On this day in history : 3rd November 1839 – The first Opium War between China and Britain begins – after British warships destroy several Chinese junks forming a blockade of the Pearl River….

Artist : Edward Duncan – Public domain

Foreign traders – but predominantly British – had been illegally exporting opium, mainly from India, to China since the 18th century…. The 1820s saw a dramatic increase in this ‘trade’…. In exchange for fuelling widespread opium addiction in China these unscrupulous merchants would demand silver, with which they would then buy tea, silk and other Chinese goods…. With the rise in addiction came moral decay, causing social and economic problems…. Something had to be done….

Chinese opium smokers – Wellcome Images CC BY 4.0

In the Spring of 1839 the Chinese government enforced a shutdown and blockade of the trading companies; over 20,000 barrels of opium stored in one warehouse alone in Canton were destroyed….

European factories, Canton – by William Daniell – Public domain

Then in July 1939 matters were made even worse when drunken British sailors murdered a Chinese villager…. The British refused to hand the sailors over to the Chinese authorities, escalating tensions…. Hostilities broke out in the November when British frigates blew up Chinese vessels forming a blockade in the Kowloon Estuary….

In June 1840 a British fleet arrived in Hong Kong and then travelled up the Pearl River to Canton…. Months of negotiations followed but then in May 1841 the British attacked and occupied the city…. Over the next year more British campaigns followed – the inferior Chinese forces were no match for the British troops – although they did put up a strong counter attack in the Spring of 1842…. However, the British eventually captured Nanking in August 1842 and this brought an end to the fighting (for now)….

Battleships approaching Canton in May 1841 – by Edward H Cree – Public domain

Following peace negotiations the Treaty of Nanking was signed on the 29th of August 1842…. Hong Kong was ceded to the British and an agreement was made to increase the number of ports in which merchants could be based to trade from…. Previously it had only been Canton but now four others were added, including Shanghai….

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