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History of Sino-British Relations:
Opium and War 1839-1842

By the end of the 18th century, British command of the China trade was well established, but there was one commodity in this growing trade that would soon bring trouble. This was opium, introduced by the East India Company to balance Sino-Indian trade. Opium was already known and used in China by the late 18th century, but it was now marketed more aggressively, especially after the Company lost its monopoly in 1834, and was replaced by new and more active traders. The Chinese government, alarmed at the spreading use of the drug, banned its import and sale in 1839, confiscating stocks held by foreigners. The British merchants appealed to London, arguing that their right to trade was under threat.

So began the 'First Opium War' or the 'First Anglo-Chinese War' . The Chinese fought hard but were no match for the British. The Treaty of Nanjing, signed in 1842, secured most foreign demands. Shanghai, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Xiamen, and Tianjin were opened to foreigners for trade and residence; tariffs would be low and trade regulations minimal; diplomatic relations would be established on equal terms; and Hong Kong island was secured for Britain. Other treaties followed, and 'most favoured nation' clauses meant that benefits gained by one country were automatically extended to others, to China's disadvantage.


Introduction to
the Political,
Economic and