Opium Wars Broke the Middle Kingdom

Ship’s of the East India Company dominated trade to India and China in the 19th century. Wikimedia

2. The East India Company was soon joined by the United States

By the end of the 18th century the East India Company was shipping tons of opium from India into China, where its casual use, that is, non-medicinal use, was illegal. The market was highly lucrative, and the EIC was aided through the use of the time-honored practice of bribing local Chinese officials. After the American Revolution, ships from the United States joined in the illegal trade, shipping opium from the Ottoman Empire to China. In China, opium addiction rates soared, while Great Britain continued to ban casual use of the drugin the British Isles. The EIC brought in opium through the exploitation of loopholes in Chinese law – which allowed limited importation of opium for medicinal use – though most was simply smuggled in by its ships.

By the 1830s China’s Qing government recognized the crisis it was facing due to the trade with the western nations. Illegal opium trade had created frighteningly high rates of addiction to the drug, with millions of Chinese affected. The trade with the west had been intended to provide an influx of silver into the Emperor’s treasury. Instead, the demand of opium traders to be paid in silver had created a drain on the treasury, and a shortage of silver in China. The Daoguang Emperor ignored the calls from some advisors to legalize, regulate, and tax opium and appointed Lin Zexu to serve as Imperial Commissioner for Trade in Canton, with the mandate that the illegal trade in the drug be brought to a halt.