Hong Kong Island & The Opium Wars

Opium Wars and the History of Hong Kong

In the year 1841, 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

The British triumph 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. 

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.

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.  

Higly addictive Opium from the British Colony of Bengal would be sold to the Chinese to create strong demand for a British product.

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.  

British Opium Trader William Jardine and his associates flourished and made a fortune from the Chinese Opium Trade. 

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.

To get around Chinese law, British Opium Traders stored 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 Trade at all costs. As a result, the Chinese confiscated and burnt tonnes of British Opium.

British Traders responded 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.

British Traders demanded firstly that the financial value of all the Opium burned be compensated in full. Secondly, that four new ports open to British Trade be established in China.

Thirdly, that 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 the First Opium War which the British had won by 1841.

Consequently, the British demands were met by the defeated Chinese, and the island known as ‘Fragrant Harbour” to local Chinese Fishermen became the Britis 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.

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