Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
southern and eastern coasts to British trade, payment to a large indem-
nity, abolition of the trade restrictions disliked by the British, and a uni-
form tariff. A subsequent agreement gave the British some measure of
extraterritoriality, or exemption from Chinese legal jurisdiction.
For the Chinese, the Opium War was about just that: opium. They
had not asked the British to come to China, after all, and yet they were
willing to accommodate Britain's insatiable appetite for commerce as
long as the British respected Chinese ways and ceased selling danger-
ous and addictive narcotics. The British, on the other hand, insisted
that the Opium War was fought because of China's obstreperous
impedance of commerce, indignities offered the Crown, and refusal
to bend to Britain's diplomatic norms. The British pretended that
opium itself was a mere epiphenomenon compared to these larger
issues, and they won their point through simple force of arms.
As the first of the humiliating “unequal treaties” imposed on China
by imperialist powers, the Treaty of Nanking endures in infamy in the
modern Chinese nationalistic consciousness. This was the treaty that
began it all, that led to China's descent from the rarified heights of
the Celestial Court to a terrestrial nadir as the “Sick Man of Asia.”
The British had drawn first blood in China, and soon other Western
nations smelled the blood in the water. In July 1844 the Treaty of
Wanghsia was concluded with the Americans, and in October 1844,
the Treaty of Whampoa with the French. The rest of the nineteenth
century was a time of sustained nibbling away at the edges of the Qing
empire by imperialist powers (mainly Britain, Russia, and Japan) in
specific instances too numerous to discuss in detail in this brief narra-
tive. With the Treaty of Nanking, China's Century of Humiliation had
begun, one that would be compounded synergistically in future deca-
des by internal upheavals.
The Opium War did not solve all of the friction between Britain and
China, and the Treaty of Nanking did not provide for Britain's ulti-
mate goal of diplomatic representation in Beijing itself. Even though
other coastal cities or “treaty ports” were opened to British commerce
and residence as per the Treaty of Nanking, the city of Canton refused
to admit the British. Attempts to open Canton and extend trade
to other Chinese cities were unsuccessful, and by the mid-1850s the
British had concluded once again that only war would convince China
to bend to their demands. All the British needed was a causus belli,a
provocation to justify military action. This came on October 8, 1856,
not this time as an indignity to the Crown, but to the flag. The Arrow,
a Chinese-owned but British-registered ship flying the British flag,
was boarded near Canton by Chinese forces searching for a wanted
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