Opium Trade: A Manifestation of the British SpiritAs the empire where the “sun never sets on”, the British Empire has long been consideredone of the largest and strongest empire ever to have existed in history. After a series ofEuropean wars and period of revolution, Britain emerged as one of the strongest Europeanpower over the rest. The Industrial Revolution helped reshaped various aspects and gave riseto several critical values in 18th and 19thcentury British society. Key amongst these were theimportance of entrepreneurship, free trade and idea of a civilizing mission. The establishmentand growth of the Opium Trade perhaps best encapsulate these three important British values.Although such values have come to be associated with British imperialism, at their core thesevalues were key features of modern Europe society – even more so for the British.Considering the integral role Great Britain had played in European and World affairs up tillthe World Wars, British values definitely had a strong impact in formulating modern Europe.Opium Trade was a complex but yet integral element of the British economic nexus –especially in the Anglo-Indian-Sino triangular trade. As this paper examine and chart thehistory of Opium trade within the British Empire, it will be clear that Opium Trade can beconsidered a fair representation of the modern British spirit that in turn play a prominent rolein shaping modern Europe as a whole. The early forays into economic expansionism was led by the British East India Company intothe far flung regions beyond the Mediterranean into the Asian subcontinent. By the 18thCentury, the EIC was a key player in economic proceedings in London alongside stateinstitutions such as Bank of England.1The Industrial Revolution had helped raised ideasabout economic efficiency and notions of capitalism was beginning to take root in British1H.V. Bowen, “The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756-1833” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 29.
society. Profits and market economics soon became the main elements of British society andthis was an era where one can be a “Self-Made Man”.2The emergence of EIC was a subproduct of the burgeoning entrepreneur spirit amongst British. The EIC hence emerged as acharter company vested with British Crown support to conduct trade expeditions into Asia insearch of economic opportunities. The role EIC had played in India and China – especiallyregarding Opium – will be a focal point of the paper’s discussion as they served as the mainBritish agency in Asia until the 1840s. Chronologically, the paper will look at the origins ofOpium production before proceeding to the Opium Wars. This will illustrate how the differentphases of Opium trade encompasses the important values incorporated in British societyduring then.