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Shawna McCallisterASH 4404Research PaperThe Opium War of 1839-1942 between China and Great Britain was one of many encounters between these two nations. These encounters helped the Chinese society formulate its opinions of western civilizations, both positively and negatively. Throughout the course of history, the opinion that China has formed of western civilizations has tended to be more negative than positive due to unfavorable outcomes in the dealings of China with the West. The Opium War is one example of an encounter between China and the West, in this case Great Britain, which ended unfavorably towards the Chinese. It is clear that the events of the Opium War played a significant role in formulating China’s opinions of western civilizations. Events before, during, and immediately following the war affected China politically, economically, and emotionally and contributed tremendously to the ongoing distaste that China has felt for western culture. A significant amount of sources exist which provide insight into the feelings of the Chinese in the time period of the Opium War; some of these are primary sources, others are secondary, but together they provide an overall picture. In regards to primary sources, the two that are the most significant are the letter written by Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu asking Queen Victoria of Great Britain to put an end to the opium trade, and the Treaty of Nanking that concluded the war and determined gains. A couple of newspaper clippings from 1840 also help to shed light on the events of the time. In regards to secondary sources, there is an abundance of scholarly journal articles available about the Opium War, though most of these focus on the political aspects of the war. Where previously research has been done regarding the political
repercussions of the war, this paper will take the works of these earlier historians, put it together with the emotional aspects of the war and show how it all correlates. Prior to the war, China maintained a policy of isolation when it came to trade and economic interaction. As David Bello mentions in his journal article, this was due to the fact that China believed it could produce the resources it needed; even opium was produced in the Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou provinces. 1Even though China disliked importing foreign goods, it had no problem with exporting goods, such as tea to Britain, and maintaining a sizeable economic advantage from the trade imbalance due to the heavy exportation of tea to Great Britain. Great Britain decided it needed to correct this trade imbalance and began the cultivation of opium in its Indian colonies and smuggling it into China.2An article from the New York Observer from 1840 states that “in British India the poppy . . . is extensively cultivated and large quantities . . . are annually exported to China.”3It became obvious to the world that Great Britain would do whatever it thought necessary to correct the trade imbalance. Great Britain gained its