peddling paltry buccaneering expedition for the redress of a commercial insult

Peddling paltry buccaneering expedition for the

This preview shows page 7 - 9 out of 32 pages.

peddling paltry buccaneering expedition for the redress of a commercial insult, and the cementation of a commercial treaty,’ the war had become ‘a means of producing the most stupendous effects on the destinies of man.’18 These heady speculations were spun out of the excitement of a rapidly escalating and highly successful imperial war. They were also perhaps an answer to the considerable disquiet about the morality and conduct of this bloody, destructive and unequal conflict. The Opium War, ‘this disgrace upon the British name,’ as Gladstone put it, aroused intense criticism in the House of Commons, in the British, colonial and European press, and among some of those who participated in it.19 Although presented as an expedition to avenge violations of the liberties and property of British subjects, its origins, a dispute over the importation of an illegal drug, were a source of shame and embarrassment. ‘In this instance,’ concluded the Friend of India , we were clearly the aggressors. The war was brought on by a struggle on the part of the Emperor to preserve his own people from the contamination of that vice, which the enlightened nation of England was endeavouring to encourage. The confiscation of the opium, if judged by the laws of England or by the law of nations, was a just and not a criminal act.20 The shame was magnified by the extensive devastation and the effortless massacres of Chinese soldiers by superior British arms in this earliest of modern wars. Conservative estimates put the total casualties among British and Indian troops during combat at barely more than 500, while some 20,000 Chinese forces were killed or wounded.21 ‘Britons never mingled in a more unequal strife,’ commented one participant, ‘or in one more dishonourable to their country’s fame.’22 The Times , a persistent critic of the war, was ‘sickened’ by the reports of veterans of Waterloo ‘sweeping away with cannon or bayonet crowds of poor pig-tailed animals,’ while ‘after a day of slaughter... a corporal and half a dozen privates comprise the whole loss of the British Army.’23 Even Punch suspended its satire on the antics of Chinese officials to protest against this ‘ghastly bloody farce,’ this ‘war of howitzers to pop-guns’: ‘we blush as Englishmen, and grieve as philosophers, for the outlay of lead and powder in this fight for opium.’24 The rhetoric of justification and expectation woven around this slaughter added to the original national grievance a strain of liberation imperialism that permeated not just the outpourings of propagandists but also the strategies and expectations of military and political leaders. The rhetoric contained four broad assumptions, each connected to the other by a logical train of events. First, China was in a state of decay and was being held back from the progress and fulfilment of which it was capable by a corrupt, oppressive and alien Manchu government. Secondly, the Chinese, who were 27
Founding a Colony

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture