How did the Opium Wars affect China?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Opium Wars weakened the Chinese empire in the 1800s. The first Opium war took place in 1840 after the British empire sent its soldiers to protect the British Opium traders in China. As a result of this first war, China had to open up its ports and give Hong...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Opium Wars weakened the Chinese empire in the 1800s. The first Opium war took place in 1840 after the British empire sent its soldiers to protect the British Opium traders in China. As a result of this first war, China had to open up its ports and give Hong Kong to Britain. There was a second Opium war between 1856 and 1860, which was waged by both Britain and France against China. These countries wanted more of China and they demanded the legalization of Opium, foreign imports to be exempt from taxes, and western ambassadors to be allowed to live in Beijing. At the end of the second opium war, freedom of religion was guaranteed to all people living in China, the city of Tianjin was opened to the rest of the world, and China paid Britain and France 8 million taels.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Opium Wars were a huge embarrassment for China. In fact, the Chinese dubbed the period following the wars "The Century of Humiliation." The "Unequal Treaties" that China was obliged to sign and abide by marked serious erosions into the country's sovereignty. They were forced to allow foreign powers access to five cities, where they had no authority to regulate trade or the behavior of the westerners on their own soil. The British seized total control of Hong Kong as well.

Many Chinese at the time saw the Opium Wars as China's entrance into the modern era. This marked a weakening of the monarchy and the country's ancient feudal system and an increase in the power and influence of a growing bourgeois class within Chinese society. As people became more and more disenchanted with the monarchy, several anti-Qing rebellions broke out, most notably the failed Taiping Rebellion which led to an estimated 20 million deaths between 1850 and 1864.

It should be noted that the treaties that ended the wars never addressed the issue of opium at all other than to state that its trade would remain legal and that China had to pay for the opium it had destroyed. Rates of addiction increased dramatically throughout the country over the following decades.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Opium Wars affected China in a number of ways.  Let us look at three of the most important of these ways.

First, the Opium Wars forced China to open up to foreign trade.  This completely changed the Chinese economy.  It increased the importance of silk and tea (items that foreign countries wanted to buy) in the Chinese economy.  At the same time, it hurt other sectors of the economy.  For example, many people stopped buying Chinese textiles since imported textiles were so much cheaper.  This meant that the Chinese textile industry crashed and unemployment rose.

Second, the Opium Wars seriously harmed China’s sovereignty.  After the Opium Wars, foreign countries forced China to grant them concessions.  They forced China to trade with them.  They forced China to give them areas in Chinese cities that were essentially foreign territory. In these areas, Chinese laws had no effect and the foreigners were, in effect, the rulers.  This meant that China no longer had control over its own territory.

Finally, these two factors helped make the Chinese government much weaker than it had been.  People saw that their government had been unable to protect them against the foreigners. They saw that foreigners had been able to take control over Chinese territory.  They saw that their economy was growing weaker.  All of these things seemed to them to be, at least in part, the fault of their government.  This weakened their support for their government and  helped lead to its eventual fall.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Opium Wars were the climax events caused by friction between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty. After British forces from Indian ravaged the Chinese coast and forced Qing rulers to come to terms during the Treaty of Tientsin, a number of different things happened. First, The Chinese were forced to cede certain territories to the British. Hong Kong was ceded and only recently returned to China. The opium trade was restarted and expanded throughout China, which benefitted the British immensely. Chinese tariffs were fixed at a reduced rate which helped with the British trade imbalance. They also forced China to agree to a “most favored nation” clause in the treaty giving British citizens extraterritorial rights that were not extended to other countries.

This treaty was eventually extended to the U.S. and France, creating what the Chinese called a, “century of humiliation” Imperialism would reign in China for years and years.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on