After 1794, the British employed opium to turn millions of Chinese into addicts as a means of forcing the Chinese Emperor to grant them full trading rights.
At the end of the 18th century, British, Dutch and Portuguese traders were already trading in China, but the circumstances in which they did so were humiliating in the extreme.
Humiliating the Foreign Devils
The “Celestial” Chinese Emperor Ch’ien Lung made the foreigners endure all sorts of indignities and insults before they were permitted to buy the immensely valuable silk, tea and porcelain which China could provide.
The “foreign devils”,as the Chinese called them, were treated as barbarian vassals of Ch’ien Lun and were forced to crawl before him on hands and knees and dishonour the Cross as an deliberate insult to their Christian religion. Chi’ien Lung even demanded homage from George III, the King of England.
However, the British and other foreigners suspected, rightly, that beyond the severely restricted trade they were permitted, there was colossally rich market inside China which they were determined to tap.
Drugging the Chinese into Submission
The means by which the British intended to achieve this were close at hand, in India, where the British East India company grew vast quantities of opium on land which they owned in Bengal. Chinese smugglers proved willing to sell the opium and as early as 1796, 1,070 chests of the drug departed the Bengali port of Calcutta (Kolkata) bound for China.
By 1831, the East India Company was earning £981,203 per year from this illegal opium trade. By 1835, 12,977 chests of opium were being exported to China and by the 1840s, as the British had intended, nearly twelve million Chinese were addicts. The government of China became frantic to stop the spread of this evil and debilitating habit and resorted to executing some of the opium dealers.
In 1839, a Chinese official named Lin Tse-hsu confiscated and destroyed 20,283 chests of opium worth £2 millions. He also declared that foreigners in Canton (Kwangchow) on the south China coast would be taken as hostages for a British promise to cease their trade in opium.
The First Opium War Begins
The British were outraged by this threat and the result was the first Opium War which began on June 21, 1840 when fifteen British cruisers used their guns to pound to rubble the port of Ting-hai on the east China sea. In January 1842, a British fleet blasted its way up the Canton river and by the following summer, British forces had captured, looted or destroyed several Chinese cities.
The Chinese, whose forces were thoroughly antiquated, were powerless before this onslaught and were forced to a humiliating peace which was concluded at Nanking on August 29, 1842.
Humiliating the Chinese
Under the Treaty of Nanking, the Chinese were obliged to open “treaty” ports at Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Swatow and Shanghai. In addition, they had to cede Hong Kong to the British and pay an indemnity of £2 millions.
The French, Americans, Belgians and Swedes quickly took advantage of Britain’s success and were granted trading treaties by the reluctant, but helpless Chinese emperor. This was not all. In the years that followed, Britain, the United States and France acquired exclusive settlements for their nationals and special law courts of their own. Meanwhile, the opium trade boomed, from 2,000 tons a year to 5,000.
A Chinese attempt in 1856 to stand firm and resist the foreign tide that was engulfing their country ended in the Second Opium War of 1858 to 1860, during which an Anglo-French force destroyed the emperor’s Summer Palace and occupied his capital, Peking (Beijing).
The Foreign Devils Turn the Screw
After the Chinese defeat in 1860, the emperor was forced to grant Europeans freedom from Chinese laws, tolerate Christian missionaries and their converts, increase the size of Hong Kong to include the mainland suburb of Kowloon and turn Tientsin, the harbour of Peking, into another “treaty” port. In 1861, a special foreign legation quarter was set up in Peking and designated as foreign territory, forbidden to Chinese citizens.
The deeply humiliated Chinese burned with hatred of the “foreign devils” who, by the 1890s, included the Japanese, Russians and Germans. Their resentment reached a peak of savagery and bloodshed with the Boxer Rebellion.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 and its Aftermath
“Boxers” was the English name given to members of the secret society I Ho Chu’uan or “Righteous Harmony Fists” who slaughtered their way towards Peking early in 1900. Once inside the Chinese capital, the Boxers ran wild, butchering Chinese Christians and laying siege to the foreign legation quarter for eight weeks, from June 20 to August 14.
In 1901, the Chinese agreed to punish ninety-six officials and pay compensation of more than $700 for the widespread damage and death that had occurred during the Rebellion. The legation quarter survived for almost a century, until its last foreign residence was closed down in 1959.