How did the Opium Wars affect China?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.

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