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The Anti-Drug Campaign and the First Opium War

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The Anti-Drug Campaign and the First Opium War

In 1930, Chinese officials began to have growing concerns about the increasing trade of opium with the British. China’s social and economic status started to decline due to the opium trade agreement. Chinese addiction to opium became overwhelming and eventually forced China to launch Lin Zexu’s Anti-Drug Campaign in 1839. As a result, this campaign was viewed as a violation of the trade agreement with Britain and helped led to the First Opium War.
China isolated themselves from the western world, believing they didn’t need anything from foreign trade. For eight decades, the only port that China opened was called the Canton System. The problem was China only wanted silver in exchange for their exports to Europe. Unfortunately, Europe only traded in gold and silver was hard to come by. Desperate to resolve the foreign trade, Britain realized they can acquire such a commodity in opium from India to exchange for exports in China.
The trade of India’s opium started as a medical drug in the early 1800’s between China and Britain. Eventually, it triggered massive dependences throughout China’s society that affected the rich and poor equally. Before long, the demand for the drug was overwhelming, resulting in China importing more opium than exporting trades. Thus, resulting in an imbalanced foreign trade and stability of China’s society. A decree issued in 1810 from the Chinese Emperor stating, “Opium is a poison, undermining our good customs and morality...However, recently the purchasers, eaters, and consumers of opium have become numerous. Deceitful merchants buy and sell it to gain profit….We should…prohibit opium and to search for it at all gates.” Unfortunately, the decree made little or no impact on the opium trade and the British ignored the warnings.
In 1820’s, the Chinese monetary standard was built around the bimetallism system. Hence, foreign trade was exchanged in copper coins and silver. Eventually, the bimetallic trade caused the “silver famine,” resulting in silver becoming more scarce and valuable then copper. To maintain the economy growth, Chinese peasants were forced to pay higher taxes for the decrease of silver.
In the 1830’s, Britain was paving a path through the “Industrial Revolution and were pushing for a free trade system known as laissez faire (“hands off”) that would give them an edge against foreign competition.” Producing manufactured goods to trade for “expensive handmade foreign goods” was the ultimate goal of Britain. Unfortunately, China was not amused and didn’t want any part of the barbarian’s goods. The only thing that peaked China’s interest was opium trade.
From 1835 to 1838, there were numerous debates between the Qing court and advocates that called for a “tighter enforcement of the ban on opium.” Meanwhile, those who opposed the proposition ban and wanted officials to merely “control the drug trade.” Several foreign traders in the Canton System were optimistic that opium would be legalized, but soon was disappointed in 1838, when the Daoguang Emperor denied legalization. Furthermore, the Emperor appointed Lin Zexu, as special imperial commissioner to end the opium trade.
By 1838, over 40,000 chests of opium entered in China. Lin Zexu’s mission was to halt all opium entering into China’s ports and borders. Arriving in Guangzhou in March 1839, Lin launched an Anti-Drug Campaign against addicts and smugglers. He ordered all opium to be confiscated from foreign merchants’ and burned over 21,000 chests. Addition, Lin offered medicine to the “addicts to ease the withdrawal” and soon the opium trade came to a “standstill.” Unfortunately, “Lin didn’t comprehend the British demands for free trade and international equality, which were based on their concept of a commercial empire.”
Both countries, China and Britain felt superior to one and other. The Chinese were traditional and observed themselves as the “Middle Kingdom” and viewed everyone else as “barbarians.” Traditionally, “any goods brought into the Chinese court were viewed as a tribute and was either acknowledged or not.” However, the British had a long tradition “that refused to recognize any other nation’s superiority.”
Meanwhile, Lin Zexu sent a letter to Queen Victoria insisting an immediate halt of the opium trade from India to China. Lin wrote, “Among the unscrupulous are those who bring opium to China to harm the Chinese; they succeed so well that this poison has spread far and wide in all the provinces. You, I hope, will certainly agree that people who pursue material gains to the great detriment of the welfare of others can be neither tolerated by Heaven nor endured by men.” Hoping for reassurance of support from the Queen, Lin was soon to be disappointed.
In the meantime, Lin continued to confiscated drugs from all foreign trade along the ports. As a result, the British merchants sent out a request of protection from Lin’s Anti-Drug Campaign. Stating that the Chinese tea trade was threatened, since the opium trade halted. This placed a huge vested interest on Britain, “since it charged a 100% customs toll on tea coming into Britain.” The British government escalated the conflict into war as a response to the burnings of the opium. Determined to open all of China’s ports to the merchants, Britain was prepared for The First Opium War.
When the British attacked “large parts of Southern China, the emperor, who approved of Lin’s tough policies, quickly dismissed him.” Banishing him to the “northeastern frontier,” where he “served quietly and loyally” for years. Meanwhile, the Chinese military outnumbered the British soldiers, but soon realized they were no match to the British technology advancements. In reality, the British was “superior in organization, firepower and used steamboats to maneuver their troops up and down China’s canals.” A fleet of British military soldiers proceeded up the Pearl River to Canton on boats, where the British attacked the city destroying everything in their paths. Over the course of a couple of years, the British were “successful against the inferior Qing forces, despite the counterattacks by the Chinese troops in the spring of 1842.” Finally, the British captured Nanjing and the war was officially over.
Peace discussions soon began, that resulted in “the Treaty of Nanjing, signed on August 29, 1842.” As a result, the “restructuring of Sino-foreign relations” started. Firstly, it ended the Canton system and opened five settlement ports – “Canton, Amoy, Fuzhou, Shanghai, and Ningpo.” Secondly, British officials in China were only to be punished under British laws. Thirdly, “tariffs on trade would be limited to those set in the treaty agreement.” Lastly, Britain gained Hong Kong as a territory.
In conclusion, China’s social and economic status started to decline due to the opium trade agreement. Chinese addiction to opium became overwhelming and eventually forced China to launch Lin Zexu’s Anti-Drug Campaign in 1839. Lin ordered all opium to be confiscated from foreign merchants’ and burned over 21,000 chests. As a result, this campaign was viewed as a violation of the trade agreement with Britain and helped led to the First Opium War.
Butler, Chris. “The Decline of Imperial China (c.1800-1911),” (2007), accessed November 6, 2015,

“Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations,” accessed November 6, 2015,

Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Lin Zexu", accessed November 06, 2015,

Horowitz, Richard. “China: 1793-1949: An Overview.” (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,

Lin Zexu: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839. (Pearson Education, Inc. 2005), accessed November 6, 2015,

[ 1 ]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Lin Zexu", accessed November 06, 2015,
[ 2 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 3 ]. “Eigen’s Political & Historical Quotations,” accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 4 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 5 ]. Ibid.
[ 6 ]. Chris Butler, The Decline of Imperial China (c.1800-1911), (2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 7 ]. Ibid.
[ 8 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 9 ]. Ibid.
[ 10 ]. Ibid.
[ 11 ]. Lin Zexu: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839. (Pearson Education, Inc. 2005), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 12 ]. Ibid.
[ 13 ]. Ibid.
[ 14 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 15 ]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Lin Zexu", accessed November 06, 2015,
[ 16 ]. Chris Butler, The Decline of Imperial China (c.1800-1911), (2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 17 ]. Ibid.
[ 18 ]. Ibid.
[ 19 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 20 ]. Lin Zexu: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839. (Pearson Education, Inc. 2005), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 21 ]. Chris Butler, The Decline of Imperial China (c.1800-1911), (2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 22 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 23 ]. Ibid.
[ 24 ]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Lin Zexu", accessed November 06, 2015,
[ 25 ]. Ibid.
[ 26 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 27 ]. Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Opium Wars", accessed November 06, 2015,
[ 28 ]. Ibid.
[ 29 ]. Ibid.
[ 30 ]. Richard Horowitz, China: 1793-1949: An Overview. (California State University, Northridge, 2007), accessed November 6, 2015,
[ 31 ]. Ibid.
[ 32 ]. Ibid.
[ 33 ]. Lin Zexu: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839. (Pearson Education, Inc. 2005), accessed November 6, 2015,

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