(BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 – continued)
China's population had doubled between 1700 and 1794, to 313 million. [note] Expansion of farming in Jiangzi and Hunan provinces had eliminated much forest there. Taiwan was now a part of China, having been annexed in 1683, and a census in 1811 showed Taiwan with a Chinese population of almost two million. [note] In 1756 and 1757 the armies of Emperor Qianlong had extended China's border to its farthest western point, and his rule included Tibet and Mongolia.
Agricultural production in China had not been rising relative to the size of its population, and, without cheap food, the average Chinese had little money with which to buy much else, and there was no boom in manufacturing and no increase in hiring the unemployed. China was exporting tea to Britain, making porcelain for export and manufacturing silk and cotton goods, but labor was plentiful and cheap enough that, like slavery, it diminished incentive for investing in machinery. Businessmen were not in an environment that encouraged entrepreneurship, the government providing little security for businessmen and private enterprise. Economics was not a subject that inspired interest among people of influence. Those who had leisure for learning were not interested in possibilities regarding technology. They were interested in literature, the arts, Confucianism and religion.
China was an autocracy and a theocracy, ruled by a Manchu emperor from the Manchu Aisin Gioror clan in Manchuria, the Qing dynasty, which had ruled since 1644. From the imperial palace at the Forbidden City, Beijing, the Qing dynasty was maintaining a Manchu military and trying to maintain a Manchu identity apart from the Chinese, while supporting Chinese arts and educating themselves in Confucian classics.
In the late 1700s, scarcity of land, corruption in the bureaucracy and military, and pauperization created unrest. Common people expressed their grievances through religious societies, societies compelled to secrecy vis-à-vis hostile imperial authorities. An impoverished anti-Manchu religious society in a mountainous region in central China had forecast the advent of Buddha, the restoration of the Ming dynasty and salvation for its followers. It confidently launched a tax protest. From 1796 to 1804, across China, secret societies were in rebellion against Manchu authority. This is called the Great Lotus Rebellion. Emperor Jiajing (1796-1820) pursued a systematic program of pacification, combining extermination of rebel guerrilla bands with offers of amnesty for deserters.
The violence returned in 1813 when rebels, aided by palace eunuchs, almost assassinated Emperor Jiajing. This was the Eight Trigrams Rebellion. One of its leaders, Lin Ch'ing, had declared himself the reincarnation of the Buddha and said that another leader of the movement, Li Wen-ch'ang, would rule on earth as the "King of Men." But this was preempted by the reality of Emperor Jiajing's army. Li Wen-ch'ang and more than 70,000 other rebels were killed.
China had long been aware of opium as a medicine. Its addictive qualities had also been known, and in 1723 its sale and consumption within China had been made illegal. In the 1790s the East India Company was sending to China around 4000 chests of opium each year, aboard third-party ships – alongside the cotton that it was selling to the Chinese. The British attitude toward opium was little different from their attitude toward the many other drugs sold in London's many apothecary shops. British merchants violated China's ban on the importation of opium and bribed Chinese officials.
The British were buying tea from the Chinese in an amount greater in value than the cotton and opium they were selling to the Chinese. To pay the difference, the British were losing silver. Rather than reduce their consumption of tea they sought remedy in an increase in the sale of opium to the Chinese. Between 1822 and 1830, the British shipped perhaps four times as much opium per year as they had around the turn of the century. [READER COMMENT]
The emperor, Daoguang (who ruled from 1821 to 1850), warred against the opium trade, with little success. His letter to Britain's Queen Victoria (whose rule began in 1837) was never delivered. In March 1839, after a decade of failed anti-opium campaigns, China's authorities demanded that merchants hand over their stocks of opium and promise never again to trade in opium in China, on penalty of death. Britain's Superintendent of Trade, Charles Elliot, on the scene in China, ordered British subjects to hand over their stocks of opium, and 21,000 chests of opium were surrendered to and destroyed by the Chinese.
Britain's government was under pressure from companies involved in the opium trade, and the party in power (the Whigs – soon to be called the Liberal Party) did not want to be accused of failing to protect Britain's commercial interests. Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Palmerston, had previously acknowledged the right of China to end the importation of opium, but, under pressure, he considered that British subjects had been imprisoned in China and mistreated and that Charles Elliot had been coerced in surrendering stocks of opium, and, in October, Lord Palmerston authorized the sending of an expeditionary force to China.
British warships along China's coasts – including the Nemesis, a steam-powered ship of iron – had superior fire-power to that of Chinese vessels or shore defenses, and despite heroic efforts against the British, China felt obliged to acknowledge defeat and concede to British demands. With the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, signed aboard the warship Cornwallis, China agreed to trade with Britain. It agreed to "fair and regular" tariffs and to open the ports of Guangzhou, Xiamen (Amoy) Fuzhou, Ningpo and Shanghai to foreign traders and to grant to the British whatever trading concession China granted to other powers. China agreed to pay Britain an indemnity of 20,000,000 silver dollars and to cede the island of Xianggang (Hong Kong) to Britain.
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