Walpole and the Opium Wars
In the late 1700s AD, the British prime minister Robert Walpole wanted to try to get more control of China. The British Empire was taking over India and Africa and Australia and they wanted China too.
Selling opium was against the law in China, because drugs are bad for you. But the British traders and the British government didn’t care. More and more people in China got addicted to opium. They would get sick if they couldn’t get enough opium. But also, the opium would kill them. People were willing to kill and steal to get money for opium. Southern China got to be run by crime bosses. Life there was super violent and dangerous.
The Jiaqing Emperor tries to stop the British from selling drugs.
But he still only had a weak army, and he was far away in northern China. Nobody in southern China paid any attention to the Jiaqing Emperor’s laws.
The Daoguang Emperor tries again.
Jiaqing died in 1820 AD, and his son the Daoguang Emperor became the next emperor of China. The Daoguang Emperor sent his official Lin Zexu to the south to try to stop the opium smoking there. Lin Zexu destroyed tons of opium.
The British Navy wins the Opium Wars.
Queen Victoria’s British generals got really angry, and brought the British navy.
The navy shot cannons at Chinese port cities in the Opium Wars. The British guns and cannons were much better than Chinese weapons, and by 1842 Daoguang had to surrender. To end the war, China paid Britain a lot of money, and also agreed to let British traders use Chinese ports without being under Chinese laws. And they could keep right on selling opium.
The Xianfeng Emperor tries and loses one more time.
Daoguang died soon afterwards, in 1850, and his son became the Xianfeng Emperor. The Xianfeng Emperor was only 19 years old. People saw that the Qing Dynasty was weak, and everyone started revolts. The Xianfeng Emperor had to fight one revolt after another.
He also tried again to keep the British traders out of China, but after more fighting he had to surrender again in 1860. The Xianfeng Emperor paid more fines and had to allow more opium trading.
Bessemer steel and the China trade
The new Bessemer steel process allowed the British to sell steel much cheaper than Chinese smiths could make it.
The new British steel was also higher quality than Chinese steel. It put Chinese ironworkers out of business. The Xianfeng Emperor, depressed by his defeat, died the next year, in 1861. He was only 30 years old, and his only son was only five years old.