The first Opium War and its impacts on China

Term Paper, 2012

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content

1 The closed and trade adverse China before 1839

2 Unbalanced trade and the Opium Smuggle

3 Commissioner Lin and the Outbreak of War

4 The Treaty of Nanking and the aftermaths of the war
4.1 Economical impacts
4.2 Social and ideological impacts
4.1 Political impacts

5 Conclusion


1 The closed and trade adverse China before 1839

Before 1839, China was closed for Western trader. The only Chinese port, where highly controlled trade between Western merchants and the governmental appointed merchants “Gong Hang” was allowed, was Canton (Guangzhou). Western merchants had to life in separated districts of Canton, could not stay there more than a few months and were prohibited to bring their families or to have contact with Chinese except in trade. Furthermore, Western traders could not contact Chinese officials directly and there were no formal diplomatic relations between China and Western countries. Why did China seal off itself from Western trade so extremely?

First, the foreign policy of China at this time was influenced by a sense of supremacy. According to China’s view of the world, the Earth was a square and the round heaven projects its shadow on the centre of the Earth. China saw itself as the “Tian Xia” (zone beneath the heaven) and thus was the “Heavenly Middle Kingdom”. Areas not under this celestial emanation, such as the Western world, are ruled by the “Yi” (barbarians) which were seeing as below the Chinese and their emperor. Due to this ideology, the Chinese were not interested in any contact with the “foreign evils”.

Furthermore, China wanted to protect itself from colonization which it observed in the rest of the world at this time. Due to the industrialization in the 18th century, Western traders looked for new markets for their industrial goods and additional resources to produce these. The penetration and finally conquest of China’s old neighbor India alarmed the Chinese Manchu government (Qing Dynasty). In the race to colonize the world, China seems to be the last prize. Under the Qing, China was becoming weaker and seeing the Western advancing towards it, Manchu rulers are frightened that foreigners could learn this weakness or Chinese could collaborate with them. This foreign anxiety[1] contributed to sealing-off of China.

Economically, China had a self-sufficient domestic trade and its internal trade was more than enough to cover all need of the Chinese people. The natural economy combined individual farming with household handicraft. Thus there was no particular need of Western goods nor did Chinese have the money to buy them. It seemed like China would have lost more than it would have gained from foreign trade. However, the sealing-off of the Chinese markets finally provoked the forced opening of the whole Chinese Economy (see chapter 3.1).

2 Unbalanced trade and the Opium Smuggling

The tolerated trade between China and the Western was very unequal. The British imported silk, tea and porcelain from China while the Chinese showed little interest in Western products because of their self-sufficient economy. Thus Britain had a large and rising trade deficit with China which led to a massive drain of silver.

The British considered the foreign markets for their goods to be huge and expected to earn high profits from the trade with China. Seeing the immense trade deficit, they blamed China’s closed-door policy for their poor sales. Unfortunately, peaceful negotiations between Britain and the Chinese emperor on the opening of China to Western trade failed among other due to cultural misunderstandings. The British got the impression that the Chinese were too arrogant to negotiate and that only force would open up Chinese ports.

To stop the steady drain of silver, the British looked for goods China did not have and they found one: Opium. The East India Company developed large scale production of cheap, purified Opium in India. As Opium was an illegal drug in China, it had to be smuggled. “Opium Clippers” brought the drug from Calcutta or Bombay to Canton (soon to Lintin Island, which laid beyond the jurisdiction of local officials), from where it was distributed to other costal and mainland cities (see figure 1 and 2).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Picture 1: Opium routes between British-controlled India and China.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Picture 2: Opium transportation routes to Mainland China.


[1] That the trade protection was not due foreign hostility but anxiety is also confirmed by the fact that the “closed door” policy did not apply for northern foreigner like Russia,

Excerpt out of 14 pages


The first Opium War and its impacts on China
The University of Hong Kong
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1708 KB
opium, china
Quote paper
Cornelia Andree (Author), 2012, The first Opium War and its impacts on China, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The first Opium War and its impacts on China

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free