China began the 19th century confident of its superiority over the rest of the world. China’s population numbered 400 million. The Qing (Manchu) Empire controlled the world’s biggest economy. China enjoyed a favorable balance of trade with the West—receiving a huge amount of money for its silk, porcelain, and tea.
By 1800, the British consumed 10,000 tons of tea annually. So much money poured into China, that one Chinese merchant became the richest man in the world, and all foreign business with was restricted to one city, Canton.
However, Britain had a product to reverse that balance of trade—opium. The British shipped opium into China and up its rivers to almost every part of China. So many became addicted to the drug, the stability China was threatened.
Then in 1839, the Emperor acted to stop the opium trade. Lin, the man in charge, wrote to Queen Victoria asking for her help. Ignored by Great Britain, Lin resorted to confiscating the opium and destroying it, which led to the Opium Wars started by Britain and France, who respected nothing but force. China lost the war and was forced to pay for a war they did not want and did not start.
In the British parliament, William Gladstone criticized his government calling the Opium war a disgrace.
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