Opium wars Nick Robinson

5 key points of the Opium Wars:

1. A specific event that portrayed a clear difference between British and Chinese values was Earl Macartney’s mission to China. In the 19th century, Britain was in complete control over the world. They were the primary traders and had experienced a lot of success with their trading mechanisms, however they faced one challenge. The British had become a society that was addicted to tea, one of China’s biggest trading assets. China was pulling in nearly $4 million a year from the British buying their tea. (Oxford Insight History, 2014) The problem for the British wasn’t the money it was costing them – it was the fact that the Chinese wouldn’t increase their amount of trade and that they demanded all payments to be completed using silver. This was not very well received by the British and they eventually sent Earl Macartney to China in an attempt to increase the frequency of trade. This mission was an utter failure and reflected China and Britain’s conflicting values extremely well. Firstly, Earl Macartney refused to kowtow to the Chinese emperor. (Britannica, 2012) This conveyed one of Britain’s negative values; a lack of respect. The British felt that if they were to kowtow, it was a sign of weakness, however this was not what the Chinese intended it to be. It was simply a way of respect in the Chinese culture and had Macartney of kowtowed before the emperor, the discussion may have seen a different result. Also, 19th century Chinese values were portrayed as a country which had a big emphasis on respect. Furthermore, by China refusing an offer for increased trade, it showed that they valued the arts and literature, over trade and were heavily opposed to change.

2. The British did not at all appreciate this so they invaded the emperor’s Summer Palace in 1860. Here they burnt down the palace and stole an estimated 1.5 million items. The Eighth Earl of Elgin wrote about the complete annihilation that the British and French forces inflicted upon the Summer Palace by stating, “There was not a room I saw in which half the things had not been taken away or broken in pieces.” (Oxford Today, 2016) This quote further portrays the British values of power, disregard and greed during the 19th century.

3. The trade of opium had a severe and damaging effect on the Chinese culture, causing them to become lazy and refuse to work. The Chinese government had recognised this as an issue but had not taken action. This all changed when the emperor’s son overdosed on opium. At this point, there was a consensus between the government officials that the trade of opium must be stopped.

4. Britain saw international trade as a way for all nations to become prosperous, powerful and improve their overall economy. In contrast, the Chinese culture was opposed to trade and looked down upon merchants, deeming them to be unimportant because they worked for their own benefits. By having this view on society, the Chinese were very introverted and were not a part of much trade. This led to their innovations and industrial breakthroughs occurring a fair bit later than European countries.

5. The difference between the countries’ religious beliefs also led to distrust. The Chinese were suspicious of the Christian missionaries who came to China from Britain and other western countries. The Chinese feared that the missionaries would undermine their Confucian values, beliefs and education system.

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