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WATCH: Opium Wars

The British wage two wars on China to have better access to Chinese markets, especially to sell opium grown in British India.

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  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Kabir
    How much was China immersed in Western Trade at this point? I understand many europeans surrounded them, but the Japanese had kept to themselves, so how much did the Chinese contact Europeans or other Westerners?
    (12 votes)
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    • spunky sam green style avatar for user History Helper
      China did trade with westerners ever since the Portuguese arrived on their shores in the 15th century. But trade and diplomatic relations were limited due to China's semi-isolationist foreign and protectionist economic policy. But as technology and trade boomed in the west, the Europeans began to attempt to assert more trade power in Asia. But China's centuries-long policy came into conflict with that of westerners. China tried to cut trade benefits for the West, which led to many wars with Western powers over trade dispute, which led China to sign multiple unequal treaties.
      (13 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Kabir
    What was the Taiping Rebellion about? And Sal mentioned something about a Christian group, so where did that influence originate from?
    (11 votes)
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    • spunky sam green style avatar for user History Helper
      The Taiping rebellion was led by a man named Hong Xiuquan. After a series of failures on the national imperial exams, Hong went through many mental breakdowns. But he reported saw many visions and dreams along with reading many Christian texts. This led him to conclude that he saw God in his visions and that he was the younger brother of Jesus. Already filled with the anti-Qing sentiment from his exam failures, he began to attract many followers and begin his quest to overthrow the Qing dynasty and reform China under his vision.
      (13 votes)
  • duskpin seed style avatar for user Michaela
    If the British were trading Opium out of India, did the wars have any effect on India? Or was it only on England and China?
    (6 votes)
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  • hopper cool style avatar for user .
    Sal says that the british decide to force the issue. The issue of what? China not trading?
    (3 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user SDC XXIV
    Just how addictive is opium compared to other substances, and exactly why are the British selling opium in Qing China?
    (1 vote)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user deesiddiqui
      The British were selling opium in Qing China to create a cycle of hard silver. The British were paying hard silver to China for their teas, silks, and other products, but China was not interested in British products, so the silver stayed in China. Britain wanted to get the silver out, so they smuggled opium into China, which once the Chinese were addicted, the Qing government had to pay for in hard silver. The same silver that Britain had paid them for their products. So it was a cycle, Britain paying silver for Chinese products, and China returning that silver to Britain in exchange for Opium.
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user tsingh23
    why did the christians want to overthrow the Dynasty of Quing?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      That depends on whether one can equate the people of the Taiping rebellion with Christians. The way I read it, the guy who led the Taiping was a megalomaniac who used misunderstood parts of Christianity to drive his personal mission to overthrow the Qing. And, besides, by the time of the Taiping, the Qing were pretty well on the decline, anyway. China was ripe for some kind of a change, but the Christians were in no way powerful enough to drive that.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Emma
    what was the chinese european balance of trade problem in the early nineteenth century?
    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Rhett Zhao
    So Britan and France is just being harsh to Qing China
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Jeka Tarasov
    why did the christians want to overthrow the Qing Dynasty?
    (0 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Defaulting
      Well, firstly, there were different groups of "Christians," but I assume you are referring to the Taiping rebellion. Their leader Hong Xiuquan, was incredibly delusional and believed himself to simultaneously be the (adopted) brother of Jesus Christ and the next leader of China. He wanted to throw out the "Manchu Devils" (the Qing dynasty was not native to China, and this fact was greatly resented by the local populace) and establish the next Chinese dynasty, the Taiping Tianguo (Heavenly Empire of Great Peace), under himself.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

- [Instructor] This is a map of East Asia in the 19th century and you can already see significant imperial control by Western European powers. You have the British East India Company in India, you have the French initially getting a foothold in Southeast Vietnam in this orange area but eventually they will take over this entire region that will become one day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. You have the Dutch in Indonesia and you have the Spanish in the Philippines, but what we're going to focus on in this video is the European and in particular the British attempt to open up the Chinese markets to British trade. China at the time under the control of the Qing Dynasty. Well before this period, Chinese products were in demand in Europe, in particular, Chinese porcelain and Chinese silk. Unfortunate for the Europeans, the Chinese did not have a lot of demand for European products and so you had a balance of trade problem. These products would be exported from China into Europe and you would have hard silver currency going to China. And so the imperial powers, especially the British, were looking for a solution, and they eventually found that opium grown in India, which is a highly addictive drug, it's the core constituent of heroin and morphine, could be addictive to the Chinese people and maybe could help solve this balance of trade problem, that silver could then flow outside of China. Well you could imagine the Chinese government, the Qing Dynasty, had no interest in opium coming in to China, it was destructive to their society, it was an addictive drug, but in 1839, the British decide to force the issue and you have what will be known as the First Opium War. This is a picture of the Second Battle of Chuenpi, you see the British vessel Nemesis, which is actually owned by a company, the British East India Company, destroying Chinese junk ships and because of this show of force and this military superiority, they were able to win the First Opium War and extract major concessions from Qing China. The Chinese had to open up five ports to trade with the British, they had to give the island of Hong Kong to the British indefinitely and the British would keep control of it all the way until the end of the 20th century. The Chinese had to pay for opium that they destroyed, they had to give reparations to the British to pay for the costs of the war. Now to add insult to injury, the British were not satisfied and in 1856, you have the Second Opium War, where they tried to extract even more concessions from China, after which opium is legalized, the whole time opium flooding into the country and really undermining the social fabric of society. To make matters worse for China, you have a major civil war in this time period, the Taiping Rebellion, which was started by this sect of Christianity that viewed it as their destiny to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and this is one of the most bloody civil wars that any nation has seen in history, with over 20 million people being killed and historians believe that the Qing concessions to the British and then the French and also the opium that was undermining Chinese society was a major contributor to this long and bloody civil war. These opium wars are often cited by Japanese in this time period as a reason for their need to industrialize and become imperial power so that they don't get unraveled the same way that Qing China does by the Europeans. But to appreciate that this was even controversial in Europe. William Gladstone, as we enter into the First Opium War, was a young parliamentarian in Britain and he will eventually be, at the end of the 19th century, a significant British prime minister. But as the opium war was beginning, he gave a famous speech in Parliament. "It is a matter of certainty that if we stopped "the exportation of opium from Bengal and broke up "the depot at Lintin and checked the cultivation of it "in Malwa and put a moral stigma upon it, that we should "greatly cripple if not extinguish the trade in it. "The great principles of justice "are involved in this matter. "You," and he's talking to I believe the Foreign Minister who is an aggressive proponent of the opium wars, "You will be called upon to show cause for your present "intention of making war upon the Chinese. "They gave us notice to abandon the contraband trade, "the trade in opium. "When they found that we would not, they had the right "to drive us from their coasts on account of our obstinacy "in persisting in this infamous and atrocious traffic." And opium was addictive and William Gladstone had personal experience with this, his sister became addicted to opium. He went on to say, "I am not competent to judge how long "this war may last, but this I can say, that a war "more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated "in its progress to cover this country with permanent "disgrace, I do not know, and I have not read of." And a few days later, he wrote, "I am in dread of the judgments of god upon England "for our national iniquity towards China."