The Opium War and Foreign Encroachment Acknowledgment: The consultant for this unit was Dr. Sue Gronewold, a specialist in Chinese history. The text of the Treaty of Nanking is from Changing China: Readings in the History of China from the Opium War to the Present, edited by J. Mason Gentzler. Copyright © 1977 by Praeger Publishers, A Division of Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Reproduced by permission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston. (Photographs courtesy of Culver Pictures Inc.; reprinted by permission.) Source: www.afe.easia.columbia.edu; accessed and augmented by Dana Kooistra, 1.29.09.
Two things happened in the eighteenth century that made it difficult for England to balance its trade with the East. First, the British became a nation of tea drinkers and the demand for Chinese tea rose astronomically. It is estimated that the average London worker spent five percent of his or her total household budget on tea. Second, northern Chinese merchants began to ship Chinese cotton from the interior to the coastal south to compete with the Indian cotton that Britain had traded to help pay for its tea consumption habits. To prevent a trade imbalance, the British tried to sell more of their own products to China, but there was not much demand for heavy woolen fabrics in a country accustomed to either cotton padding or silk. The only solution was to increase the amount of Indian goods to pay for these Chinese luxuries, and increasingly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the item provided to China was Bengal opium. With greater opium supplies naturally came an increase in demand and use throughout the country, despite repeated prohibitions by Chinese government officials. The British did all they could to increase the trade: They bribed officials, helped the Chinese work out elaborate smuggling schemes to get the opium into China's interior, and distributed free samples of the drug to innocent victims. The cost to China was enormous. The drug weakened a large percentage of the population (some estimate that 10 percent of the population regularly used opium by the late nineteenth century), and silver began to flow out of the country to pay for the opium. Many of the economic problems China faced later were either directly or indirectly traced to the opium trade. The government debated about whether to legalize the drug through a government monopoly like that on salt. But since the Chinese were fully aware of the harms of addiction, in 1838 the emperor decided to send one of his most able officials, Lin Ze‐Xu, to Canton to do whatever necessary to end the traffic forever. Lin was able to put his first two proposals into effect easily. Addicts were rounded up, forcibly treated, and taken off the habit, and domestic drug dealers were harshly punished. His third objective‐‐to confiscate foreign stores and force foreign merchants to sign pledges of good conduct, agreeing never to trade in opium and to be punished by
Addiction and its Consequences Although the Chinese imperial government had long prohibited the drug except for medicinal use, the "British Hong" (companies such as Dent, Jardine, and Matheson that the Chinese had authorized to operate in Canton only) bought cheaply produced opium in Bengal under the auspices of the British East India Company. The hongs imported 9708 150 lb. chests in 1820 and 35,445 in 1835. With the British government's 1833 cancellation of the trade monopoly enjoyed by the East India Company, cheap opium flooded the market, and China's net outflow of silver amounted to some 34 million Mexican silver dollars over the course of the 1830s. The habit of smoking opium spread from the idle rich to ninety per cent of all Chinese males under the age of forty in the country's coastal regions. Business activity was much reduced, the civil service ground to a halt, and the standard of living fell. The Emperor Dao guang's special anti‐opium commissioner Lin Ze‐xu (1785‐1850), modestly estimated the number of his countrymen addicted to the drug to be 4 million, but a British physician practising in Canton set the figure at 12 million. Equally disturbing for the imperial government was the imbalance of trade with the West: whereas prior to 1810 Western nations had been spending 350 million Mexican silver dollars on porcelain, cotton, silks, brocades, and various grades of tea, by 1837 opium represented 57 per cent of Chinese imports, and for fiscal 1835‐36 alone China exported 4.5 million silver dollars. Source: Philip Allingham. http://www.victorianweb.org/history/e mpire/opiumwars/opiumwars1.html
Chinese law if ever found in violation‐‐eventually brought war. Opinion in England was divided: Some British did indeed feel morally uneasy about the trade, but they were overruled by those who wanted to increase England's China trade and teach the arrogant Chinese a good lesson. Western military weapons, including percussion lock muskets, heavy artillery, and paddlewheel gunboats, were far superior to China's. Britain's troops had recently been toughened in the Napoleonic wars, and Britain could muster garrisons, warships, and provisions from its nearby colonies in Southeast Asia and India. The result was a disaster for the Chinese. By the summer of 1842 British ships were victorious and were even preparing to shell the old capital, Nanking, in central China. The emperor therefore had no choice but to accept the British demands and sign a peace agreement. This agreement, the first of the "unequal treaties," opened China to the West and marked the beginning of western exploitation of the nation. Other humiliating defeats followed in what one historian has called China's "treaty century" (major aspects of the so‐called "unequal treaties" were not formally voided until 1943). In 1843, France and the U.S., and Russia in 1858, negotiated treaties similar to England's Nanking (Nanjing) Treaty, including a provision for extraterritoriality, whereby foreign nationals in China were immune from Chinese law (see below). To compel a reluctant China to shift from its traditional tribute based foreign relations to treaty relations, Europeans fought a second war with China from 1858‐1860, and the concluding Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin) and Convention of Peking (Beijing) increased China's semi‐colonial status. More ports were open to foreign residence and trade, and foreigners, especially missionaries, were allowed free movement and business anywhere in the country. Conflicts for the rest of the century wrung more humiliating concessions from China: with Russia over claims in China's far west and northeast in 1850 and 1860, with England over access to the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in 1876, with France over northern Vietnam in 1884, with Japan over its claims to Korea and northeast China in 1895, and with many foreign powers after 1897 which demanded "spheres of influence," especially for constructing railroads and mines. In 1900, an international army suppressed the anti‐foreign Boxer Rebellion in northern China, destroying much of Beijing in the process. Each of these defeats brought more foreign demands, greater indemnities that China had to repay, more foreign presence along the coast, and more foreign participation in China's political and economic life. Little wonder that many in China were worried by the century's end that China was being sliced up "like a melon."
Conflict of Laws Chinese concepts of law, and the imperial code, were fundamentally different from Western law. The standards of justice were not necessarily inferior to those of Western states, but they were strange, incomprehensible and unacceptable to many foreigners. There was an administrative and mainly penal code, essentially an instrument o f government, designed to preserve the social order and the imperial system. There was no notion of a ‘higher’ law, stemming from divine will or from
universal ‘human rights.’ Confucius himself had not reasoned from fundamental principles, sill less from any idea of the rights or liberties of individuals, but rather from everyday and observable life, and what that might suggest for maintaining social order and harmony. Chinese officials were, after all, Confucians, concerned with the role of virtue, where Western and especially British officials were apt to be lawyers, concerned merely with the rule of law.
innocence of the accused. There could be forced Much of Chinese law had to do with procedures, confessions. Plaintiffs as well as defendants could inheritance law and the like, and breaking the rules was something to be dealt with as a matter of be subjected during interrogation to torture, whose practicalities, not philosophical principles. forms were carefully prescribed. Arrests could be Therefore offences against the social order arbitrary and detention or imprisonment indefinite. attracted special severity. A child’s disobedience to However, the system was tightly and precisely the father, for example, was a particularly dreadful organized and administered. Cases were subject to review and appeal. Moreover, given China’s system crime: a son who actually struck his father might of collective responsibility, someone who might be have his head cut off. Failure to obey an imperial order was certainly a capital crime, whatever the personally innocent could be executed simply as the circumstances. (N.B. A capital crime = one representative of a group, or a scapegoat. Family punishable by death). solidarity being such a powerful element in Chinese society, guilt by association was often assumed and Beyond that, there were no legally effective rights punishment of relatives was a regular practice. of private property, no protection against a state Europeans were bound to regard such principles which was quite unconcerned with private property with horror. That made the question of jurisdiction as an investment, and nothing resembling modern Western commerce and society and its networks of over foreigners in China, or in Chinese waters, legal rules and sanctions. highly sensitive and became increasingly acute as time went by. In 1773 the Portuguese acquitted an There was no such thing as a legal profession, not Englishman at Macao of killing a Chinese man, but any idea of private lawyers. There was nothing the Chinese insisted on retrying and executing him. resembling modern Western notions of protection In 1784 a salute fired by an English ship accidentally for individuals through ‘due process,’ no ‘legal right’ killed a Chinese onlooker. Some sailor, who to a defense, least of all any notion of ‘innocent probably had nothing to do with the affair, had until proven guilty.’ In magistrates’ courts the eventually to be turned over and was presumption was of the guilt rather than the unceremoniously strangled. Source: Henry G. Gelber, The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World, 1100 B.C. to the Present, New York: Walker and Company, 2007, pp. 182‐3.
Lin was able to put his first two proposals into effect easily. Addicts were rounded up, forcibly treated, and taken off the habit, and dome...