Did the Opium Wars have a positive or negative effect on the world?

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The Opium Wars (1839–42 and 1856–60) had a negative effect on both China and the world. China was the victim of Western aggression and imperialism. Britain, later joined by France, took advantage of China's internal weaknesses and forced it to comply with unreasonable demands. The humiliation China endured was not...

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The Opium Wars (1839–42 and 1856–60) had a negative effect on both China and the world. China was the victim of Western aggression and imperialism. Britain, later joined by France, took advantage of China's internal weaknesses and forced it to comply with unreasonable demands. The humiliation China endured was not forgotten by its people. Encouraged by their successes in subjugating China, the Western powers went on to colonize most of Africa later in the nineteenth century.

The first of the two wars was between China and Britain. Britain was illegally selling opium—a highly addictive drug—in China. China attempted to stop this trade, and hostilities erupted. After the British victory, the Chinese were forced to open their ports and cede Hong Kong to Britain.

France joined Britain in the second successful war against China. China had to allow the importation of opium, permit Christian missionary activity, and open more ports to Western trade. Russia and the United States also signed off on the treaty. These other nations did not want the British and French to monopolize Chinese trade, so they sought their own concessions.

The Opium Wars—largely forgotten by the West—left an indelible mark on China.

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It is hard to determine if the Opium Wars were wholly negative or wholly positive, although the negative effects far outweigh the positive. On a positive note, the wars did open China to more trade with the West. The wars broke out because China had severely limited Western commerce within the country, and required that any Chinese goods purchased must be paid for in silver bullion. It was the lack of silver bullion which led the British to sell Opium in China for silver and use the silver for trade.

The negatives of the trade are, however, overwhelming. The British were aware of the addictive qualities of opium, but sold it anyway for purely commercial (if you will, selfish) reasons. When the Chinese understandably resisted, the British responded with superior weaponry. The Opium Wars ended with unequal treaties which crippled the Ming dynasty and opened China to domination by Western countries. It was the resistance to this western domination that later led to the Boxer Rebellion.

In sum, there was some minor positive effects of the Opium Wars; yet the overall result was overwhelmingly negative.

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