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Ib Internal Assessment - The Causes Of The Opium War

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A: Plan of Investigation

What are the causes of the Opium War which occurred in 1839-1842?

When the Chinese decided to ban the opium trade, wars broke out due to conflicts between China and Britain. The aim of this investigation is to analyze the causes of the first Opium War, as it will cover the circumstances of China through that period, and the condition of China with Britain during the war. The analysis will specify what triggered the Opium War and briefly on the impact behind this important historical event. The research will cover basic and essential points of the War, using various resources and documentations that are creditable, as well as historical documentations written by Chinese officials during the war. Primary background information is also found through books that I’ve chosen, including previously unpublished documents - The collection of official documents from Lin Zexu, edited in 1963; and The Foribidden Game, written by Brian Inglis.

B: Summary of Evidence:

The Qing Dynasty

The early Qing period was perhaps the most prosperous time in Chinese history . The Qing Empire reached its highpoint during the reign of Emperor Quianlong (1736-1795). However, as he grew older, Heshen, a corrupt palace guard, began to influence his decisions. Despite the excess of material wealth received during the Qing period, corruption became a growing factor in the government, as China became a fertile ground for social unrest. In the 1800s, as the powerful Manchu (Qing) dynasty corroded, the government faced many internal rebellions, and European imperialism began to reach Asian empire. The White Lotus Rebellion from 1796 to 1805 is an example of a religious movement led by the White Lotus Society, who wanted to overthrow the corrupt Qing government and restore the native Ming Empire. This rebellion turned into a guerrilla war that led to massive turmoil throughout central China. The weakened Qing Empire strained more with the increasing presence of the Europeans. The Closed Door Policy, originally meant to forbid foreign merchants to land on China soil besides from Canton, caused Chinese to fall behind with the advancement in technology around the world. The situation worsened with the increasing number of people who becomes addicted to opium, the large outflow of silver pushed the government to the edge of collapsing.

The British forces

As early as the early 17th century, Britain had always wanted to control the Chinese market. By the 1900’s, trading in goods from China was extremely lucrative for Europeans. But trade to China suffered from the fact that China professed no interest in foreign products; therefore it was difficult for the merchants to purchase goods from China without having anything that Chinese interested. The only way to expand their trade was to increase the opium traffic. In 1834 the British government despatched Load Napier to China, in order to convince the Chinese to open up other ports to foreign trade. Napier knew nothing of China and Chinese, and he succeeded only in irritating the Canton authorities. However, since the British forces was well equipped, they were more than a match for Chinese militia which were sent to intercept them , as the battles later on was a great hit to the Chinese Empire.

The Opium Trade

Starting as early as 1729 , opium trade was banned in China although it was not strictly guarded. With the growing numbers of opium smokers, the opium imports increased tenfold between 1800 and 1840 and provided the British with the means to pay for the tea and other goods imported from China . By the 1820s, the trade balance shifted in Britain’s favor, and opium became a major commercial and diplomatic issue between China and Britain. With the growing drug addiction until the mid 1830s, the opium trade had created serious economic, financial, social, and political problems in China that many officials and scholars became concerned about. Chinese historians have suggested that opium smoking greatly affected economy of China through the idea that it would destroy future inheritors China, as sons of wealthy men in powerful positions died from opium addiction. The Emperor вЂ"Tao-Kwang, who had succeeded to the throne in 1820вЂ"was a victim of this result, as his three eldest sons all died of opium addiction . Due to the resulting currency drain, decay, and diminishment of the military forces’ fighting capacity, the Chinese government had to ban the opium trade quickly and completely.

The Opium Ban in 1838

When the emperor Tao-Kwang finally agreed in 1838 that the opium trade must be stopped, he sent an official named Lin Zexu (1785-1850) to Canton with the special mandate to solve the opium problem . Commissioner Lin launched his anti-drug campaign in Canton, and on March 10, 1839, Lin proclaimed that the opium trade would no longer be tolerated in Canton, and he began arresting known opium dealers in the local schools and naval barracks. “Let no one think,” Lin proclaimed, “that this is only a temporary effort on behalf of the Emperor. We will persist until the job is finished.” In Lin’s dealing with British opium traders, he used reasons, as he even sent a letter to Queen Victoria (although it’s impossible to know whether the Queen even read it or not). When this didn’t work, Lin blockaded the residence compound of the foreign opium traders. He led the local magistrate and destroyed more than 20,000 cases of opium collected from British merchants and another 1,500 cases from American merchants, in front of everyone at the Tiger Gate. Commissioner Lin insisted that the British could not enjoy any of the benefits of legal trade unless they agreed to obey Chinese laws and stopped importing opium. If the British could not honor these terms, they were ordered to leave Chinese waters and never return. Lin did not know that even British civilian merchant ships were armed with cannon that were far more accurate and deadlier than any of the guns of the Chinese fleet . Feeling confident that the Chinese coast-guard could prevail in the event of trouble, Lin concluded “People say that our junks and guns are no match for the British.... But they do not know!”

C: Evaluation of the sources

Two of sources that I used were:

Brian Inglis, ed. 1975. The Forbidden Game,



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