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Opium How did the Opium Wars affect China’s Foreign Relations? Hieu Tran, Lydia Martinez, Luke Reese, John Richie Introduction
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Prior to 1839, the outlook was good for China’s future. This changed drastically when the country was suddenly thrust into conflicts with England that quickly escalated into the Opium Wars. These wars were caused by the Chinese tradition of isolationism coming into conflict with England’s desire for trade with China. Britain saw opium as a way to balance the trade deficit with China. Britain began exporting opium, despite protests by the Chinese government. The Chinese authorities confiscated and burned British opium and closed the port in Canton. This sparked a military and naval response that led to the first opium war, which was followed by a second. Each of these wars proved that the western world’s military and technological advantages were significant. The end result was a series of treaties that usurped China’s independence. China went from the world’s largest economy and an equal to the west and ended by losing her sovereignty and independence. The Opium Wars set up the downfall of the Qing dynasty after the turn of the century. Foreign dominance destroyed the legitimacy of a central government in China, and these harsh conditions led to several anti-foreign and nationalist rebellions that shaped China’s future.
One of China’s largest and bloodiest revolts
Many of the poor resented the Qing dynasty and were therefore susceptible followers of the ideas of Hung Hsiu-ch'üan, the leader of the revolt. Hung’s mission was to create a Christian “Kingdom of Heaven” in China and he was quite willing to destroy the dynasty in order to do so. Though his forces were eventually defeated, the dynasty and people of China were left in hopeless disarray.
Opium war and Taiping rebellion help to create cultural division and misunderstanding
The Opium Wars were a devastating shock to China. The nation that had economically thrived from its foreign trade for centuries beforehand was now a bankrupt shell of its former glory. The once great Qing dynasty had been militarily humiliated by western owners in spite of overwhelming numbers. The sovereignty of China was threatened as well by the cessation of both Hong Kong and Kowloon, the establishment of trade agreements favoring the west and an end to autonomy within even its own borders. Lastly, the opium trade was legalized; ensuring a further war against opium even after soldiers retreated. The opium wars were ultimately the first fight between the east and the west, and the outcome shook China for years to come. Possible further research could be done on China’s foreign relations to present day and how they were ultimately rooted in their historical experiences.
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