In the 1800's Britain was a powerhouse, and China was full of themselves. When these two characteristics mix you know there's bound to be trouble. China had isolated themselves from the rest of the world and just stayed in their country with the notion that they were the best. No matter who you are or how much land you have, china was the best. So when the British tried to come in contact with the Chinese about trade, the British where insulted by the Chinese. The Chinese believed that the British had nothing to offer them and they made that loud and clear in the letter to King George. The Chinese also believe that British wished to be like china. The British decided to show the Chinese how powerful they were. That was the root of the opium wars, which ended in British almost taking over china and conquering Hong Kong.
The Chinese and British have a long history of problems with each other. In 1793 the emperor of china Qian long wrote a letter to King George III that was very arrogant towards the British. The emperor went on a tired of how the British have nothing to offer the Chinese and referring the British as "Barbarians" many times in his letter. For example when it says in the letter "You, O King, from afar have yearned after the blessings of our civilization, and in your eagerness to come into touch with our converting influence have sent an Embassy across the sea bearing a memorial."1 Also, they say, "If you assert that your reverence for Our Celestial dynasty fills you with a desire to acquire our civilization, our ceremonies and code of laws differ so completely from your own that"2 The emperor is trying to say that the British wish to be like the Chinese. This is absurd because the British are so much more powerful than the Chinese are. The emperor's letter also says,
"It may be suggested that he might imitate the Europeans permanently resident in Peking and adopt the dress and customs of China, but, it has never been our dynasty's wish to force people to do things unseemly and inconvenient."3
The emperor is talking about the envoy the king would like to send to china. He thinks that he would want to stay and there and then others would want to come because the Chinese believe that china is a much better place to live than Britain. The British must have been clueless as to what the Chinese were thinking and must have taken this letter as a slap in the face.
The first samples of tea reached Great Britain between 1652 and 1654. Tea was very popular there, so popular that it quickly replaced ale as the national drink in England. One of the reasons why tea was so popular was because it became a very fashionable drink. This was because the tea cost a lot of money. It was over $100 for one pound of tea. This immediately made the wealthy obsessed with having tea. But slowly as more tea was imported, the price fell because there was a lot of tea to go around.
In 1600's Elizabeth I had founded the John Company for the purpose of promoting Asian trade. The John Company was granted a lot of ground to trade from east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of Cape Horn. It had many powers and it was the single most powerful monopoly to ever exist and it was all because importation of tea that they gained there power from. They had the right to:
Legally acquire territory and govern it.
Raise arms and build forts.
Form foreign alliances.
Try and punish lawbreakers.
At the same time; the newer East India Company had no chance against the John Company. They went to the Parliament and asked for help. The parliament's decision was to merge the John Company and the East India Company in 1773. Their new East India Company had a complete and total trade monopoly on in China and India. Because of this, the price of tea was kept very high, which later lead to global difficulties for the British crown.
The British have a lot of pride of themselves because they believe they are the most powerful county in the world. They also are very competitive when it comes to trading. Queen Elizabeth founded the East India Company in 1600. The East India Company was once the single most powerful economic force that the world has ever seen. The Company, for example, created British India, caused the Boston Tea Party, founded Hong Kong and Singapore, employed Captain Kidd to combat piracy, established tea in India, held Napoleon captive, and made the fortune of Elihu Yale. Its flag inspired the stars and stripes, its shipyards provided the model for St. Petersburg, its administration still forms the basis of Indian bureaucracy, and its corporate structure was the earliest example of a joint stock company.4
Opium is an extract of the exude derived from seedpods of the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. The plant was cultivated in the ancient civilizations of Persia, Egypt and Mesopotamia. Opium has been popular in Europe for a long time. Fossil remains of poppy-seed cake and poppy-pods have been found in Neolithic Swiss lake dwellings dating from over 4,000 years ago. 5 Opium is grown mainly in Turkey and India. The legitimate world demand for opium amounts to about 680 metric tons a year, but many times that amount is distributed illegally.6
Most of the opium that goes around the world is from India. Opium in India is a government monopoly, which means people who would like to plant opium poppies, may ask the government for money, which is free of interest. The only catch is the crop has to be sold back to the government. Once a month all the poppy plants that are sold back to the government get manufactured into opium at the government factory at Ghazipur.7 Also once a month the government holds auctions at Calcutta, that's how the drug finds its was into the trade channel and around the world. When the opium is manufactured at Gazipur it is manufactured in 3 forms-(a) opium intended for export to foreign countries, departmentally known as "provision opium"(b) opium intended for consumption in India and Burma, departmentally known as "excise opium" and (c) medical opium for export to London.8
This Chart shows the countries wear Indian opium chests were exported. Through the years the opium exported decreased in the countries wear it was most powerful before and increased were less opium chests were exported earlier.
Opium was first brought to china for medical purposes. "In 1678 the Chinese had put a duty on the small quantity of opium that was imported for medical needs, and for the next 77 years the annual import of the drug was fairly steady, never rising about 200 chests a year."10 In the 17th century the Chinese first began mixing opium with tobacco for smoking purposes. There is no record as to when opium was smoked by itself in china but it was sometime near the end of the 18-century. In 1729, when the foreign import was 200 chests, the Emperor Yung Ching issued the first anti-opium edict, which meant there would be severe penalties on the sale of opium and the opening of opium-smoking divans. But the importing of opium continued to increase, and by 1790 there was over 4,000 chests annually. In 1796 opium smoking was again prohibited, and in 1800 the importation of foreign opium was again made illegal. Opium was now contraband, but the fact had no effect on the quantity introduced into the country, which rose to 5,000 chests in 1820; 16,000 chests in 1830; 20,000 chests in 1838, and 70,000 chests in 1858.11 When opium was first being sold by the Hong merchants there was no buyers, so what the merchants would do is sell the opium to first time buyers in what they called head dollars12. Head dollars was when the merchant let the buyer buy their opium at a low price so they would become addicted and come back many times. When the buyer would come back the merchant would of course higher the price every time because he would have the buyer so addicted he wouldn't be able to refuse the price.
The Opium had gotton so out of control in china that on December 31, 1838 Lin was ordered to go canton as the high commissioner, with "Plenipotentiary powers and supreme command of cantons naval forces."13 He was send to canton to investigate port affairs. 14 Which really meant Lin was sent there to try to think of some method of stopping or atleast slowing down the trade of opium. One of commissioner Lin's first acts was he confiscated huge stocks of opium that were stored ready for sale and then he had the publicly destroyed. Lin did this to show the opium dealers he wasn't messing around and he was here to put a stop the importing and exporting of opium in China.
The Chinese imperial government confronted foreign merchant ships and demanded that they surrender their illegal cargo. This started the first of the opium wars that started in 1839.15 The first opium war ended on August 29 1842 after thousands of Chinese deaths. It also forced the Chinese government to pay $15 million to the British merchants and furthermore, it opened up five ports to English trade. It also ceded Hong Kong to china. 16
In 1678 the chinese imported little seeds called poppy from opium plants for medicine for there people, little did they know that these little seeds would lead to total distraction of china. The reason why the British took over china and started the opium wars wasn't only because the Chinese caused them to loose a great amount of money, actually there was a lot more to it. I believe that the reason why the British were so eager to prove to the Chinese that they could kick there but and take over there country was because of the letter that was sent to King George III. This may be very unfortunate though because in all likely hood the emperor had nothing to do with the writing of the letter that caused thousands of Chinese do die.