First opium war

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
First opium war
The British East India Company paddle steamer frigate Nemesis (right) bombarded Chinese junks in Anson's Bay, January 7, 1841
The British East India Company - paddle steamer frigate Nemesis (right) bombarded Chinese junks in Anson's Bay, January 7, 1841
date September 4, 1839 to August 29, 1842
place China
Casus Belli Confiscation of opium from British traders
exit British victory
consequences Hong Kong is handed over to Great Britain
Peace treaty Treaty of Nanking
Parties to the conflict

United Kingdom 1801United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland United Kingdom :

China Empire 1890Empire of China Qing Dynasty


Lord Palmerston
Charles Elliot
George Elliot
James Bremer
Hugh Gough
Henry Pottinger
William Parker
Humphrey Senhouse

Emperor Daoguang
Lin Zexu
Guan Tianpei
Chen Huacheng
Ge Yunfei
Yang Fang

Troop strength
Approx. 19,000 men
37 warships
Approx. 220,000 soldiers and militiamen

69 dead
451 wounded
284 executed or died in captivity

About 20,000 dead and wounded

The First Opium War was an armed conflict between Great Britain and the Chinese Empire of the Qing Dynasty that ran from September 4, 1839 to August 29, 1842. The British side took the seizure of opium from British traders as an opportunity to start the war. In a military expedition lasting several years, the British were finally able to force the Chinese Empire to sign the treaties of Nanjing and Humen by conquering and blocking strategically located coastal cities . The concessions of these treaties deprived China of sovereignty over its own foreign trade and opened the Chinese markets to the British and other Europeans. Likewise, the Chinese state had to make reparations for the British war costs and the destroyed opium.

The British expeditionary corps, consisting of a fleet of modern warships and a small land force, occupied several cities along the Chinese coastline. The fighting began in the southern Chinese canton and was interrupted by logistical problems and negotiations. They ended after the British occupied Nanjing three years after the war began. During the war, the Chinese side failed to achieve military success in either defense or attack.

The ineffective military response from Qing State made China's military inferiority apparent to foreign and domestic observers. Due to the Opium War, other Western nations also received treaties similar to Great Britain. In China, the lost war is considered to be the beginning of a century of colonial foreign determination and ushered in a legitimacy crisis in the traditional state and social system. It exacerbated the country's domestic political problems. In the Second Opium War, starting in 1856, Great Britain and France again succeeded in forcing the empire, weakened by the Taiping rebellion , to make concessions on foreign and trade policy through a demonstration of military force.


China's role in world trade

View of the Cantonese factories , which were assigned to the Europeans as the exclusive place of trade in China. ( William Daniell , 1805/06)

Portuguese seafarers were the first Europeans to achieve lasting trade relations with China. In the 16th century, the Ming Dynasty gave them the right to establish a settlement in Macau under Chinese sovereignty. The Chinese trade proved to be no less profitable than the Indian trade in this regard , with Portugal soon having to fend off Dutch and then British competitors in both cases. In 1637 England (from 1707 Great Britain ) received the right to a trading post from the imperial court in Guangzhou (Canton) through a military action . The Europeans had to live there in the closed residential area of ​​the thirteen factories and when communicating with the Chinese trading houses, they had to rely on merchants from the so-called Cohong guild and the court-appointed trade officials (" Hoppo "關 部, guan1bu4 , Chinese customs director in Canton) serve. The restrictions, including pricing, were set and enforced by the customs authorities. The Cohong traders, around a dozen, made big profits within this system, but were also heavily regulated by the Qing bureaucracy and had to bear a high business risk. Traders often suffered losses due to fluctuations in demand, had to pay large contributions to government agencies, and also had to pay bribes to officials at the Qing Customs Administration. The system also made them accountable for violations of the law by foreign traders. The Manchu dynasty of the Qing, which came to power in 1644 through their military superiority, consolidated the empire and expanded its territory in Central Asia and through the acquisition of Taiwan . In the 17th century, China was the largest importer of silver , the basis of the Chinese monetary system. In 1717 the East India Company began regular trading, mainly importing tea into England. In 1760, Emperor Qianlong restricted trade with the Europeans exclusively to Canton. At the end of the 18th century, the Chinese Empire, ruled by the Qing Dynasty, was considered a highly developed civilization in the western world. Adam Smith described the country in his work The Prosperity of Nations as an economic great power, which, however, has little development potential due to the low price of labor, the low circulation of money and many monopolies, although its potential productivity and wealth surpass that of Europe. During the 18th century, the life expectancy of urban populations in China was comparable to that of Europe. In terms of consumption of luxury goods, the standard of living of the urban population in China was even higher. The introduction of new arable crops such as corn and sweet potatoes led to rapid population growth: from 1740 to 1790 the number of people in China doubled. At the end of the century, China had around 300 to 400 million inhabitants, which was roughly a third of the total world population.

The British opium clipper Water Witch , built in 1831, a Bark . Such fast clippers also brought opium to England, where it was considered a medicine.

For the Chinese side, the customs revenue from trade in Canton made up an important part of the state revenue. Since the emperor Kangxi had ruled out an increase in property tax by decree, he and his successors only had trade tariffs as a source of income that could be increased. For the East India Company, the canton trade was the mainstay of its income. Tea imports multiplied from 250,000 pounds in 1725 to 24 million pounds in 1805. The former luxury goods became a necessity of everyday life. In 1784, the British Parliament passed a law obliging the East India Company to always keep a year-long supply as a strategic reserve. The taxes on these imported goods were used by the British government to cover a large part of the expenses for the Royal Navy demanded in the Napoleonic Wars . To protect society, the government granted it a trade monopoly for importing tea to England in 1784.

Until around 1820, the bilateral trade balance of China trade always showed a significant foreign trade surplus in the Chinese economy. From 1800 to 1810, around 26 million US dollars flowed into China. As early as 1793, the British tried to end this unsatisfactory situation and persuade China to conclude a trade agreement and to open its ports to English goods. On the 83rd birthday of Emperor Qianlong, a delegation was sent that “brought gifts with a total value of £ 15,600 in six hundred large boxes,” including: a planetarium , a telescope, an air pump and other metal goods. These should advertise the English manufactured products. But the emperor and his advisors considered the gifts to be tribute and also useless toys, and thanked King George III for being willing to become a Chinese subject.

However, for the period from 1828 to 1836, China posted a trade deficit of $ 38 million. These losses flowed off in the form of silver currencies, with which foreign trade and also the increasing import of opium were paid for. Independent of the opium trade, the struggle for independence of Latin American countries led to a shortage of silver on the world market. Due to the political instability in the main producing countries Mexico and Peru , to which the Bolivian silver mine of Potosí belonged at the time , global silver mining fell by around half in the 1810s. This shortage of silver drove up import prices and had a negative impact on the Chinese monetary system. The lower classes of farmers, artisans and workers were paid in copper coins , which they also used for savings and tax payments. Silver coins - mostly Mexican silver pesos , which were universally accepted because of their machine minting - and the local silver bars, which had to be weighed, were used to process larger transactions among merchants and as a saving currency for the wealthy . In the 18th century the system remained stable with a ratio of 1,000 copper coins to one tael (around 37 g) of silver. In 1820 the ratio was 1 silver bar to 1,200 copper coins. In 1830 it rose to 1 in 1,350. In 1840 it was 1: 1,600 to 1: 2,000. This made both consumer and durable goods more expensive for the lower classes. Tax payments also became more expensive, as taxes were calculated in silver but collected in copper. From 1830 a continued depression one of China's economy and led to deflation of grain prices , what the situation further worsened for the majority of farmers. Despite a decrease in total tax revenue, the effective tax burden on the average peasant household rose by 40 percent in the first twenty years of Qianlong's rule. At the same time, the position of the lower class was threatened by rising unemployment. The currency crisis and the economic problems brought the Qing state into financial difficulties and led to underfunding of the armed forces and the public sector. This in turn led to an increase in corruption in the civil service. The economic and social misery was expressed in increasingly frequent unrest, strikes and protests.

In 1834 the British government sent Lord Napier as diplomatic envoy to China to establish a permanent diplomatic mission at the imperial court. This failed due to the unwillingness of the Chinese authorities and led to a brief skirmish at the Pearl River Estuary due to Napier's failure to comply with Chinese laws . The Chinese side was able to prevent Napier's ships from continuing. Napier himself died of illness in Macau after the withdrawal. After the failure of the expedition, the idea of ​​opening up China in terms of trade policy through military pressure spread among the British elite. In addition to national prestige and economic interests, the idea that the Chinese economy and people would ultimately benefit from such a forced trade policy through modernization became popular. Both at the imperial court and on the part of the provincial governors of South China, the British efforts were seen as an unfriendly act and the British diplomats as political functionaries of uncivilized peoples, whose presence was incompatible with the Chinese state system.

Increase in opium smuggling

Artist's impression of impoverished opium smokers, 19th century

Opium poppies, and thus opium , have been known in China since the Tang Dynasty before the turn of the millennium. Medical use has been recorded in writing since the 11th century. The oldest reports on the use of opium as an intoxicant date from the 15th century. Tobacco , along with other new crops, first reached China in the 16th century . Attempts by the imperial government to suppress tobacco as a new intoxicant failed, and by the middle of the 17th century tobacco use was widespread across China. Over time, smoking an opium / tobacco mixture came into fashion as a new way of consuming opium and replaced the previous intake via the digestive tract. In the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, inhaled opium consumption became a coveted luxury of the wealthy elite, in whom the use of opium soon became a status symbol. For the traders, opium represented a possible substitute for currency as a commodity that was easily transportable and easy to sell. In 1729, Emperor Yongzheng banned the opium trade . The ban occurred in a temporal context to other bans, including prostitution, teaching of martial arts and laws on the custody of persons who are not responsible. The edicts were justified with the need to raise public morale. However, the ban did not lead to a documented case of successful prosecution from 1730 and in the further rule of Yongzheng and his successor Qianlong there were no renewed initiatives by the court to restrict the use of opium. In the 18th century, the Portuguese in particular brought Turkish opium to China as a medicinal product, for which the buyers had to pay customs duties. As a result, opium consumption increased rapidly. Opium was also produced in China in all parts of the empire from Yunnan in the south to Xinjiang in the west. The opium cultivation in the 19th century brought in around ten times that of rice cultivation in the same area.

Lithograph of the warehouse of an opium factory in Patna, British India, circa 1850

The Patna opium produced by the British East India Company under its production monopoly in Bengal was of higher quality than the domestically produced intoxicant. Due to the illegality in China, the company left shipping from India to private traders in order not to endanger their legal business in the context of China trade in Canton. They passed their goods on to Chinese smugglers off the coast. Initially from the ships, and later from a company depot on the island of Lintin , the opium was brought into the interior of the country in shallow rowing boats with auxiliary sails, each with a crew of 50 to 60 men. It was estimated in 1831 that around 100 to 200 boats were doing this business. However, the East India Company faced competition from producers from the princely states , for whose Malwa opium the production monopoly did not apply. The company tried to push the producers from the princely states out of the market by expanding their own production and increased production in Bengal more and more. American traders took on a minor role with around 8% market share in 1820 with opium from the Ottoman Empire . In 1823 opium replaced cotton as the top import of the German Empire. From 1805 to 1839 the amount of opium exported to China by the East India Company had increased more than tenfold from 3,159 boxes to 40,200 boxes, with the tea trade monopoly that was lifted by the British government in 1833 as a catalyst for the increase in the participation of independent merchants and an increase in the volume of trade . The expanded supply on the Chinese markets, perceived as a glut of opium, led to a fall in prices and the rapid spread of consumption in lower social classes and regions outside of southern China.

Graphic representation of Chinese opium imports between 1650 and 1880

There were different positions in the political elite of the empire with regard to the handling of opium smuggling. The calligrapher and agricultural reformer Bao Shichen , who was influential among politically interested scholars , took the view from 1801 that foreign trade as a whole would weaken China's economic position. The import of economically useless luxury goods ensures an outflow of silver abroad. As a result, he recommended a complete cessation of China's foreign trade with the Western powers and advocated a system of self-sufficiency . These effects of foreign trade were even more evident in the opium trade. Bao Shichen estimated that around 3 million of his compatriots would spend around 10 million tael of silver on opium each year . This sum exceeded the total tax revenue of Qing State.

Bao attributed the driving role in the opium epidemic to the Europeans, assuming that the opium produced in China would not be illegally sold in the country, but would be smuggled back into the country by Western merchants after export. Bao did not consider military intervention by western states because he believed in China's superiority in this area. Provincial Governor Chen Hanzhang also saw the opium trade as a major social problem. However, if trade relations with western states were broken off, he feared military revenge. He also feared that an abrupt end to foreign trade would lead to an economic and social collapse in southern China, which could encourage a rebellion. He did not see a stop to the smuggling as possible, since the security forces of the Reich could not control the long coastline sufficiently. As a result, Chen recommended controlling opium consumption in China through controls and criminal sanctions. In 1836, Vice Minister Xu Naiji advocated legalizing the import of opium as a medical device. He saw this as the best way for the state to steer trade in controlled and limited channels. Qing State would also benefit from customs and tax revenues. He saw the eradication of opium consumption through legal and police measures as unrealistic. He also warned of the negative consequences for the economy and society in southern China if foreign trade were to cease completely.

In view of the increasing glut of opium, the Emperor Daoguang took a repressive line. From 1836, the new provincial governor of Guangdong and Guangxi , Deng Tingzhen , enforced existing laws against opium smuggling more vigorously. This particularly affected the Chinese smugglers, who took over the opium from European traders just off the coast, and forced British exporters to smuggle the opium into Canton themselves more and more often. When planning further policy, Daoguang was guided by a memorandum written by Minister Huang Juezi in 1838 , in which the consumption of opium by end users was identified as the main cause of silver runoff . He suggested that all opium users be punished with death after a one-year grace period . The drug itself and the articles of consumption that go with it should be publicly destroyed. Huang justified these measures by saying that similarly draconian laws would apply in western countries, which was misinformation. In addition to the emperor, Huang's memorandum was able to change the mind of many high-ranking dignitaries of the empire and the advocates of legalization, especially Xu Naiji, fell out of favor. After a spectacular opium find in the northern port city of Tianjin , which the Chinese authorities classified as contraband from Canton, the emperor decided to send a special envoy to Canton to finally stop the smuggling. The choice fell on Lin Zexu , who, as the provincial governor of Hunan and Hubei, was one of the prominent supporters of Huang's memorandum.


Escalation in the canton

Contemporary Chinese drawing depicting the public extermination of the seized opium under the supervision of Lin Zexu (dating 19th century)

Lin Zexu arrived in Canton on March 10, 1839. It was preceded by imperial orders to Governor Deng Tingzhen to arrest well-known opium dealers. He publicly declared the smuggling and consumption of opium to be China's greatest problem and, through leaflets, declared his imperial mandate to completely crush it. Upon his arrival, his men confiscated several thousand pounds of opium from the Chinese and publicly destroyed thousands of opium pipes. On March 18, 1839, he issued a public edict to the foreign traders in the factories to hand over their supplies of opium to his authorities. When this was not done the following day, he forbade the merchants to leave the factory. Three days later he threatened the execution of the main Hong merchant Howqua and another Chinese business partner of the British if the drug was not handed over. The traders agreed to hand over 1,000 boxes of opium. Lin refused and summoned the opium dealer Lancelot Dent to question him. Dent refused to place himself in the hands of the Chinese authorities. On March 24th, Lin ordered all Chinese employees and servants to leave the factories. He also imposed a formal embargo on the approximately 350 remaining British, American and Dutch nationals in the trading district.

That same night, Charles Elliot , the British commercial superintendent from Macau, returned to Canton. The Hong Guild continued to provide the Europeans with food clandestinely; however, due to the rise of riots between Europeans and Chinese security forces and civilians in view of the public executions of Chinese opium smugglers in front of the factories, the latter feared further escalation. In order to get the dealers free and prevent bloodshed, he ordered the opium to be surrendered and promised the opium dealers that the British krona would compensate them at market prices. The market value of the 20,283 boxes of opium stored in the canton was roughly equivalent to an annual budget of the crown. Elliot acted on his own initiative and exceeded his competencies, but a consultation with London did not seem possible due to the six-month mail service. The measure initially defused the conflict. Due to Lin's appearance and the further maintenance of the blockade until the surrender request was fully met, Elliot came to the conclusion that a military appearance against the Qing was necessary. On April 3, 1839, in a letter to Lord Palmerston , he asked for a fleet to be sent with the aim of blocking the Yangtze from sea. On May 21, 1839, foreigners were allowed to leave the canton for Macau. The opium was publicly destroyed on Daoguan's orders. However, tensions escalated again in July 1839 when the Chinese government demanded the surrender of a British seaman charged with manslaughtering a Chinese man. Since Elliot did not obey, Lin forbade the supply of British ships in Macau. The British left Macau under Elliot's command for the sparsely populated island of Hong Kong . On September 4, 1839, a first sea battle broke out on the island between three British ships under Elliot's command and Chinese war junks, which the English were finally able to enclose in Hong Kong.

British government decided to go to war

William Jardine, Scottish doctor and opium dealer, owner of 19 clippers, Liberal member of the House of Commons and chief lobbyist for British intervention. Portrait of George Chinnery , 1820s

The British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston received news of Elliot's request for a fleet in August 1839. Palmerston saw Elliot's promise to compensate the British dealers as his subordinate's overstepping of competence. The demand for around £ 2 million posed problems for the Whig government under Lord Melbourne and the cabinet met on October 1, 1839 to determine a solution to the question. Lord Melbourne himself proposed that the compensation payments should be made on the East India Company, since it had profited from decades of opium trade. However, Palmerston, together with the Minister of War Lord Macaulay , prevailed with the proposal to force China to accept the demand by means of a military show of force. The company's secondary objective should be better trading conditions for Great Britain. Palmerston presented a war plan for this, which was presented to him by the opium dealer James Matheson in 1836 after the failure of Napier . A ship of the line , two frigates and several steamships were to be sent from Europe to China. The sea blockade of the most important ports and river deltas was intended to paralyze coastal trade and inland transport of grain and to force the Qing to make a peace treaty on British terms. An attempt by the conservative opposition to stop the war by parliamentary resolution in the House of Commons failed on April 10, 1840. The young, deeply religious William Gladstone criticized the government's policies sharply and spoke in the House of Commons of "Palmerston's opium war". He went on to say that he was afraid of God's judgment on England in the face of national injustice against China. The basic motivation behind the British decision to go to war was the further safeguarding of the informal opium trade, which was necessary to balance the British trade deficit with China. A collapse of the triangular trade between Britain, India and China would have jeopardized the stability of British government revenues.

The strategy of the British government was decisively shaped by the opium dealer, who has been lobbying for the war since the failure of the Napier Mission. William Jardine's and James Matheson's petitions and letters convinced political decision-makers that no serious war effort at sea was to be expected from the disunited Qing State, preoccupied with internal problems. They also pointed out the possibility of blocking the sea trade routes on the coasts, which are vital for China. The Jardine, now in Great Britain, convinced Palmerston to allow an expansion of the fleet with private ships and units of the East India Company. Jardine also suggested the first target, Zhoushan Island, to Palmerston , which he saw as the optimal base of operations for the trade blockade on the Chinese coast.

At the end of July 1840, the British assembled a fleet of 22 warships, including 16 liners, four steamships and four other warships in Hong Kong, which was held by the British, which had previously been enclosed in Canton. These were accompanied by 3,600 to 4,600 British and Indian soldiers in 27 transport ships. Military command of the fleet was given to Admiral George Elliot , a cousin of Charles Elliot. Elliot remained in political responsibility for the mission and was given authority by Palmerston to negotiate a peace.

Military balance of power

Contemporary British illustration of Chinese soldiers and their weaponry from the book Narrative of a Voyage Round the World by Edward Belcher (1843)

The structure of the Qing military dates from the time the dynasty was founded in the 17th century. The hereditary military elite of Qing State formed the Manchu Eight Banners . These served as an administrative framework for recruiting and training a certain number of soldiers in the event of war; They were rewarded by the state with rice, money and land. Because of their proximity to the throne, they represented the emperor's mobile intervention force for military campaigns. The second, younger pillar of the Qing armed forces was the Green Standard , a group of professional soldiers from the Han ethnic group. These were stationed in garrisons across the country and mainly served to maintain the peace and in action against rebels and bandits. There were around three Green Standard soldiers for every banner soldier. Since the end of the 18th century, the financial means for maintaining the army have fallen into disrepair. This was reflected in the supply of the banner soldiers and the pay of the professional soldiers. Many Manchu gave up their hereditary status and turned to civilian professions. The underfunding of the armed forces manifested itself in the continued use of long outdated weapons, especially in the artillery. In some places even firearms and artillery were replaced by bows and melee weapons in order to save their expensive maintenance. As it also became more difficult to integrate ethnic minorities into the military, the central structures fell into disrepair after 1820 and the importance of local militias (t'uan lien) under the control of the rural gentry increased.

The Qing soldiers equipped with firearms had matchlock muskets based on Portuguese models from the mid-16th century. With the typical soldier's musket , a 3.8 g projectile could be fired over a maximum of 100 meters. The Chinese also used gunpowder of inferior quality because the optimal chemical composition was not known in China and the manufacturing methods were not scientifically optimized. The locally organized naval units of China consisted of junks , which only carried around ten cannons. The ships were only able to operate in river and coastal waters. The Qing artillery consisted of cannons at the technological level of the 17th century. The units used defensively in the coastal artillery were often equipped with one hundred to two hundred year old specimens.

The total strength of the Qing Army was 800,000 soldiers on paper. In Canton, however, only 2,400 soldiers were available at the beginning of the war. It took the dynasty months to bring a reserve of 51,000 soldiers from inland to the coasts. In addition to the regular associations, the recruitment of irregulars ( Yong literally translated: brave ) was customary in the warfare of the Qing. These fighters were recruited from the civilian population as local auxiliary troops and received only rudimentary military training.

Corruption within the troops was a particular problem. The completely inadequately trained Chinese officers often viewed their salaries as a kind of pension without consideration. Often they led a dissolute life and spent their time gambling, going to the theater, cockfighting and consuming opium, or they ran usury and mortgage deals on the side.

The Qing legal system provided for the death penalty as an atonement for military commanders on land in the event of defeat. Confucian morality saw it as permissible to forestall this either by death in combat or by suicide. As a result, commanders dropped out at critical moments, embellished reports to the central government in their own interests, and made it difficult for the Qing military system to draw rational conclusions from defeat.

The British side had ships of the line with metal-clad wooden hulls at sea. This type of ship had up to 120 cannons. The East India Company also provided the Nemesis, the first steam-powered warship in all-metal construction. This ship, secretly put into service for the war, reached Macau in November 1840. On land, the British had disciplined military units operating in line tactics . The British infantry used the Baker rifle , developed around the turn of the century, as standard , which could fire a 35 g bullet with accuracy around 200 m. The shot was triggered by a flintlock . In addition, the Brunswick rifle , which was only introduced in 1837 and fired by a percussion lock, was in use, which used 52 g projectiles at a range of 300 m. The rifled guns of the British were clearly superior to the Chinese matchlock muskets in terms of fire effect, range, precision, rate of fire and reliability.

With regard to the artillery, the British had the most modern equipment of the time, which was constructed on the basis of current scientific findings. At sea, the carronade made it possible to fire faster, more effective salvos at enemy ships. With their steep fire and missiles , howitzers brought a tactical advantage against the open-topped forts of the Qing . Due to their modern design and technically superior processing, the British artillery was clearly superior to its Chinese counterpart in terms of range, firepower and mobility. The artillery officers were trained in ballistics and, by calculating the trajectory of a projectile, achieved significantly better accuracy than users of traditional methods. Due to their superiority at sea, the British were able to move their troops between different ports quickly and undisturbed. The British Expeditionary Force was able to dispose of a wealth of intelligence information on the Chinese side through an ex-missionary and employee of Jardine Matheson & Co. Karl Gützlaff had built up a spy network in southern China in the opium trading company since 1832. After the war began, he accompanied the expeditionary force and made his skills and contacts available to the British military.

At the end of the war, the British Expeditionary Corps consisted of 25 conventional and 14 steam-powered warships as well as a hospital ship and two ships for surveying tasks. This included around 12,000 soldiers for warfare on land, for whose transport 66 transport ships were used. Together with the seafaring personnel, the expeditionary corps had its highest personnel level at the end of the war to almost 20,000 men.

Lin Zexu described the combat strength of the troops of both nations as follows: “Their large cannons have a range of around ten Li ; they can meet us when we can't. This is a result of the poor quality of our ammunition. When they [the British] fire it is like a whole squad of our soldiers firing one after the other. [Each of their soldiers] fires continuously without stopping. When we fire a shot, our soldiers need a long time to make hasty movements before firing again. This is the result of our lack of familiarity with these arts. (…) Although there are many officers and soldiers with military experience in China, they only have experience in hand-to-hand combat. It seems they have never seen an eight to ten li battle in which one has to fight without seeing the face of the enemy. That is why our forces are often uncoordinated. "


British naval expedition under Elliot

Arrived in Hong Kong, Admiral Elliot divided his fleet of ships from the Royal Navy, the East India Company and privately operated ships. Part of the association was supposed to block Canton and the Pearl River Delta . The other part of the unit was supposed to bring the strategically important island of Zhousan, located on the Yangtze estuary, under the control of the expeditionary force. The British captured the island and the city of Dinghai in July 1840. After a brief and devastating artillery bombardment by British ships against the Chinese junks lying in the port, the Chinese troops no longer offered any resistance. The British established a military administration which was led by Karl Gützlaff. The island's population, around one million, fled and crossed over to the mainland. The Qing city governor committed suicide on the spot. The British occupation garrison lost around 400 men to disease over the next few months, which delayed the further advance of the British. Elliot traveled north with most of his fleet towards the mouth of the Hai He while remaining units blocked the Yangtze. Elliot's assignment was to deliver a diplomatic dispatch to the emperor with demands and to reinforce them with a military demonstration of force.

Peace negotiations in canton

Emperor Daoguang initially reacted to the outbreak of war with an endeavor to end the war through diplomatic channels. He blamed Lin Zexu and Deng Tingzhen for starting the war. They were both removed from their offices and banished to the western part of the empire. He hired the viceroy of Zhili Qishan to investigate Lin's misconduct and commissioned him to enter into peace negotiations with Elliot. Qishan and Elliot met on August 30, 1840. At the meeting, Qishan was able to achieve his main goal, the withdrawal of the British fleet to southern China, by determining the place of negotiation in Canton. For this he had given Elliot the prospect of fulfilling the British war goals by contract. The war initially came to a standstill. The negotiations in Canton began in December 1840. Palmerston had given Elliot an extensive catalog of demands for the negotiations. This included the full assumption of the war costs, payment of the destroyed opium and the takeover of the island of Zhousan off the south Chinese coast as a trading base under British sovereignty. In addition, the monopoly of the Cohong guild should fall and British traders should be able to trade with any Chinese. British citizens in China should not be under the jurisdiction of the Qing, but the jurisdiction of the Crown. Elliot made these demands. Governor General Qishan initially rejected the catalog of claims. He and Elliot finally agreed on a cash payment from the Cohong guild of six million silver dollars for the destroyed opium to the British traders. The Chinese side also held out the prospect of a base under Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong, like the one that already existed in Macau for the Portuguese. For that, the British would have to withdraw from Zhoushan. Because of its location, Elliot considered this island unsuitable for trade with Canton, while Hong Kong offered the advantage of easy defensive possibilities.

The agreement, known as the Chuenpi Convention, was rejected by both Emperor Daoguang and British Foreign Minister Palmerston . The latter then replaced Charles Elliot with Sir Henry Pottinger in April 1841 and commissioned him to continue the war. Qishan was banished as well as Lin and Deng.

Battles in Guangdong Province

Emperor Daoguang appointed the Manchu nobleman Yishan on January 30, 1841 as commander-in-chief in the war against the British. After two weeks of deliberations, he left Beijing for the south. In the period from January to March 1841, 17,000 soldiers from different provinces were assigned to him. The order of the emperor was to defeat the British militarily and to destroy them physically. The governor needed 57 days for the trip to Canton and reached it on April 13, 1841. Meanwhile, Elliot, who had already been recalled, had forced the local authorities in Canton to resume trade with the British in the First Battle of Canton . On March 20, 1841, Elliot ordered only seven warships to be left off Canton. The bulk of the expeditionary force was to attack Xiamen . However, Elliot could not come to an agreement with his naval and army commanders. Therefore, the expedition fleet initially remained defensive. When trading resumed after Yishan's arrival, Elliot initially assumed that the Chinese side would offer peace. However, due to the gradually arriving reinforcements of the Qing forces, Elliot came to the conclusion on May 13, 1841 that a Chinese attack was imminent and ordered his troops to prepare for it. At the end of May, the Qing armed forces near Canton comprised around 25,000 soldiers. Contrary to the emperor's orders, Yishan deployed his troops defensively to defend the canton. On May 21, 1841, he had specially hired Yong soldiers attack the British with fire boats. The attempt to destroy the British ships on the Pearl River failed and the Second Battle of Canton resulted in a severe Chinese defeat in which the British bombed the coastal defenses and the city. Yishan sought an armistice on May 21, 1841 and accepted Elliot's terms, which roughly corresponded to the previous Chuenpi Convention. The canton trade was resumed by local Chinese authorities in the face of the threat posed by British military action. On May 30 and 31, 1841, a large crowd of villagers and militiamen opposed the British troops in the Sanyuanli incident . The actions of the rural population were motivated by grave desecrations, looting and rape by British troops. After the British holed up in a nearby fort, the Qing officials managed to disperse the crowd, not wanting to jeopardize the looming ceasefire. In the course of the withdrawal of the Chinese reinforcements and the payment of one million yuan , the British forces withdrew from Canton on June 1, 1841. Yishan described the events in his memoranda to the emperor as a permanent end to the war, although he had indications that the British fleet wanted to advance further north to secure further concessions. In assuming that the war would end on July 28, 1841, Emperor Daoguang ordered the dismissal of the reinforcement troops set up in the other coastal provinces due to the fighting.

British military campaign along the eastern coastal provinces

In the summer of 1841 the British expedition fleet was prevented from further operations by illness and storm damage. In July 1841, Elliot learned of his replacement by Pottinger. Lord Palmerston had given him further instructions. He should reoccupy the vacated island of Zhousan and enter into negotiations with a general representative of the emperor with decision-making authority. These should not be held in Canton, but either in Zhoushan or Tianjin. Regarding the reparations to be paid by China, he should not be satisfied with less than 3 million pounds (equivalent to around 12 million yuan in silver). In order to enforce these demands against the emperor, Pottinger should continue to act aggressively militarily. After 57 days of travel and a short stopover in India, Pottinger reached the East Asian theater of war on August 10, 1841 and put the plan already drawn up under Elliot into action. On October 1, 1841, they captured Dinghai again on Zhoushan Island. On October 10, 1841, they took Zhenhai City . This conquest made the occupation of Ningbo possible three days later. After the Battle of Zhenhai, the Emperor's special envoy and provincial governor of Jiangsu Yuqian , who had been appointed to succeed Yishan, died after attempting suicide. On the occasion of the Battle of Xiamen, the emperor received reports for the first time that the British were using ground troops and artillery on land. So far, all reports from the south had untruthfully reported that the British relied on deserters from the Han ethnic group in their land operations. On October 26, 1841, the British captured the port city of Xiamen . The campaign to conquer Hong Kong cost the expeditionary force mobile by sea 53 days.

After Yuqian's failure, Daoguang instructed General Yijing to organize a counterattack against the British in southern China. Yijing left the capital Beijing on October 30, 1841. After traveling south and tens of thousands of soldiers from different provinces, this offensive took place on March 10, 1842. Chinese troops attacked Ningpo, Zhoushan and Zhenhai simultaneously. The counter-offensive was ineffective, however, and only led to major skirmishes at the Battle of Ningpo , which the British quickly won. The simultaneous attack on Zhenhai was quickly put down by the British following advance warning from the civilian population. Yijing only deployed around 8,400 of his soldiers for the counter-offensive. After the failure of his mission he described the emperor in untruthful reports of great losses among the British, whose strength he stated at Ningbo as 18,000 instead of 3,000 men. He also untruthfully reported the deaths of high-ranking British officers and several hundred soldiers. No attack took place on Zhoushan because the Chinese shipping force arrived late and did not launch an attack after news of the defeats in Zhenhai and Ningbo. The naval commander there, with the knowledge of Yijing, sent a falsified report to the court about a sea battle that had not taken place. In it he reported the destruction of a large British warship and several smaller ships. Yiying was initially sentenced to death after the war, but Daoguang pardoned him and went into exile in Xinjiang. After the offensive failed, the governor of Zhenjiang Li Yunke turned to the emperor. As the first official on site, he described the technical superiority of British weapons at sea and on land to the emperor in an official report and admitted to the emperor that a defense against the expeditionary corps would be difficult. Because of the British sea superiority, even an isolated victory on land would be pointless, as the British could move their troops quickly by sea. Li also reported that the fighting and the British blockade of the river and coastal trade routes threatened famine and that if the war continued, serious unrest could be expected among the southern Chinese people. He also stated that the war costs for the defense of the coastal provinces would not be affordable in the long term. Daoguang initially only responded to the report by asking his senior officials to submit ideas for further financing the war in writing. In April 1842 Daoguang consulted with the Manchuad Qiying in the capital and sent him with orders to achieve a military victory and then to end the war with diplomatic concessions.

After reinforcement troops arrived from India , Shanghai and Zhenjiang fell in the summer of 1842 . After the fall of Zhenjiang in July 1842, Daoguang authorized Qiying to seek a negotiated solution with the British on their terms. The subordinates of the Emperor Qiying and Niu Jian had previously held unauthorized talks with the British. However, this did not stop the British from pursuing their military campaign. With Nanjing, the seat of governor Niu Jian fell to the British expeditionary force in August 1842. On August 13, 1842, peace negotiations began on a British warship off Nanjing by negotiator Zhang Xi on behalf of Qiying.

The British side had lost 530 men by the end of the war, 69 of whom were killed in action. No precise figures are available about the Chinese losses. Estimates range between 18,000 and 20,000 dead and wounded.

Interactive map of the course of the war

Erste Schlacht von Kanton Zweite Schlacht von Kanton Schlacht bei First Bar Island Broadway Expedition Schlacht am Damm Schlacht bei Whampoa Island Schlacht am Humen Schlacht von Kowloon 1. Chuenpi 2. Chuenpi Schlacht von Amoy Schlacht von Ningbo Schlacht von Zhapu Schlacht von Zhenjiang Schlacht von Wusong Schlacht von Zhenhai 1. Chusan 2. Chusan Schlacht von CiqiFirst Opium War 1839-42 Conflict Overview DE.svg
About this picture


Nanjing and Humen Treaties

On August 29, 1842, the war ended with the Treaty of Nanking , the first of the so-called Unequal Treaties . On this day the Manchuadlians Qiying and Ilibu signed the contract on board the British flagship HMS Cornwallis , which was anchored off Nanjing. Among other things, he obliged the Chinese to open the trading ports of Canton, Xiamen, Fuzhou , Shanghai and Ningbo to foreigners and to tolerate largely unrestricted trade. The Cohong guild was dissolved by the treaty. Similarly, China pledged to cede Hong Kong and to reparation , which should both cover the compensation for the destroyed opium and the British war costs. Of the total of 21 million tael, 12 million went to British war costs and 9 million to compensation for the opium dealers. The treaty also called for the release of all remaining British citizens and impunity for local collaborators. The British undertook to lift the blockade on Chinese coastal shipping if the treaty was accepted. The withdrawal of the British warships, however, should only take place after the reparations had been paid in full. The treaty itself did not address the issue of opium smuggling. The word “opium” only appeared once when determining the reparation payments. For domestic reasons, both British governments shied away from calling for the opium trade to be legalized. The opium dealers themselves did not make this demand either, as the established canton dealers had to expect less competition by continuing smuggling. After the conclusion of the Nanjing Treaty, Daoguang instigated negotiations on a supplementary contract. This Treaty of Humen , signed on October 8, 1843, guaranteed British citizens legal extraterritoriality, as well as allowing British warships to enter the treaty ports as long as they were intent on controlling their own citizens. He also set fixed import tariffs for 26 goods, so that the German Empire lost its sovereignty over its own customs policy vis-à-vis Great Britain. Britain's status as the most influential foreign power in China was enshrined in the passage that as soon as another country received more favorable trade terms, these would also have to apply to Great Britain. Juridical extraterritoriality appeared to the British to be absolutely necessary in view of the lack of civil law options in the Chinese legal system and the frequent use of torture by the criminal justice system. The colony of Hong Kong, acquired in the Opium War, developed into the most important cornerstone of the British Empire in East Asia.

The Union Jack over the English trading posts in Canton (1843)

The 20th century national Chinese diplomat and historian TF Tsiang described the effects of the war on Chinese foreign policy as follows: “There is a strange relationship between China and the West. Before the Opium War, we didn't want to treat them as equals; after the opium war they were unwilling to treat us as equals. "

The concessions to the British acted like a dam break for other European powers. From its position of weakness, the Qing government concluded further unequal treaties with France in the Treaty of Huangpu and the USA in the Treaty of Wanghia in 1844 . The Chinese Empire failed to regain sovereignty over foreign trade. The Republic of China did not regain its right to determine customs duties until 1928. The unilateral most-favored nation status for Great Britain fell in 1943. Hong Kong remained a British crown colony until it was returned to the People's Republic of China in 1997.

A few months after the signing of the Nanking Treaty, the Prussian maritime trade activities with China began, which ran via Singapore , whose port was opened to free trade by the British. In addition to the Prussian maritime trade , private trading houses from Hamburg and Leipzig also became active. However, given the low level of industrialization in Prussia, exports met with little demand. The German Hanseatic cities, on the other hand, traded mostly through England and the USA.

Political and Economic Impact in East Asia

The First Opium War heralded the decline of China from the once absolute hegemonic power of Asia to an informal colony of Western powers that China would remain until the turn of the 20th century. The dominant state ideology, which China and its empire propagated as the center of the civilized world, was undermined by the defeat and the forced concessions for European military and businessmen, even if the Qing dynasty tried to hold on to it after the war.

Lin Zexu described the impact of the end of the war on the country's social elite as follows: “After the peace agreement, the capital was calm and happy again. The mood was like after the rain stopped, when people forget the thunder. In pleasant conversations, the topic of war became a taboo that was not brought up. "

The opium war caused a worsening of the economic situation for large parts of the population due to the long interruption of foreign trade in southern China. In addition, it exacerbated the social divide along the ethnic line of conflict between the privileged Manchu and the Han Chinese nation, as both sides held each other responsible for the humiliating defeat. The opening of China to missionaries and the social consequences of the war created the breeding ground for the Taiping rebellion , in which the sect leader Hong Xiuquan mixed Christian ideas and antipathy against the Manchu into a religious and political alternative to imperial rule. The rebellion was the most costly civil war in Chinese history. The collapse of dynastic power, combined with a series of natural disasters, contributed decisively to a number of other rebellions, including during and after the Second Opium War: After the Taiping Uprising of 1850–1864 16 of 18 provinces in China and more than 600 cities, the Nian Uprising , a bandit rebellion , devastated eight provinces between 1851 and 1868. The Panthay Rebellion , the uprising of the Muslims in Yunnan from 1855 to 1873, led to famine and population decline in the region. Further uprisings began during the Second Opium War.

The expenses of the imperial state for the recruitment and maintenance of military units as well as the construction of weapons, fortifications and ships burdened the budget at various levels by around 25 million tael silver. During the course of the war, the German Empire mobilized another 5 million tael silver through contributions from the population.

After the end of the war, Daoguang ordered the reconstruction of the destroyed coastal defenses in the cities formerly occupied by the British. At the suggestion of Qiying, Daoguang formulated the intention to build warships according to the western model. As the construction was difficult to accomplish due to a lack of material and technical expertise, this initiative failed. In 1842, Daoguang turned down a request from Governor Qi Qong to hire foreigners to build steamboats. In 1843 the emperor refused to have the percussion lock muskets that he had been presented reproduced in China because he saw no need for them. A technical or organizational modernization of the Qing military did not take place after the heavy defeats of the Opium War. Daoguang commissioned the Manschuadl Qiying, who had already been deployed in the Opium War, to deal with the British. Qiying used this foreign policy function to prevent a renewed war by making concessions and complying with the agreements that had already been negotiated, in the face of sporadic acts of violence between Europeans and the Chinese population. The weakness of the Qing military was again exploited by western states in the Second Opium War in 1856 to obtain economic concessions. While the empire was shaken by the Taiping rebellion, a British-French coalition conquered Beijing and destroyed the emperor's summer palace. This renewed defeat, in conjunction with the rebellion, led to a self-strengthening movement in which the elites of the Qing state sought to modernize the military, science and economy. The sovereignty over foreign trade lost in the opium war, however, restricted the reformers' ability to act, as it was not possible for them to secure their own economy against competition through protectionism .

The amount of opium imported into China rose to 50,000 boxes after the war in 1849. Daoguang tried several times to repress Chinese traders and consumers with criminal measures, but these were unsuccessful. Following the forced legalization of the drug as a result of the defeat in the Second Opium War, Western companies dominated the Chinese opium market until the 1870s. After that, they were gradually driven from the market by local producers. Legalization led to a significant increase in opium cultivation and consumption. At the beginning of the 20th century, domestic opium production was ten times that of imports in the mid-19th century.

From the perspective of modernization theory, the British-Chinese economic historian Kent Deng emphasizes that after the war, foreign trade was increasingly driven by consumer demand (initially primarily for opium). This undermined the weak cameralistic customs and tax system, but led to a strengthening of the markets. The fragmented natural rural economy, which produced cheap food with cheap labor to an extent that could keep up with the increase in population, hardly needed any industrial products. The land alone was the basis for inheritable wealth, the inflowing foreign silver coins ( pesos , silver dollars ) and bars were hoarded rather than used as a means of payment, and supraregional market relationships were based on personal contact networks or privileges from which foreigners who only trade in cantons were excluded were allowed to. The Nanking Treaty has partially eliminated this development trap, strengthened the ownership rights of business people working in China - both foreign and Chinese - and the creation of new institutions such as For example, merchants' associations were initiated to defend ownership rights, the fragmented, puzzle-like Chinese economy was more closely integrated, transaction costs were reduced, new consumption patterns created and the chaos of means of payment with more than 50 silver weights gradually cleared up. However, the implementation of these changes would have dragged on until around 1890/1895. This was accompanied by an upgrading of the merchant class despised by Confucianism. Stefan Kroll examines how since the First Opium War China began to gradually adapt the normative framework of international law by translating important works , but to interpret it very specifically.

In Japan , people were alarmed because of the outcome of the war and the evident superiority of the West. Here the local clan lords , who had been instructed in 1837 to evict foreign ships by force, were asked to at least provide better care for foreign castaways in order not to provoke conflicts. Given the weakness of their own Tokugawa - shogunate gave a show of force by the US Admiral Matthew C. Perry of four ships to the country's far-reaching concessions in the Treaty of Kanagawa to move. In Japan, however, a successful modernization followed as part of the Meiji Restoration , which was supposed to reverse the balance of power between China and Japan at the end of the 19th century. For the fact that the modernization forced by economic pressure was more effective in Japan than in China, Fairbank et al. Above all responsible for the significantly higher level of education in Japan compared to China and the earlier development of modern nationalism with the idea of ​​a strong central state. For the US, opening Japan's non-military market was far less costly than opening the Chinese market to the British.

Political and Economic Consequences in Great Britain

During the war, a movement of critics against the opium trade developed, which it regarded as amoral and harmful to both British and Chinese interests. Here served The Times as the most important newspaper in the country as a platform for opponents of the war and criticized both governments for the outbreak or the conduct of the war. Lin Zenxu had sent two letters to Queen Victoria in 1839, in which he pointed out the consequences of the "poison", wrongly assuming that opium was banned in England. The Queen had never received these letters. One of them reached England in January 1840 through a captain who had made an undertaking to the shipowners who belonged to the Quakers not to transport any opium; however, the State Department refused to accept it. This letter was first published by the Canton Chinese Repository in February 1840 and then by the Times . In it, Lin Zexu criticized British war policy as amoral. The Times also published reviews rejecting the opium trade on religious and humanist arguments. After the Tories came to power, the newspaper switched to the demand to end the war successfully and in a face-saving manner for the British national prestige. Fourteen years later, during the Second Opium War , The Times benevolently followed the Palmerston administration's war policy. However, the movement lacked the political weight to translate its demands into law. A motion in the House of Commons to restrict opium production in India was denied in 1843. The Tories, who took over the government in August 1841, continued the policy of their predecessors on the grounds of national prestige and implemented their war goals, although they had previously wanted to prevent the war by means of a (failed) motion of no confidence. The new Prime Minister Robert Peel and his government tried to keep themselves as little associated with the opium trade as possible. Peel's government even stepped up the war effort and left the leadership staff appointed by its predecessors. During the war, influential opium dealers such as William Jardine and James Matheson rose to prominence in society and took seats in parliament. The war was accepted as a necessity by the British and, more broadly, Western public after the victory. The arguments of the British war party around the opium dealers and Lord Palmerston, according to which the war had been waged to defend one's own national prestige against the inequality of treatment by the Chinese imperial court, which was perceived as humiliating, became widespread. It was also argued that the enforced contracts would bring economic improvement to the Chinese people. In 1841, the US politician and ex-President John Quincy Adams publicly made these arguments, on the one hand to legitimize the war and, on the other, to promote an aggressive China policy in his own country.

The British government and the East India Company were able to increase their profits from trade after the war, and after the annexation of Sindh in 1843 they completely dominated Indian opium production. From 1848 this multiplied by the release of cultivation and processing in India. Both the East India Company and the colonial government of British India were able to siphon off increasingly large financial gains from the increased volume of trade. The competition from Indian and Chinese middlemen later made the opium trade unprofitable for British companies. These withdrew from the business from the 1870s and devoted themselves to other goods of the Chinese trade.

The British expectations that opening further contract ports would lead to increased sales of British industrial and finished products and that China could be expanded into a second British India were not fulfilled after the war. Although England provided three-quarters of all foreign firms in China and controlled 80 percent of foreign trade, exports to China were lower than those to Holland. The inland areas in particular were barely reached by British traders. In 1847 there was a British trade crisis with "considerable financial hardship" and numerous bankruptcies, which, in addition to rail speculation, was triggered by "extravagant companies from and to East India that were only calculated for money-making" (meaning East Asia). In 1848 legal exports from the British economic area to China were even below the level of 1843. While they continued to fall due to the weak Chinese purchasing power, the English demand for Chinese consumer goods, especially tea and silk , remained unbroken. As a result, a trade deficit developed again on the British side, which in 1857 amounted to around nine million pounds. In 1857, Palmerston stated that in addition to the official silver-based trade, opium smuggling was still necessary to pay for the imported goods in demand in England. Palmerston and others blamed the Nanjing Treaty, which he himself drafted, for the failure to increase exports of industrial goods . The revision of the treaty provided the motivation for the Second Opium War in 1856.

Culture of remembrance and historiography

The first and most prominent analysis of the war was provided by the scholar and contemporary of Lin Zexu Wei Yuan with his treatise Illustrated Treatise on the Sea Kingdoms . In this he described the conflict as a trade dispute rather than an intervention in the drug policy of the empire. In his description he advocated free trade in order to strengthen the empire economically and tried to show ways how the armed conflict could have been avoided. The conclusion of his treatise, however, was that China must acquire the technologies and skills of Europeans in order to become a sea power itself. The treatise was widely used, but its theses were ignored by the Qing government. In Japan, the Confucian scholar Mineta Fuko processed Chinese reports of the war into the illustrated historical work Kaigai Shinwa in 1849 . He combined this with the plea that due to the even greater inferiority of Japan against the Europeans, a modernization of the country was necessary. After publication, he was imprisoned and disowned by his family, but his work became widely used in Japan at the end of the Tokugawa period .

In the Republic of China , the memory of the Opium War became part of the anti-imperialist state ideology of the ruling Kuomintang and marked the beginning of the century of humiliation that the Chinese nationalists sought to end. The weakness of the Qing state in the opium war also served to delegitimize the monarchical model of government. The opium war was also seen as a shocking experience that marked China's entry into the modern age dominated by the West.

Statue at the entrance to the Museum of the Opium War in Humen , Guangdong Province, 1995

In the People's Republic of China , the opium war was outside the interest of the state-mandated history policy and hardly ever occurred in school lessons. With the reform and opening policy and the turning away from Maoism , the opium war became an object of state-sponsored culture of remembrance with the aim of promoting patriotism . In 1990, the 150th anniversary of the Opium War in China was celebrated as part of a party's media campaign. This marked the beginning of a reorientation of Communist Party's propaganda - away from communist ideology and back towards Chinese nationalism. In the 1990s, government agencies established a museum about the naval battles of the war in Guangzhou . Several historical sites were also expanded and connected to a memory trail from Guangzhou to Nanjing, and a museum for the Treaty of Nanjing was created. In 1997, the year Hong Kong was returned to the People's Republic, the period film The Opium War became a blockbuster in China. The return of the colony marked the final end of the British Empire for Great Britain and ended the position of power in East Asia that had been acquired since the Opium War. In 2001, party historians dated the origin of the development to the Communist Party to the First Opium War in order to gain legitimacy.

Western historiography in the 19th century concentrated on the British military campaign and on obtaining political concessions. Karl Marx criticized the moral dimension of the opium war and classified it as a catastrophe for China. In his interpretation of the events, like many of his contemporaries, he denied Chinese society the ability to change and react and saw the opium war as a manifestation of a historical law. His works on the Opium War from 1850 to 1860 became state-sanctioned canons on the Opium War within the CPC . In contrast, the question of the direct causes for the ban on opium smuggling faded into the background. Marx's thesis that the silver outflow from China ultimately led to war through opium consumption was also supported by Christopher Bayly. However, it was contradicted by Immanuel Hsü, who pointed out the importance of the moral arguments of the opponents of the opium trade, while for Lovell the impending loss of authority and control of the imperial government played a central role.

Lin Zexu (1843)

Historiography assesses the role of individual Chinese actors very differently, depending on whether they are viewed in the context of an allegedly revolutionary-anti-colonialist movement or under aspects of modernization theory. In the “revolutionary” narrative of Chinese historiography since the 1930s, Lin Zexu appeared as a heroic patriot. In Amitav Ghosh's novel River of Smoke (2011) , he is stylized as a non-corruptible fighter against early globalization. In the context of a “ teleological ” historiography based on the paradigm of a modernization of the Quin Empire, however, he appears as an unrealistic, arrogant Mandarin who only cares about his personal reputation. Hanes and Sanello finally see him as a determined modernizer who believed in the possibility of rehabilitation even for long-time opium users and asked the West about antidotes for the addiction, but demanded the execution of all those who were not exempted from it after 18 months because he saw that consumers were spending two and a half times the annual state budget on opium.

Even among Chinese historians, interest in big narratives is now declining, leaving a highly fragmented picture of the historical situation. The Chinese-American historian Huaiyin Li therefore calls for the events to be viewed from the perspective of the situation at the time, but also taking into account the different development paths laid out in them (i.e.: revolution or gradual modernization). The interpretation of the Russian sinologist Sergey Vradiy comes close to this claim. He sees in Lin Zexu an important representative and political thinker of the neo-Confucian Statecraft school ("school of statecraft"), which tried to protect itself from the western "barbarians" who simultaneously threatened the inner-Asian and maritime borders of China, including Russia (that of the Chinese since Peter the Great was considered a role model for a successful modernization process) to learn (經 世 之 用jing-shi zhi-yong , "learning practical things for society") in order to keep them away from the borders and at the same time uphold their own high moral standards to be able to receive.

There are different assessments of the aftermath of the war. The 20th century sinologist John K. Fairbank examined the Opium Wars in detail and, like Immanuel Hsu, focused on the modernization effects that the conflict brought about in China. From the 1990s onwards , the historian Paul A. Cohen , who teaches at Harvard, noticed an increased concentration of research interest on processes in China itself, which was promoted by the availability of Chinese sources. In 2017 , the historian Song-Chuan Chen , who teaches in Warwick , presented a detailed study of the influence of British traders in Canton on British decisions and warfare.

Jürgen Osterhammel considers the First Opium War in the broader context of British Asia strategy under Palmerston since 1833. Palmerston's tendency towards interventionism is also a reaction to the Russian expansion strategy in Asia, through which he threatens British interests not only in Afghanistan but also British India itself saw.


In German language

  • Jonathan D. Spence : China's path to modernity (= Federal Center for Political Education. Series of publications. 704). Extended new edition. Federal Agency for Political Education, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-89331-867-4 (“The search for modern China”).

In English

  • Song-Chuan Chen: Merchants of War and Peace. British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War. Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong 2017, ISBN 978-988-8390-56-4 .
  • Peter Ward Fay : The Opium War, 1840-1842. Barbarians in the Celestial Empire in the Early Part of the Nineteenth Century and the War by Which They Forced Her Gates Ajar. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1975, ISBN 0-8078-1243-9 .
  • Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. The Collapse of the Heavenly Dynasty. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2016, ISBN 1-107-06987-4 .
  • W. Travis Hanes III, Frank Sanello: The Opium Wars. The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Sourcebooks, Naperville IL 2002, ISBN 1-4022-0149-4 .
  • Julia Lovell : The Opium War. Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China. Picador, London et al. 2011, ISBN 978-0-330-53785-8 .
  • Steven R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age. Alfred A. Knopf, New York NY 2018, ISBN 978-0-345-80302-3 .

Web links

Commons : First Opium War  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 10-13, 52 f, 71-73.
  2. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 72-75.
  3. ^ A b Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 1-5.
  4. ^ Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations , I.viii.24; I.ix.15.
  5. The opium clipper Water Witch on
  6. ^ Konrad Seitz: China. A world power is returning. 5th edition, Munich 2006, p. 87.
  7. ^ Kai Vogelsang: History of China. 3rd edition, Stuttgart 2013, p. 439.
  8. ^ A b Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 36 f.
  9. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, p. 306 f.
  10. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 304-308.
  11. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 6-9.
  12. ^ Song-Chuan Chen: Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War. Hong Kong 2017, p. 54.
  13. a b c Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 222-228.
  14. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 21-24.
  15. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 21-24, 36.
  16. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 31 f.
  17. ^ Peter C. Purdue: The First Opium War: The Anglo-Chines War of 1839-1842. MIT, Cambridge, Mass. 2010, p. 6.
  18. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 193-206.
  19. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 2 f, 30, 36 f.
  20. Immanuel CY Hsu: The Rise of Modern China. New York 1970, p. 169.
  21. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 232-237, 325-328.
  22. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 341–354.
  23. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 53.
  24. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 367-382, 390-392.
  25. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 367-382, 390-392.
  26. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 382-387, 399-405.
  27. ^ Roy Jenkins: Gladstone: A Biography. Macmillan, London 1995, pp. 59 f.
  28. ^ Dale C. Copeland: Economic Interdependence and War. Princeton 2015, p. 346 f.
  29. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight - The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age. New York 2019, p. 410 f.
  30. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 110.
  31. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight - The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age. New York 2019, p. 410 f.
  32. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 110.
  33. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, p. 410 f.
  34. ^ A b Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 110-114.
  35. ^ Gilbert Rozman (Ed.): The Modernization of China. New York 1981, p. 69.
  36. a b Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 27-29, 32-35.
  37. Tonio Anrade: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation and the Rise of the West in World History. Princeton 2016, pp. 240-255.
  38. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 110-114.
  39. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 340 f.
  40. Immanuel CY Hsu: The Rise of Modern China. New York 1970, pp. 168-169.
  41. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 298-302, pp. 312f, p. 323.
  42. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 110-114, 132.
  43. Tonio Anrade: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation and the Rise of the West in World History. Princeton 2016, pp. 240-255.
  44. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 110-114, 132.
  45. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 199-201.
  46. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 383-385.
  47. Quoted from Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 491; Original quote in English: “Their large cannon have a range of around ten li; they can still hit us when we cannot hit them. This is a result of the poor quality of our ordnance. When they fire, it is like a whole troop of our soldiers fire one after the other; [each of their soldiers can] fire continuously without stopping. When we fire one shot [our soldiers] need a lot of time hurrying around. This is the result of our unfamiliarity with these arts ... Although here are many officers and soldiers in the Inner Lands [ie China] with a lot of military experience, all of this is with fighting face-to-face. It seems they have never experienced combat when the distance from the enemy is eight to ten li and one has to fight without seeing the enemy's face. Therefore our forces are often uncoordinated. "
  48. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 10-12, 52 f, 411-415.
  49. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 110 f.
  50. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 10-12, 52 f, 411-415.
  51. a b Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 412-419.
  52. Steve Tsang: A Modern History of Hong Kong. London 2004, pp. 11, 21.
  53. a b Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 229-250.
  54. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 261-267.
  55. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 56, p. 273, 286, 290 f, 305, 310, 320.
  56. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 324 f, 333.
  57. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 202-208.
  58. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 347-365.
  59. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 400-408.
  60. Lukasz Kamienski: Opium Wars. in Paul Joseph: The SAGE Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspectives. Los Angeles 2014, abstract online , last accessed September 9, 2019.
  61. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 359, 414, 433-435.
  62. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, p. 426f
  63. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 359, 445-445.
  64. ^ John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer: China: Tradition and Transformation. Boston 1989, p. 276.
  65. Timothy H. Parson: The Second British Empire: In the Crucible of the Twentieth Century. Lanham, 2014, p. 1
  66. Illustrirte Zeitung Leipzig, No. 6 of August 5, 1843.
  67. Quoted from: Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 416; Original quote in English: “There is a special relationship between China and the West. Before the Opium War we were unwilling to treat them as equals; after the Opium War they were unwilling to treat us as equals. "
  68. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 469-486, 516.
  69. Udo Ratenhof: The China policy of the German Empire in 1871 and 1945 was: economic, military, military. Berlin, New York 2019, p. 27 ff.
  70. a b Xiaobing Li: First Opium War. in Xiaobing Li: China at War - An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara 2012, pp. 335-339.
  71. Quoted from Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 495 Original quote in English: “After the peace, the capital was tranquil and happy again; the atmosphere was like when the rain stops and people forget about the thunder. In pleasant conversation the subject of the war became a taboo that was never raised. "
  72. Jonathan D. Spence: God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuqan. New York 1996, pp. 51-56, 61 f.
  73. Immanuel CY Hsu: The Rise of Modern China. New York 1970, p. 270 ff.
  74. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 358-361.
  75. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 496 f.
  76. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 505-507.
  77. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, p. 512 f.
  78. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight - The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age. New York 2019, p. 443 f.
  79. Kent Deng and Huangnan Shen see a similar so-called Low Level Equilibrium Trap in the time of the People's Republic from 1958 to 1978: From State Resource Allocation to A 'Low Level Equilibrium Trap': Re-thinking of Economic Performance of Mao's China, 1949- 78. SSRN Electronic Journal, January 2018, DOI: 10.2139 / ssrn.3216787.
  80. Kent G. Deng: China's Political Economy in Modern Times: Changes and Economic Consequences, 1800-2000. Routledge, 2011.
  81. ^ Konrad Seitz: China. A world power is returning. 5th edition, Munich 2006, p. 20.
  82. Stefan Kroll: Normgenesis through re-interpretation: China and European international law in the 19th and 20th centuries. Baden-Baden 2012.
  83. Tanisawa, Eiichi 谷 沢 永 一The Lesson from the Opium War. In: Rekishitsū 歴 史 通 (“Studying History”), Tokyo 2004, pp. 142–144.
  84. Mao Haijian: The Qing Empire and the Opium War. Cambridge 2016, pp. 487-490.
  85. On the education system of China at the time, see Immanuel CY Hsu: The Rise of Modern China. New York 1970, pp. 99-104.
  86. ^ John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer, Albert M. Craig (Eds.): East Asia: Tradition & Transformation. Revised Edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston 1989, p. 417.
  87. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler : American trade imperialism in China, 1844-1900. In: Jahrbuch für Amerikastudie, 14 (1969), pp. 55–74, here: pp. 56 f.
  88. a b Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 426-433.
  89. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 401, 414 f, 441.
  90. ^ Peter C. Purdue: The First Opium War: The Anglo-Chines War of 1839-1842. MIT, Cambridge, Mass. 2010, pp. 26, 34.
  91. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 176, 250, 256.
  92. ^ W. Travis Hanes & Frank Sanello: Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Sourcebooks, Naperville 2002, p. 158 f.
  93. Peter Ward Fay: The Opium War, 1840–1842. Chapel Hill, 1975, 1997, pp. 340-342.
  94. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 78-81.
  95. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, pp. 444-446.
  96. Udo Ratenhof: The China policy of the German Empire in 1871 and 1945 was: economic, military, military. Berlin, New York 2019, p. 31.
  97. Commercielles , in: Extraordinary supplement to No. 117 of the Leipziger Zeitung , April 26, 1848, p. 2276.
  98. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 250 f.
  99. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight. New York 2019, p. 443 f.
  100. Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi: Opium, Expulsion, Sovereignty. China's Lessons for Bakumatsu. Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 1-6.
  101. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 320-322.
  102. ^ A b Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, pp. 342-347.
  103. ^ Piers Brendon: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire. London, 2008, pp. 647-655
  104. ^ Song-Chuan Chen: Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War. Hong Kong 2017, pp. 5–10.
  105. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 310 f.
  106. ^ Christopher A. Bayly: The Birth of the Modern World 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons. Malden, Mass., Oxford 2004, p. 137.
  107. Immanuel CY Hsü: The Rise of Modern China. New York, Oxford 1990, pp. 177 f.
  108. Julia Lovell: The Opium War. London 2011, p. 35.
  109. ^ W. Travis Hanes III, Frank Sanello: The Opium Wars. The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Sourcebooks, Naperville IL 2002, p. 37 ff.
  110. Huaiyin Li: Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing. University of Hawaii Press, 2013.
  111. 林則徐 Lin Zexu. 俄羅斯 國 記 要 Eluosi-guo ji-yao ("Basic information about the Russian state"). In: 俄羅斯 記 要 Eluosi ji-yao (Basic information about Russia. Posthumously 1882. Shanghai, printed from a wooden stick).
  112. Sergey Vradiy: The Interest in World Geography in 19th Century China and “Fundamental Information about the Russian State” by Lin Zexu. Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of Peoples of the Far East, Vladivostok 2008. Online on server of the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center (PDF).
  113. John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer (ed.): China: Tradition and Transformation. Allen & Unwin, London, Crows Nest (Australia) 1989.
  114. James L. Hevia: English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China. Durham 2003, pp. 8-10.
  115. ^ Song-Chuan Chen: Merchants of War and Peace: British Knowledge of China in the Making of the Opium War. Hong Kong 2017, pp. 5–10.
  116. ^ Jürgen Osterhammel: China and the world society. Munich 1989, pp. 132-136.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles in this version on December 22, 2019 .