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in China. The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treatiesand other inroads on Qing sovereigntythat helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynastyin favour of republican China inthe early 20th century.The Opium Wars arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade. Foreign traders (primarily British) had been illegally exporting opium mainly from Indiato China since the 18th century, but that trade grew dramatically from about 1820. The resulting widespread addiction in China was causing serious social and economic disruption there. In March 1839 the Chinese government confiscated and destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium—some 1,400 tons of the drug—that were warehoused at Canton (Guangzhou) by British merchants. The antagonism between the two sides increased a few days later when some drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager. The British government, which did not wish its subjects to be tried in the Chinese legal system, refused to turn the accused men over to the Chinese courts.Peace negotiations proceeded quickly, resulting in the Treaty of Nanjing, signed on August 29. By its provisions, China was required to pay Britain a large indemnity, cede Hong Kong Island to the British, and increase the numberof treaty portswhere the British could trade and reside from one (Canton) to five. Among the four additional designated ports was Shanghai, and the new access to foreigners there marked the beginning of the city’s transformation into one of China’s major commercial entrepôts. The British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue(Humen), signed October 8, 1843, gave British citizens extraterritoriality(the right to be tried by British courts) and most-favoured-nationstatus (Britain wasgranted any rights in China that might be granted to other foreign countries). Other Western countries quickly demanded and were given similar privileges.In the mid-1850s, while the Qing government was embroiled in trying to quell the Taiping Rebellion(1850–64), the British, seeking to extend their trading rights in China, found an excuse to renew hostilities. In early October 1856 some Chinese officials boarded the British-registered ship Arrowwhile it was docked in Canton, arrested several Chinese crew members (who were later released), and allegedly lowered the British flag. Later that month a British warship sailed up the Pearl River estuary and began bombarding Canton, and there were skirmishes between British and Chinese troops. Trading ceased as a stalemate ensued. In December Chinese in Canton burned foreign factories (trading warehouses) there, and tensions escalated.The French decided to join theBritish military expedition, using as their excuse the murder of a French missionary in the interior of China in early 1856. After delays in assembling the forces in China (British troops that were en route were first diverted to Indiato help quell the Indian Mutiny), the allies began military operations in late 1857. They quickly captured Canton, deposed
the city’s intransigentgovernor, and installed a more-compliant official.