The First Opium War  


Opium Trade in China

Tensions Emerge

First Opium War

Second Opium War

Lasting Effects

Works Cited



The British government was extremely insulted by Lin’s destruction of the opium, and took it as a sign of hostility. Lin sent a letter to Queen Victoria trying to resolve the matter, letting the British know that if they objected to the death penalty that would be imposed on those involved in the opium trade they could sign a different document that would allow them to trade freely at the mouth of the Bogue, heavily supervised by the Chuenpo Fort. The British refused the offer and sent warships and soldiers. The forces arrived in June of 1840 and started to attack coastal villages.

During this period the British navy was the most formidable fighting force. The Qing armies fought back valiantly, but they were not as well equipped or organized. The British had muskets and cannons, as well as extensive formal training. Lin tried to overcome China’s military problem by “arming the people”. He raised militia levies so each Cantonese village could have its own militia. He also recruited unemployed tea porters, having the Hong pay them $6 a month to be soldiers. He also paid fishermen $6 a month to patrol and raid on their boats. He offered money to those that killed members of the British military or sank ships. Lin also tried to copy Western techniques by shipping in 200 cannons to Canton and purchasing a 1,080 ton ship to reinforce the blockade there.

The British troops took Canton and sailed up the Yangtze river, destroying tax barges on the way. This significantly cut the revenues of the imperial court in Beijing. In January of 1841 Charles Elliot arrived in Beijing to negotiate with the Chinese in the Convention of Quabi. The Chinese met the minimum demands of the British, but neither side accepted the agreement. The Chinese emperor was indignant that his official had given anything to the British, and the British government wanted more.

British occupation of ports allowed for opium trade to re-open. Opium ships would follow the British fleet into ports in order to set up trade. The merchants made no attempt to hide while smuggling the drug ashore and the prices of opium were openly published.

In August of 1841 Sir Henry Pottinger replaces Charles Elliot as superintendent of trade. He orders British forces to occupy cities along the coast and in the Spring of 1842 the British fully resume their offensive position. They traveled north and took Amoy, Ting-hai, and Ning-po. In May reinforcements from India arrived and Wu-sung, Shanghai, and Zhenjiang were taken. Zhenjiang was a very important communication center and was also the entry to the Grand Canal. The British blocked the Grand Canal, preventing rice and other goods from the southern regions of China from reaching to the northern capital.

After these events, the Chinese agreed to negotiate. They met with the British in August of 1842, and on the 29th the Treaty of Nanking was agreed upon. The treaty decidedly favored the British- the Hong were abolished, the ports of Fuzhou, Ningbo, Shanghai, and Xiamen were opened to trade, the Chinese had to pay an indemnity of $21,000,000, and Hong Kong was ceded to the British.



Shandra Goldfinger © 2006.  Created for World Politics 116, Mount Holyoke College.  Contact: goldf20s at mtholyoke dot edu.

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