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Table of Contents
The Opium Wars were two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911/12.
See the fact file below for more information on the Opium Wars or alternatively, you can download our 25-page Opium Wars worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
Events Leading to the War
- Prior to the war, China and Great Britain were trading partners with the latter initially trading at the ports of Zhoushan, Xiamen, and Guangzhou.
- The Qing dynasty hugely benefited from the trade since Europeans willingly traded their silver for silk, porcelain, and Chinese tea.
- The huge demand for Chinese products resulted in European nations sustaining large trade deficits. The demand for precious metals greatly affected British merchants since, aside from silver, other European goods were in low demand in China.
- To reduce their trade deficit with Chinese merchants, Britain began importing opium to China. Known for its medicinal value, opium became the major trade good.
- Eventually, opium usage grew in China, adversely affecting society.
- Chinese people from all classes began to get addicted.
- Understanding the drug’s effect, the Qing government issued a ban in 1796 and 1799.
- In response, foreign traders established coastal warehouses where old boats were used for storage and conducting business.
- Later, American merchants joined the trade and began to introduce opium from Turkey into the Chinese market, resulting in competition in the opium trade.
- While profitable to the west, opium addiction threatened China. The government began to seriously address opium abuse. In 1838, they began to sentence Chinese drug traffickers to death.
- The Chinese crackdown on the opium trade brought concerns to the British government. Initial battles fueled the tension and despite people being outraged by the opium trade, some British supported it in the spirit of free trade.
- China decided to halt trades with Britain so the British Whig-controlled government advocated war with China.
- Demands were sent to the Chinese authorities to demand the continuation of trade and securities, but with the accompaniment of western military forces.
The First Opium War
- The First Opium War, also known as the Anglo-Chinese War, was fought between Britain and the Qing Empire, lasting almost three years from September 4, 1839, to August 29, 1842.
- When Emperor Daoguang ordered the destruction of stocks of opium held by traffickers in Canton (1838), the British retaliated by sending out a war fleet.
- They issued an ultimatum demanding the Qing Government to pay compensation for losses suffered from interrupted trade and the destruction of opium.
- Left unheeded, the British forces first attacked the Zhoushan Island in 1840, specifically the vital port of Dinghai. With inferior forces and less powerful naval ships called junks, the Chinese forces were forced to withdraw.
- From then on, the British forces marched towards the Pearl River and the Yellow Sea.
- Another major target was Canton, and although Qing launched a coordinated night attack on the British army, they were quickly overpowered later the next day.
- At this point, the Chinese forces were already depleting after successive losses. The British began to consider reopening the trade.
- Victory after victory, the British forces reached inland, then captured Zhenjiang in the last major battle of the war on July 21, 1842.
- To avoid further loses and humiliation on the throne, the Treaty of Nanking was signed on 29 August 1842 to officially end the war.
- As a consequence, the Chinese government reopened foreign trade, paid the British government for the destroyed opium, and agreed to make Hong Kong Island a crown colony, ceding it to the British Queen, Queen Victoria.
The Second Opium War
- The Second Opium War lasted from October 8, 1856 to October 24, 1860, between the the British Empire and the French Empire against the Qing dynasty.
- Following the growth of Western Imperialism, the British took advantage and demanded that China should open trade to all British merchant companies, legalize the opium trade, exempt foreign imports from internal transit duties, suppress piracy, allow British ambassadors to live in Beijing, and use English in all treaties signed by the parties.
- But war broke out when Chinese marines in Canton seized a cargo ship called the Arrow on suspicion of piracy. The British captain then alleged that the Chinese forces tore and trampled on the British flag.
- Refusing to apologize for the claim, the Royal Navy bombarded the City of Canton and captured imperial commissioner Ye Mingchen.
- This time, China faced not only the British but also the French and the Americans in the War.
- The Battle of Canton marked another sign of defeat for the Chinese government when the Viceroy was captured.
- British attacks persisted even after the Treaties of Tianjin were signed by the western countries.
- In 1958, after losing the Taku Forts, the Qing imperial court agreed to the disadvantageous treaties and faced losses from more attacks for months.
- Acts of violence occurred on both sides, especially the captured prisoners.
- In October 1860, the British and French captured Beijing then looted and burned the Yuanming Garden, the emperor’s summer palaces.
- Faced with more losses, the emperor’s brother, Prince Gong, conceded to the allied demands signifying China’s second loss.
- The Convention of Beijing fully legalized the opium trade, forced China to cede Kowloon to Britain, established freedom of religion, and indemnified Britain and France on the war losses.
- The wars also led to the weakening of the Chinese dynasties and paved the way for the Taiping and Boxer rebellions.
- The Qing dynasty lasted only another 50 years until it was overthrown in 1911 and 1912.
Opium Wars Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about the Opium Wars across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about the Opium Wars which were two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Opium Wars Facts
- China in the 1800s
- Easing Tensions
- Chinese Response
- Cause and Effect
- About the Wars
- Opium Today
- Faces of Addiction
- Drug Laws
- Say No to Drugs
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Link will appear as Opium Wars Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, November 4, 2021
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.