History’s First Drug War: The Opium Wars

Opium Wars and the History of Hong Kong

The Opium Wars between Britain and Hong Kong have been called the First Drug War.

The roots of the First Drug War are in the year 1841, when the British flag was raised over a little known Chinese Island off the coast of Guangzhou that would come to be known as Hong Kong as the later scene of the subsequent Opium Wars. 

The British triumph over Hong Kong was a source of shame and humiliation for the once proud Chinese Imperial Qing Dynasty rich in Tea, Porcelain and Silk, all of which were in great demand throughout the British Empire and the last thing they had anticipated is that their once proud Nation would one day succumb to British invasion as a result of the Opium Wars now regarded as History’s First Drug War. 

Reasons For British Occupation Of Hong Kong Leading Up To The Opium Wars

Before the Opium Wars, intense British interest in China had led to an extraordinary 1757 decree by the Chinese Emperor requiring that British Traders seeking to trade with China could only do so from the port of Canton.

The First Drug War in History can be explained by the fact that although the British East India Company had built a factory in Canton, by 1800 it was importing more than 20 million Pounds of Tea leaf per year because of a growing Trade deficit caused by a greater demand for Chinese Tea than the goods produced by the British Factories at Canton for sale to the Chinese.

This required the British to spend large amounts of their Silver reserves on Chinese goods which was probably the reason the British East India Company resorted to an ingenious solution to the rising Trade deficit by provoking China into History’s First Drug War now known as the Opium Wars.  

The British sowed the seeds for the First Drug War when the British brought in highly addictive Opium from the British Colony of Bengal for sale to the Chinese to create strong demand for a British product that would rival the British demand for Chinese Tea.

Opium was still illegal in China, and so the British East India Company resorted to using private Indian Companies that would smuggle Opium into China and return with the Profits in an illegal drug smuggling operation intended to provoke China into what we would later call the Opium Wars.  

British Opium Trader William Jardine and his associates were in control of this illegal Opium Drug Trade that led the Opium Wars.

These British Traders flourished and made a fortune from the Chinese Opium Trade, and  a year later, the British Parliament revoked the British East India Company’s trade monopoly in China which enabled Independent Traders like Jardine to grow their presence in China even further escalating the tensions with China that would later erupt into History’s First Drug War.

The tensions that caused the Opium Wars were escalated because British Opium Traders like Jardine subverted Chinese Law by storing their Opium offshore allowing them to technically argue that they were not directly selling Opium on Chinese soil.

Soon after, the smuggled British Opium created a nation-wide addiction health epidemic in China which prompted the Chinese to take measures to stop the Opium Trade at all costs. As a result, the Chinese confiscated and burnt tonnes of British Opium, and it is this protective step taken by the Chinese that would lead inescapably to the Opium Wars that were in the interests of the British to provoke.

British Traders responded to the Chinese seizure of their Opium by demanding compensation from either the Chinese or British Government, and when it was not paid by either, prominent British Opium Traders lobbied the British Government to go to War with China.

The British demands were unacceptable to the Chinese and probably designed to force China’s hand into History’s First Drug War as British Traders demanded firstly that the financial value of all the Opium burned by the Chinese be compensated in full. Secondly, that four new ports be open to British Trade be established in China.

Thirdly, the British demanded that if China wanted to avoid War over the seized Opium, then an island off the coast of China be ceded to the British Crown to be used as a permanent base where British Companies could operate under British Law, rather than be subject to Chinese Law.

When China refused to accede to these demands, the British Empire declared War on China, sparking History’s First Drug War or the First Opium War which the British had won by 1841.

After the Chinese lost the First Opium War, the demands of the British were met by the defeated Chinese, and the island known as ‘Fragrant Harbour” to local Chinese Fishermen became the British territorry known as Hong Kong

The new British Island would prove to be a bonanza when it rose to be the hugley succesful modern Metropolis of Hong Kong which may not have existed at all were it not for the Opium Trade which resulted in History’s First Drug War we now refer as the Opium Warw.

The Opium Wars

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