Saturday, October 4, 2014

Liza investigates The Opium Wars of 1940-42

Today, I intended to discussing train service in England in the Victorian era, but while researching the matter, I came upon a comment that in 1940 England had raised the interest rate so high that no one wished to invest in trains anymore. 

Naturally, I asked what did they need fast and lots of money for.

I figured it had to be a war, and while it was called a war, since they sent a great deal of troops to another country and killed lots of people, in today's world, it would be more likely to be considered a drug war. Only in that view, in today's world, England would have to be classified as the bad guys.

Yet again, my history teacher managed to skip over a very interesting time in England.

If you read my investigation of the Drugged Victorians, it turns out the whole country was drugged to the gills. Children and pregnant women were advised to consume laudanum (a form of opium), cocaine, and later heroine for coughs, sleepliness and morning sickness. (Children excluded on the latter.)

There was no shame in becoming addicted. At worst, it was considered a misfortune, but no fault of the one addicted. Even the Queen enjoyed her wine and cocaine mixer.

Now back to the problem between China and England. If you look at the situation with modern eyes, then it is easily classified as a trade imbalance issue. England wanted their spices, tea and silk while China didn't want anything from England. We still have the same issue with China now. They rudely sell far more products than they buy.

Since such an imbalance would soon impoverish England, they set about searching for something China would like. They found it in India, which was under British rule at the time: High Quality Opium. 

Success! Chinese people loved opium as much as the Victorians did. 

However, Chinese officials objected to the decreased productivity and increase of crime that soon followed. They blamed this change on the opium and declared it could not be sold in China anymore. Since there was only one port where English ships were allowed to dock, this should have been a quick fix.  Tell the merchants of Canton that if they bought anymore opium, they would be killed. 

Zero tolerance at it's most extreme.

And that should have been end of the matter.
Only Britain insisted their freedom of enterprise rights were being denied. And they come sailing over with ships and soldiers to enforce their right to sell drugs to anyone they want.

Can you imagine if Mexico did this to the US? Oh wait...that's a terrible example.  Let me try again. Can you imagine if Canada demanded their right to sell us drugs not approved in the US?

You know, let's just forget the modern day examples. Let's focus on the specifics. The US would never allow an official army of another country to attack our land just because we say they can't sell their drugs here.

But that is precisely what Britian did. They declared China was obstructing their right of free trade, had engaged in willful destruction of English property (the Chinese officials had destroyed 20,000 chests of opium stored on China's land) and causing dangerous interference with British subjects abroad. (Does that mean the Drug laden British subjects in China were in desperate need of their opium fixes and being cruelly denied relief?)

So what happens when the British storm the forts protecting Canton? They caved. Britain could sell their drugs and they would pay 5 of the 6 million Chinese dollars demanded in reparation and provide security on the last million.

Upon successfully getting everything they wanted and rebalancing the trade embalance, you would think the British would turn around and go home...

You would be wrong. Instead--despite being greatly outnumbered--they attacked and ram-shacked the Chinese island called Amoy, followed by Ting-hai, and eventually the mainland. 

When they took Chin-Kiang-fu, Lt. General Gough writes "Dead bodies of Tartars in every house we entered, principally women and children thrown into wells or otherwise murdered by their own people. A great number of those who escaped our fire committed suicide after destroying their families; the loss of life has been appalling, and it may be said that the Manchu race in this city is extinct." Shame there was no Manchus left to give their side of the situation...

As they advanced upon the 2nd greatest city of China, Nanking, and prepared for attack, a truce was requested, in which 6 million Chinese dollars would be paid for the prior destruction of English property (opium chests) and cession of the ports cities of Canton, Amoy, Fu-Chou, Ningpo and Shanghai to Britain, thereafter known as the 'Treaty ports'.

Oddly, there is no mention of opium in the treaty at all. 

Back home in England, this war was not popular in the least. Not surprising since it was sucking the life out of the local economy. I imagine it made no sense whatsoever to the average fellow in England. What did he care if a far away country bought opium from another far away country. He'd gotten a good job laying railway tracks until it all came to a halt so they could fight a bloody war in China.

Clearly, after expending the cost of troops to China, the Parliment wanted more than just access to the Chinese market and reparation from the lost of goods. They wanted to control the ports permanently. So this went from a trade rights infringment to a land grab before the first treaty could be signed.

Those who worked on the first treaty were removed and replaced with men of war. While the cost of war would be far more, when it ended Britain owned five portals to the Chinese market. I'm sure Parliament thought it well worth the investment, despite the temporary tanking of the local economy by doing so.

From my perspective, in this situation, England looks to be the bad guys. Sorry, England. You know I love you! But you didn't play fair back then. And you catered to Drug dealers.

Liza O'Connor is the author of a 
Humorous, Romantic
Victorian Mystery series, 
The Adventures of Xavier & Vic.

Book 1
The Troublesome Apprentice

Book 2
The Missing Partner

And Coming Nov 3

Book 3
The Mesmerist 


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, I didn't add pictures because no one, with a heart, wants to see children in a well.

  2. England has a fascinating history - it's not all the right and proper image that we see. Another educational but fun post.

    1. Yes, it was without question a bleaker place back then. It's amazing Vic has any sense of humor at all.

  3. It's always interesting to see how history is written by the winners. We miss out on so many true facts that way! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Yes. The Lt. General had warned his men not to destroy property and they ignored him and looted to their hearts content. So without a single civilian alive to say what actually happened to the Manchu, I'm a bit skeptical to the story given by the Lt. General who has already admitted his men didn't obey orders.


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