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First opium war

The Opium Wars, also known as the Anglo-Chinese Wars, divided into the First Opium War from 1839 to 1842 and the Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860, were the climax of disputes over trade and diplomatic relations between China under the Qing Dynasty and the British Empire.

After the inauguration of the Canton System in 1756, which restricted trade to one port and did not allow foreign entrance to China, the British East India Company faced a trade imbalance in favor of China and invested heavily in opium production to redress the balance. British and United States merchants brought opium from Bengal to the coast of China, where they sold it to Chinese smugglers who distributed the drug in defiance of Chinese laws. Aware both of the drain of silver and the growing numbers of addicts, the Dao Guang Emperor demanded action. Officials at the court who advocated legalization of the trade in order to tax it were defeated by those who advocated suppression.

In 1838, the Emperor sent Lin Zexu to Guangzhou where he quickly arrested Chinese opium dealers and summarily demanded that foreign firms turn over their stocks. When they refused, Lin stopped trade altogether and placed the foreign residents under virtual siege, eventually forcing the merchants to surrender their opium to be destroyed. In response, the British government sent expeditionary forces from India which ravaged the Chinese coast and dictated the terms of settlement. The Treaty of Nanking not only opened the way for further opium trade, but ceded territory including Hong Kong, unilaterally fixed Chinese tariffs at a low rate, granted extraterritorial rights to foreigners in China which were not offered to Chinese abroad, a most favored nation clause, as well as diplomatic representation. When the court still refused to accept foreign ambassadors and obstructed the trade clauses of the treaties, disputes over the treatment of British merchants in Chinese ports and on the seas led to the Second Opium War and the Treaty of Tientsin. These treaties, soon followed by similar arrangements with the United States and France, later became known as the Unequal Treaties and the Opium Wars as the start of China's "Century of Humiliation."

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