Grateful American® Foundation

Where did the first Opium War begin today in 1839?

September 5th

a_1831_WaterWitch_PW7767478September 5, 1839 — The First Opium War began in China today, and lasted until 1842. Also known as the Anglo-Chinese War, the battle was fought between Great Britain and Ireland and the Qing Empire over their conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice for foreign nationals, according to Steve Tsang, author of “A Modern History of Hong Kong.”

“In the 17th and 18th centuries, the demand for Chinese goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) in the European market created a trade imbalance because the market for Western goods in China was virtually non-existent,” Tsang explains. “China was largely self-sufficient and Europeans were not allowed access to China’s interior.”

This marked a new stage in China’s relations with the West. However, he notes, “European silver flowed into China when the Canton System, instituted in the mid-17th century, confined the sea trade to Canton and to the Chinese merchants of the Thirteen Factories. The British East India Company had a matching monopoly of British trade. The British East India Company began to auction opium grown on its plantations in India to independent foreign traders in exchange for silver. The opium was then transported to the China coast and sold to Chinese middlemen who retailed the drug inside China. This reverse flow of silver and the increasing numbers of opium addicts alarmed Chinese officials.”

Today, the Daoguang Emperor rejected proposals to legalise and tax opium, appointed Lin Zexu to solve the problem by abolishing the trade.

“Lin confiscated around 20,000 chests of opium (approximately 1210 tons or 2.66 million pounds) without offering compensation, blockaded trade, and confined foreign merchants to their quarters. The British government, although not officially denying China’s right to control imports of the drug, objected to this unexpected seizure and used its naval and gunnery power to inflict a quick and decisive defeat. In China, the war is considered as the beginning of modern Chinese history.”

Words of Wisdom

How about this? Hong Kong had been appropriated by British drug pushers in the 1840s. We wanted Chinese silk, porcelain, and spices. The Chinese didn't want our clothes, tools, or salted herring, and who can blame them? They had no demand.

Our solution was to make a demand, by getting large sections of the populace addicted to opium, a drug which the Chinese government had outlawed. When the Chinese understandably objected to this arrangement, we kicked the &*%$ out of them, set up a puppet government in Peking that hung signs on parks saying NO DOGS OR CHINESE, and occupied this corner of their country as an import base. Godawful behavior, when you think about it. And we accuse them of xenophobia.

It would be like the Colombians invading Washington in the early twenty-first century and forcing the White House to legalize heroin. And saying, 'Don't worry, we'll show ourselves out, and take Florida while we're at it, okay? Thanks very much.'

― David Mitchell, author, "Ghostwritten"

Partners & Supporters