, it made it difficult to find and prosecute all the parties involved. When Lin Zexu saw the accounts record, he could not believe that so many officials were involved, and he went as far as to say that prosecuting them all means he would have to “kill every official in Guangzhou.” Indeed even some of his own officials were opium users, forcing Lin Zexu to bend the rules, saying “to err is human.”
While it was hard enough to stamp out opium trade from China, it was even more difficult for the Chinese government to accept the demands of the British. At this time in history, China had grown too sure of itself and presumed itself to be the greatest world power. This sort of arrogant and decrepit government is shown in the old and frail officials advising the emperor on actions against the British. Even after an initial attack and as war is looming between the two nations, China is still so sure of its power that the emperor, instead of asking for a truce, “grants” a truce for the British. At this point however, it is interesting to note that it is somewhat unclear what the intentions of the Chinese government are. The officials are seemingly divided on whether to appease the British or to wage open war. As China negotiated with Britain however, it seems that the Chinese were eager to appease any demands because they were already unsure of their ability to defend themselves against a naval attack.