Welcome to the Opium War Exhibition for HIS326

Hello everyone!

This blog is going to introduce you into the Chinese and the British perspectives on the Opium War. Laws, commodities and culture, artworks, warfare technology, and literature are materials that we have used to study the topic. Each examined material provides valuable information about the the Chinese and the British’s thought and attitude on the war. Based on our research, we have come up with a main argument that follows:

The Qing perpetually viewing themselves as victims played into the arrogance displayed by the British directly involved in the conflict.

The East and the West had been very separate entities, only achieving sporadic contact via various traders until the end of the 17th century. However, the peace would not last, and for the first time in history, the Chinese army is faced with an enemy the likes of which they had never seen, the British. Two very different cultures, two ideals, and separate interests eventually led to a violent clash between giants that would last for years. The First Opium War was about much more than a simple trade dispute, instead it was the final spark to ignite a conflict in the makings for decades. While the First Opium war can be seen as an unfortunate tragedy in which a technologically superior nation abuses their power, it can also be seen as a valuable lesson. The Qing court until the Opium War always thought themselves invincible and above all other nations, seeing them as nothing more than tributaries. The Opium War forced the Chinese to view other nations as equals for the first time in history.

Enjoy our blog and happy reading! 🙂

Tea and Opium Culture

By Nico Meffe





While there was a growing culture of opium use in the Qing Dynasty leading up to the opium war, the British were all too willing to provide the supply to meet this demand in exchange for financial gain and tea.





Qing Opium Culture

The Lancet page 820

Letter to the Editor of The Lancet, March 1842
Letter to the Editor of The Lancet, March 1842

The Lancet page 822












This is a letter to the editor of The Lancet newspaper written February 26, 1842 from Surrey, England. It consists of extracts from the private journal of James Hill while he served as surgeon on a ship operating in the South China Sea. Upon being rescued from a typhoon, his crew was escorted to Canton under the protection of the Chinese Government. This occurred in October 1839 after the outbreak of the First Opium War, which had begun in March.

Hill describes the effects of opium consumption on a soldier and “head policeman” who are some of the personnel escorting his party. He describes in great detail the paraphernalia, and act of smoking opium.   All members of the Chinese party escorting Hill carried opium pipes, including a “head policeman.” Hill believes that opium use was almost universal amongst the male Chinese population, regardless of social class. He opines that the habits of smoking opium as practiced by the Chinese must have severe effects on a person’s constitution, even worse than those of alcohol. He believes that opium leads to an attitude of indifference and then an “early grave.” At the end of his Letter to the editor, Hill states that despite being told of extensive poppy cultivation in provinces of southern China, on his journey of nearly 600 miles he never saw a single poppy. Hill offers no reason for submitting this letter to the editor, which is presumably meant to describe the condition of opium consumption in the country. It is curious that he mentions the lack of poppy cultivation in China. Perhaps this is a way of suggesting that the opium must have been imported, without being so explicit.

The use of opium had a long history in China, however it reached its peak during the 19th century (Zheng 2). It had a long history in China as medicine (Zheng 2). It then entered the imperial court as an aphrodisiac used with consorts in the late 15th century and then trickled down through society as each class attempted to emulate the class above them (Zheng 5). By the 1830s it was beginning to become popular with the lowest classes of society (Zheng 6). This is when the elites began to distance themselves from the opium consumption in order to avoid being associated with a habit of the lower classes, the use by commoners indicated that it was no longer a signifier of status (Zheng 6). This provided the government with an impetus and ability to begin to more aggressively push for its expulsion from the empire, which would not have been politically viable if it was still a pastime generally practiced by elites (Zheng 6). Unfortunately just on the eve of the opium war opium had been transformed into a “social icon” and had permeated almost all sectors of society (Zheng 6). While there was great demand for opium in China by this time, as Hill points out in his letter to the editor, there was not much supply from within China. It took both endogenous and exogenous forces for opium to reach such a point of ubiquity (Zheng 9). To understand how this came about we must first look at the rise of another addictive commodity, tea, in Britain.

English Tea Pots and Cups c. 1740 - 1810 from Milwakee Art Gallery
English Tea Pots and Cups c. 1740 – 1810 from Milwakee Art Gallery


This image shows six teapots four teacups that were all used in England. The second teapot from the left was made in China circa 1760 and the second teacup from the right was made in China in 1740 (Milwakee Art Museum). The rest were all made in England with the earliest beginning in 1860 (Milwakee Art Museum). The most modern piece is the blue and white teacup and saucer in the middle that was created in Staffordshire, England in 1810 (Milwakee Art Museum). It is the only teacup with a handle, demonstrating a move away from Chinese style tea-ware towards convenient British methods (Milwakee Art Museum). The English-made porcelain was spurred due to the huge surge in the demand for tea that occurred in the 18th century. The variety and popularity of teapots and sets in 18th century England reflects the vast meteoric rise of popular of tea culture. The movement to away from ‘exotic’ Chinese style porcelains to English designed porcelain demonstrates the near completion of British tea culture appropriation.

The Rise of Tea Culture in Britain

Having existed in China since 2750 BCE, tea first appeared in England in the mid-seventeenth century (Kemasang 70). About a decade later, in the 1660s, it had was starting to become popular with the upper class (Kemasang 70). By the turn of the next century England was consuming 12 million pounds of tea each year (Holt 36-37). This allowed the duty to rise from 12.5% to 100% (Holt 37). Despite taxes and domestic opposition it had become popular amongst all classes in the 18th century and by the 1820s it was a staple for all English classes (Kemasang 71). Its rapid adoption is quite an anomaly and is even attributed to positive societal and economical changes (Kemasang 72-81).

Tea, Opium and Triangular Trade

This great demand for tea from Europe, particularly England resulted in a net trade surplus of about £150 million worth of silver by 1817 for the Qing Dynasty (Holt 37).  This trade deficit came about because the Qing were simply not as interested in British goods as the British were in Tea (Holt 37). Without anything to trade for tea the British were forced to pay in silver. In order to avoid continually running at a loss in their trade with the Qing, the British East India Company began importing opium into China (Holt 37). This created a triangular trade between England, China and India (Weimin 89).

The British exported cotton textiles to India, and used their control over India to export opium to China, who then exported tea to England (Weimin 96). This was extremely beneficial to the British and was very effective at reversing the flow of silver (Holt 37). By 1833 China was facing a net trade loss of £1.5 million to £2 million annually (Holt 64). The duty earned on opium made up one-eighth of British India’s gross revenue in 1832 (Holt 64). The prosperity brought to the British Empire from this triangular trade was great enough to prevent those who opposed it from gaining any substantial support (Holt 64-65). Even in the Qing Dynasty there were many who were making profits from middlemen, merchants, to corrupted officials (Holt 65). Despite the increasing concern within the Qing government, between1831 and 1839 the amount of opium imported went from 16 550 to 40 000 chests (Holt 65). It was clear that despite the harmful effects brought about to Qing society as described by Hill,  the British showed no signs of slowing  by the time the First Opium war broke out in 1839.


Decoratie Arts Gallery at the Milwakee Museum. “Tea Table Coffee Table.” Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.chipstone.org/html/SpecialProjects/TeaTables/12t.html>.

Hill, James. “Opium Smoking in China.” The Lancet 37.967 (March 1842): 820 -822. Web.

Holt, Edgar. The Opium Wars in China. Great Britain: Dufour Editions, 1964. Print.

Kamasang, A. R. T. “Tea – midwife and nurse to capitalism.” Race & Class 51.1 (2009): 69-83.

Weimin, Zhong. “The Roles of Tea and Opium in Early Economic Globalization: A Perspective on China’s Crisis in the 19th Century.” Frontiers of History in China 5.1 (2010): 86-105. Web.

Zheng, Yangwen. “The Social Life of Opium in China.” England: Cambridge Press, 2005. Print.

Law and ban of opium in China

By Violet Ding 

Opium was considered as very effective medicine in Europe before the Opium War (Booth 65). And almost every person in Britain had ever tried it (Booth 74). Thus, there were no explicit bans or laws about regulations of opium, until 1912, the International Opium Convention signed (The International Opium Convention 187). However, China had an opposite view about opium. They thought it had seriously affected their nation’s health. Therefore, many specific provisions were carried out in China during Qing dynasty against opium. But, the British still tried to violate these rules and displayed arrogant attitude towards China. This had directly involved in the international conflict and the opium war.

Anti-drug Campaign in the Qing Empire

Here are some important statutes set by Qing government about opium during Jia Qing and Dao Feng eras. Jia Qing (1796-1820): at first, Qing government thought opium was just a small issue; they implemented an “Outer Prohibition”, which only prohibited import opium around Guangzhou area (Jingshang). And in the 4th, 12nd, and 14th years of Jia Qing era, Qing government had emphasized on forbidding the trade of opium (Jingshang). But, since opium issue was more and more serious during Late Jia Qing, the Qing government realized that this was not only a small case. Thus in the 18th year of Jia Qing (1813), they officially enacted an “Inner Prohibition” law about punishment of the opium drudgers and planters (Yu 25-27). However, because of the generous benefits of trading opium, this policy was not very efficient. Thus, in the 20th of Jia Qing era, they promulgate a Forbidding of Opium Policy (查禁鸦片烟条规), which can be summarized into two main points (Jingshang). The first one was: for the Portuguese cargo ships entering Macau, Qing officials need to check if there was opium. Once discovered opium, they could never trade with China (Jingshang). The second was details about penalization of unconstitutionality and rewards for the elitist in against opium (Jingshang). The British played a trick, since they thought this new rule would also applied to them, but at this time, Qing imperial court had not explicitly order to check the British ships (Jingshang). Thus, the captains of the British East India Company (BEIC) were commanded to refuse the inspection by Qing officials (Morse 238). Until two years later, when the Wabash issue happened, Qing government decided to check the British ships (Jingshang). But because of the BEIC strongly opposed to this decision and threaten to start a war, Qing had to give up finally (Jingshang).


During Daoguang period, the ban on opium became the most important issue in China. In the third year of Daoguang era (1823), an new statutes about deregulation of Opium was executed (失察鸦片烟条例), which stressed the punishment of officials who did not obey the rules (Li 68). Because, though Qing had put forward many policies about prohibition of opium, many officials did not execute them but make profits through opium or smoke opium (Zheng 56-70). In the year 1839, Qing promulgated another law, which strictly ban on the opium(钦定严禁鸦片烟条例) (Li 69). This was regarded as the most thoroughly laws in the Qing history. The same year, Daoguang appointed Lin Zexu to implement this law. And in the “Commissioner Lin: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839”, he pointed out one policy in the new law:

“Any foreigner or foreigners bringing opium to the Central Land, with design to sell the same, the principals shall most assuredly be decapitated, and the accessories strangled; and all property (found on board the same ship) shall be confiscated. The space of a year and a half is granted, within the which, if any one bringing opium by mistake, shall voluntarily step forward and deliver it up, he shall be absolved from all consequences of his crime.” (Lin 116-118)

Edward Duncan. “NEMESIS Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841.” Oil painting. 1843.

Actually, the British companies knew opium was prohibited in China (Rowe 231-252). Thus, they hired many country merchants in order to avoid the legal sanctions (Perdue). And also they bribed the Qing officials into connivance (Li 68). This had forced Qing punished many officials and executed rules about deregulations (Li 68). When Qing ordered some British opium sellers to leave China, many of them refused or just stop not far from China (Jingshang). When Qing asked them to provide letter of assurance about not trade opium, the BEIC also strongly opposed to it and threatened the other companies not provide this letter by cancelling their licenses in Britain (Morse 17). When Qing commanded them never trade opium with China, they even menaced Qing by the war (Jingshang). The Chinese people really suffered a lot from opium; it was no longer a “magic medicine”, but the poison (Zheng 56-70, 71-86). However, they never stopped illegal behavior in China, but earned money based on Chinese people’s health without any shame (Rowe 231-252). This was unbearable for China as an independent country and had raised the indignation of Chinese people (Tappan 197). And they thought they were the victims of British opium trade (Waley 23). After Lin Zexue sent the letter to Queen Victoria, they still played an arrogant attitude, but regardless of the laws in China (Rowe 231-252). Thus, the first opium war happened unavoidably.


Booth, Martin. Opium: A History. London: Simon & Schuster, 1999. Print.

Duncan, Edward. “NEMESIS Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841.” National Maritime Museum. Web. Nov 4, 2014. <http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/opium_wars_01/ow1_gallery/pages/1841_0792_nemesis_jm_nmm.htm>.

League of Nations Treaty Series. The International Opium Convention, signed at The Hague, January 23, 1912, and subsequent relative papers. No. 222. – International Opium Convention Signed at the Hague January 23, 1912. Netherlands: The League of Nations, 1922. Web. Nov 14, 2014. <http://www.worldlii.org/int/other/LNTSer/1922/29.html>.

Lin, Zexu, “Commissioner Lin: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839,” Modern Asia and Africa, Readings in World History Vol. 9. Ed. William H. McNeil and Mitsuko Iriye, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Web. Nov 14, 2014. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1839lin2.asp>.

Morse, Hosea B. The Chronicles of the East India Company: Trading to China 1635-1834. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926. Print.

Rowe, William T. China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.

Tappan, Eva March, eds. “The People of Canton: Against the English, 1842″ in China, Japan, and the Islands of the Pacific, I of The World’s Story: A History of the World in Story, Song, and Art. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914. Web. Nov 14, 2014. <http://www.fordham.edu/Halsall/mod/1842canton.asp>.

Waley, Arthur. The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes. London: Allen & Unwin, 1958. Print.

Yu, De’en. The history of Chinese Phohibition Of Cigarettes (中国禁烟法令变迁史). Shanghai: Zhonghua Shuju, 1934. Print.

Jingshang, Yuzheng eds. “About Opium Issues During Jia Qing and Dao Guang Eras: Introduction” (关于清代嘉庆、道光年间的鸦片问题). 1985. Web. Nov 14, 2014. <>.

Zheng, Yangwen. The Social Life of Opium in China. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

Depictions of the Opium War in arts

By Johnny Song

While there has always been a plethora of methods we as humans express ourselves and our experiences, painting is no doubt one of the most common and oldest method to be used. A picture is worth a thousand words and rightly so when it comes to paintings depicting a period of history. It is interesting to note the difference between paintings made during that period and paintings that came after as they reflect different viewpoints on the same event.

The East and the West had always been drastically different in terms of culture, lifestyle, ideologies and art style. Therefore it seems reasonable to draw a comparison between artwork of the two different sides of the globe. The Opium War is an interesting time in history when the West and the Eastern powers clashed violently in open warfare for the first time between two regional powers, Great Britain and Qing China. Both sides seek to tell a different tale and appeal to different sides of emotion with their artwork regarding the period. Here I am acquired two artwork, one of which was made by the British during the war and another made by a Chinese artist many, many years after.

Edward Duncan. “NEMESIS Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841.” Oil painting. 1843.


Here you can see British warships demolishing the Chinese fleet, it is worth noting the vast technological gap between the two warring factions. In the background, a steamship can be seen firing at the Chinese fleet. While the Chinese junks at this point used only a few gunpowder weapons, the British made ample use of them. It is within European tradition to depict the winning of a battle as their form of history telling. It demonstrates their power and inspires awe, such is the case in this painting.

Naval traditions also play a great part in this power gap. Great Britain, as both a European power and an island nation, developed a strong naval tradition. As soon as gunpowder was introduced to Europe, it had been turned into a weapon almost immediately. Gradual improvements over the 17th, 18th, and 19th century made them a precise weapon capable of inflicting terrible damage. The Qing on the other hand had very little use of a navy. After the construction of the Grand Canal, trading along the coast became an unnecessary risk due to pirates from Japan. Thus what little of the navy the Qing had were mostly outfitted to fight in large lakes or along the coast, designed to be nimble and maneuverable. However, the British navy was much more flexible due to their rating system for ships. 5th and 6th rate frigates take up the role played by the Qing junks while 1st to 4th rate line ships did the heavy lifting.

At one point in time Chinese junks were far superior to European ships due to the rudder, compass, sail design allowing them to sail upwind and compartmental hull. However, the Chinese naval technology stagnated while the European naval technology flourished, leading to the laughable difference in power during the Opium wars.

The Chinese appealed to something very different in their artwork depicting this period. Instead of demonstrating their power, they opted to demonstrate emotion instead. One can argue that Qing China was a victim of an unsolicited war, which is true to a certain extent. The British had a morally questionable casus belli for the Opium war, and is not really justified to their use of force. However, one can say that it was more so due to the arrogance of the emperors in the late Qing. The Chinese empire had always seen itself as superior and above the other nations of the world, and it is reflected in their foreign and trade policies. It can be said that the root cause of the Opium war was the Qing’s refusal to trade for anything but silver bullions. Unfortunately, Britain used the gold standard and had to actually purchase silver in Europe in order to satisfy the insatiable appetite for silver from the Qing government. This eventually led to the trade of opium and the outbreak of the war.

Artwork made by the Chinese however, rarely reflect upon that element, and instead focused on the civilian suffering due to the outbreak of the war. The Opium War was a landslide in terms of technology and the Chinese armies suffered devastating defeats at the hands of superior gunpowder weapons. Such devastation not only leads to physical suffering but also the emotional suffering of the civilians.

Anonymous, The Opium War. Oil painting.


In this piece of art that was made much later, one can see how the Chinese still views the period even to this day. The painting depicts a devastating loss by the Chinese army and even civilians are forced to take up arms. It also expresses the unity between the armed forces and the civilian population during a time of crisis. The most amazing part about this work of art is that it demonstrates weakness but immediately makes up for it with strength and resolve. While one can see destroyed cannons, fire and fallen soldiers on the left, immediately to the right there stands a very determined elderly Chinese civilian clutching someone who appears to be an official of some sort in his embrace, much like how a father would protect his son. In the background the Chinese soldiers continue to charge forward wielding cold weapons despite their massive losses. If one looks further back into the painting, the white sails of British ships can be seen behind the smoke.

Thus it can be seen that while the two pieces of artwork depict the same time period, there are drastic differences to how they were portrayed. One side the reigning champion showcasing his strength and power, and the victim showing their suffering but also their resolve.


Duncan, Edward. “NEMESIS Destroying the Chinese War Junks in Anson’s Bay, Jan 7th 1841.” National Maritime Museum. Web. Nov 16, 2014. <http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/opium_wars_01/ow1_gallery/pages/1841_0792_nemesis_jm_nmm.htm>.

Gray, Jack. Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1800s to 2000. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.

The Chinese Repository. A General Index of Subjects Contained in the Twenty Volumes … with an Arranged List of the Articles. Canton: n.p., 1851. Print.


Warfare technology in the Opium War

By Seonyeong (Anes) Lee


Weapons used by anti-British officers and soldiers
Chinese weapons captured by the crew of the Nemesis in battle

In the Opium War, the military of Qing used shotguns, which had a length of 2.01meters with a range of around 100meters, and firing rate of 1-2 rounds/minute. The shotguns were excessively old in technique because they were actually from Ming dynasty. They didn’t operate properly (Sino-British Opium War Weaponry Comparison). Furthermore, there were not enough shotguns the military could use. Instead, the Qing army used spears and crossbows. Technology of artillery was also poor (Do 17). Irons for making artillery were impure because temperature for smelting was too low, which made the artillery rough. Besides, formulations of gunpowder were carried out based not on the exact calculation but on crude experience. At that time, Great Britain made gunpowder with 75% for NOx, sulfur 10% and charcoal 15%. Gunpowder of the Qing was difficult to store for long time and explosive power was weak. Also, they used War Junks which definitely depended on wind. The War Junks were made by wood, which were much weaker than British’s.

Chinese weapons captured by the crew of the Nemesis in battle
Weapons used by anti-British officers and soldiers

These poor weapons show the situation of the Qing in the 19th century. Chinese did not recognize their technologies and social systems were behind of the development of the Western world. The first Opium War for 1839~1842 was enough to shock people who believed their country was the best in the world. China had controlled the East Asia with its huge territory, a great number of populations, and systematic studies from ancient time. From the point of view of China, the Opium War was a conscienceless attack of the United Kingdom and this perspective is well reflected in a textbook for school until now. The textbook for Chinese history describes China as an innocent victim, on the contrary it introduce the United Kingdom as a greedy nation with ambition to expand their markets for capitalism (Kim 2). It tries to hide their shortcomings and emphasizes the attack from the United Kingdom (Kim 2).

Artillery of the Qing
Artillery of the Qing
War Junks of the Qing

The current generation can find implications with the social confusion China experienced in the Opium Wars. When the United Kingdom modernized its weapon, and strengthened its army and navy, China had a stronghold of conservatism. China neglected foreigners and did not submit to the British’s superiority, yet the country was obsessed about its past glory (Kim 13). What China needed to do was to upgrade its national competitiveness, learning better techniques. I’m not saying the Western civilization was better than the Eastern in all ways. The point is that it is really important to learn new knowledge and technologies and make mastery of them. To maintain a prestige as a powerful nation, it is required to accept its insufficiencies modestly and to try to learn progressively.

The United Kingdom

Muskets of the United Kingdom
Muskets of the United Kingdom
Pattison's 3 pounder carriage
Pattison’s 3 pounder carriage

The United Kingdom used Burke-style muzzle-loading smoothbore flintlocks, which had a length of 1.16 meters with a range of about 200 meters and rate of fire of 2-3 rounds/minute (Sino-British Opium War Weaponry Comparison). Strong points of the United Kingdom were in artillery and gunboats. The Industrial Revolution after development of method of iron smelting made it possible to produce pure iron. The United Kingdom used various sizes of components and reasonable designs for operating artillery to make high accuracy. By the end of 16th century, the Royal Cannon appeared, which turned the scale at 6 tons and could fire cannonball of 75 pounds (Do 13). In addition, the British navy ranked the highest in the world at that time. The gunboat named Nemesis had a length of 56 m, a beam of 8.8 m, a draught of 1.8 m, and a burthen of 660 tons. It was operated by two sixty horsepower Forrester engines. It was armed with two pivot-mounted 32 pounder and four 6 pounder guns, and a rocket launcher. Initially the British warships were sailing warships that couldn’t penetrate shallow, inland waterways. So, the British made a war along the coast. However, the Nemesis allowed the military to attack China much aggressively. In January 1841, they destroyed the Chinese forts which sheltered the passage of the port of Canton. Cities were attacked by the Nemesis and its technological innovation such as the Congreve rocket (Weapons and Warfare).

Nemesis, the warship

These outstanding weapons reflect the development of the United Kingdom and Western civilization in 19th century well. The weapons the United Kingdom used were symbols of European modernization and an awareness of superiority to Eastern civilization. The United Kingdom needed a bigger market to accommodate capitalism, and China was good enough to achieve its goal (Opium Wars). According to John Ouchterlony, who participated in the first Opium War as one of the British air force officers, explained the longstanding political conflict that caused the war, omitting a hidden intention of the government (Ouchterlony 8). He mentioned that the Chinese government was dissatisfied with the surplus of the United Kingdom in the opium trade and treated the British products rudely (Ouchterlony 9). Ouchterlony insisted that it was the Chinese’s fault to develop addiction in opium and they strongly demanded opium without any coercion from British merchants. He thought the war was reasonable to protect British people (Ouchterlony 9), and this perspective lasts until now, as reflected in textbooks for school. The textbook saw the war as a result of conflict between two civilizations in economic relationship without explaining the government’s attitude in detail (Kim quoted in Mitter 21).

The significant lesson from the attitude and the perspective of the United Kingdom toward the Opium War is a proper attitude toward other countries which have different civilization. It is obvious that the United Kingdom had a better scientific technologies and developed systems, but it does not mean that a stronger country can abuse their power toward weaker countries to fulfill its greed. Therefore, it is a remaining task to clarify ways to coexist among various countries nowadays in politics and economy. The Opium War by the assembly of the United Kingdom could be the optimal choice for the nation and the people at that time. However, as generations who live in an era which requires obvious international standards as regimes in globalized age need to evaluate their historical decision honestly.


Do Hyunsin. Amazing World History. Seoul: West Sea Publication, 2012. Print.

Illustrated London New 1841. Web. Nov 19, 2014. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Opium_War_weapons_1841.png

Kim Eunkyung. “Comparion and analysis on the descriptions of the Chinese • the United Kingdom’s history textbooks of middle school about the first Opium War.” Diss. Ewha Womans University, 2009 Online.

Kim Joosam “An Analysis of the Process of Modernization in East Asia and the Corresponding changes in China and Japan after the Opium Wars”, Asian Study 11.3 (2009). The Korean Association of Philippine Studies. Web.

MLBPARK. Web. Nov 19, 2014. http://mlbpark.donga.com/mbs/articleV.php?mbsC=bullpen&mbsIdx=240079&cpage=&mbsW=search&select=stt&opt=1&keyword=%C3%BB%B1%BA

Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860). Weapons and Warfare, 24 June 2011. Web. Nov 19, 2014,

Ouchterlony, John. First Anglo-Chinese War. Seoul: Upaper, 2013. Print.

Sino-British Opium War Weaponry Comparison. Research Paper Center, 16 Jan. 2006. Web. Nov 19, 2014.

The army of Qing dynasty. Web. Nov 19, 2014. http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?365893-The-army-of-Ming-Dynasty-and-Joseon-Dynasty-during-the-16th-century

Total War Center. Web. Nov 19, 2014. http://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?365893-The-army-of-Ming-Dynasty-and-Joseon-Dynasty-during-the-16th-century

Zhenhai Coastal Defense History Museum. Web. Nov 19, 2014 http://www.zhkhfsg.com/en/products_detail.asp?id=995&cataid=139

The Treaty of Nanjing – Glory or humiliation?

By Michelle Luk

Capt. John Platt, “The Signing and Sealing of the Treaty of Nanking in the State Cabin of H. M. S. Cornwallis, 29th August 1842”. Oil painting.

Background to the treaty

In the aftermath of the first Opium War, the British and the Chinese signed the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 as peace settlement. Both parties achieved agreement upon twelve unequal articles for which they mainly disadvantaged the Chinese. For instance, article seven on the treaty stated that China must pay a total of twenty one million dollars to cover the British’s lost income on opium trade and to be punished for the Chinese authority’s “violent and unjust” treatments towards the British subjects during the War (The London Gazette 3597). In addition, article four stated that Hong Kong Island is to be ceded to the British in perpetuity (The London Gazette 3597). The Treaty of Nanjing has been seen as humiliation to China and it is a less popular subject for discussion in Chinese historical literature; the Chinese account on the treaty is limited and scarce. On the contrary, there are a handful of British accounts on the treaty remain in circulation.

Voices from the Chinese and the British

Two texts are going to be introduced in this post: “A Military History of the Qing Dynasty” (Shengwu ji, 聖武記) by Wei Yuan (魏源) and “The Closing Events of the Campaign in China” by Capt. Granville G. Loch. Both authors have lived through the time of the Opium War and the texts present their personal views on the Treaty of Nanjing. The texts are valued for the time they were composed as well as for being the authors’ personal discourse. Wei and Loch’s reactions toward the Treaty of Nanjing vary; while Wei resents the British’s aggression and Emperor Douguang’s incapability in dealing with foreigner, Loch takes pride of the British’s victory over the Qing – the fallen Empire.

The Imperial Qing and resentments

A portrait of Wei Yuan (1794-1857)
A portrait of Wei Yuan (1794-1857) by Ye Yanlan

Wei Yuan (1794-1857) was a Chinese scholar from Hunan. He obtained the provincial degree (juren 舉人) in Imperial Examination and subsequently worked in the secretariat of several prominent statesmen, including Lin Zexu (林則徐) (Li 10). Wei was deeply concerned with the crisis China was facing in the 19th century. Shengwu ji has proposed measures to improve military capability to the Imperial Army, and it also contains Wei’s commentary on the Chinese authority in the Opium War.

The original copy of Shengwu ji (聖武記)
The original copy of Shengwu ji (聖武記)

In Shengwu ji, Wei expresses his concern about the rising resentment towards foreigners among the Chinese population during the Opium War, and questions Emperor Daoguang’s capability to rule. Humiliated, the Chinese feel bitter about the British aggressiveness towards China as well as Qing’s incapacity to fight against foreign aggressor. Anti-foreigner sentiment gains momentum among the Chinese; they cultivate antagonistic attitude towards foreigners and believe that the “barbarians” “look only for profit” (Fairbank 6). Wei records a military assault in Canton targeting at foreigners in his writing. In March 1841, China relaxes its measure on trade with America and opens up trade between two nations. However, the modification of the measure results to Canton leaders making “a night attack upon the factories, and killed several Americans by mistake” (Wei 74). The Canton leaders’ violent engagement is an overreaction to foreigners and shows their discomfort of the foreigners’ presence. Scholar even suggests that the Qing has long been depicted as a victim of Western power and imperialism, “one whose inability to cope with the challenges of the day…” (Larson 499). Larson’s statement justifies the predominant mentality of the Chinese. Instead of reflecting themselves upon the Imperial Qing’s military power, the Chinese pity themselves on being exploited by foreign power.

Wei’s text also includes details about the Emperor’s attitude towards the Treaty of Nanjing. When the Chinese is demanded to come to terms with the British’s requests of indemnity and opening up trading ports, the historian condemns Emperor Daoguang’s powerlessness in the face of the British. Wei angrily accuses that “…all our leaders now lost courage, and sent a reply that night (to the British), submitting to everything, and not alluding at all to the rule about opium being excluded from China” (Wei 67-68). The Emperor and his officials are feeble in the negotiation process. Some scholarships point out that the Chinese officials find the British’s demands “problematic” (Lovell 234) that they abandon and even displace the draft treaty after reading it (Lovell 234). This shows that the Chinese authority is reluctant in achieving agreements with the British: arrogance remains. As the diplomatic deadline draw closer and the British show impatience in the waiting of reply, the Chinese authority are left with no options but to accept all demands from the British. The acceptance of the treaty is a blow to the Chinese’s pride: the Manchu, once a conquering race, loses its title to the British after the Opium War. The Qing Empire and its shattered confidence become subjects of entertainment in the British party.

The British Empire and conceit 

A portrait of Capt. Granville G. Loch (1813-1853) by Koseph Brown. National Portrait Gallery, London.
Koseph Brown. A portrait of Capt. Granville G. Loch (1813-1853). National Portrait Gallery, London.

Captain Granville G. Loch (1813-1853) was a British naval officer. He joined the naval force in 1832 and was promoted captain in 1841. Then Capt. Loch went to China as a volunteer and served as aide-de-champ to General Sir Hugh Gough (Matthew, Harrison 34: 207). Published in 1843, “The Closing Events of the Campaign in China” is Capt. Loch’s journal written during his time in China before and after the Opium War.

The title page of "The Closing Events of the Campaign in China"
The title page of “The Closing Events of the Campaign in China”

In comparison to Wei’s resentful tone in Shengwu ji, Capt. Loch’s attitude as cultivated in the journal is conceited. Loch’s account depicts the British party’s pride of their domination over China in the negotiation process. The British’s military intimidation before Qing’s assent to the draft treaty is not included in Loch’s account. However, Loch finds amusement in the scenario of the Qing’s humble surrender to the British. When the Qing officials present the British party Emperor Daoguang’s edict on the draft treaty, Loch ridicules the officials’ behaviour in the journal: “He carried the roll of yellow silk in both his hands, and proceeded – his eyes reverentially fixed upon it – with slow and solemn steps towards the table, and placed it in the hands of Whang with tenderness and forced resignation…I was greatly amused watching the anxious and horrified faces of the various Chinese…” (Loch 151). Here, the Chinese officials’ humbleness demonstrated at the ceremony enhances the British’s pride. Loch expresses his excitement about seeing the confidence-shattered Chinese. Although the journal is Loch’s private space for self-expression, his excitement about seeing the nervous Chinese officials is peculiar yet humiliating.

Loch’s arrogant attitude dominates his discourse. When he describes the signing of the Treaty on August 29, 1842, he describes that “It was a glorious spectacle for all who saw it…in the cabin of a British 74, the first treaty of China ever forced to make was signed by three of her highest nobles under England’s flag” (Loch 188). The elaborate description of the scene shows Loch’s good feeling in seeing the once glorious and powerful Qing Empire falls into disgrace after the Opium War. Loch damages the Qing Empire’s ego deliberately by projecting the image of the Qing officials signing the Unequal Treaty under the England’s flag. The British establishes its dominance by making the Chinese into a source of fun.

Although the Chinese and the British give each other the status of most favored nation in the Treaty, the tension between two Empires remain strained. Prejudice and mistrust the British and the Chinese hold against each other persist. The Opium War as well as the Treaty of Nanjing taunts the Qing Empire. As a result, the Empire becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. At the same time, the rejoiced British exercises its influence in China more effortlessly.


Brown, Koseph. A portrait of Capt. Granville G. Loch (1813-1853). National Portrait Gallery, London. Web. http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw197014/Granville-Gower-Loch

Fairbank, J. K.. “Chinese Diplomacy and the Treaty of Nanjing, 1842.” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Mar., 1940), pp. 1-30.

Larsen, Kirk W. “The Qing Empire (China), Imperialism, and the Modern World.” History Compass 9.6 (2011): 498-508. Web. 9 Nov. 2014

Li Hanwu. Wei Yuan zhuan = Wei Yuan: his life and thought. Changsha: Hunan daxue Publishing House, 1988. Print.

Loch, Granville G. The Closing Events of the Campaign in China: The Operations at the Yang-Tze Kiang; and the Treaty of Nanking. London: A. Spottiswoode. 1833. Web. http://books.google.ca/books?id=Ia9FAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lovell, Julia. The Opium War : Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China. London: Picador, 2011. Print.

Matthew, H C. G, and Brian Harrison. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: In Association with the British Academy: from the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Vol. 34. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.

Platt, John. The Signing and Sealing of the Treaty of Nanking in the State Cabin of H. M. S. Cornwallis, 29th August 1842. Oil painting. Brown University Library. Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection. Web. http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/opium_wars_01/ow1_gallery/pages/1846_TreatyNanking_Brown.htm

United Kingdom, The London Gazette. The London Gazette. Published by Authority. Tuesday, November 7, 1843. London: The Stationary Office, 1843. Web. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/20276/page/3597

Waley, Arthur. The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes. London: Allen & Unwin, 1958. Print.

Wei, Yuan, and Edward H. Parker. Chinese Account of the Opium War: [translation]. Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources, 1972. Print.

叶衍兰 – 中國歷代名人畫像譜。 收《清代学者像传》第一集. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wei_Yuan#mediaviewer/File:Wei_Yuan.png