Opium Wars – UPSC GS1

  • Opium Wars are the two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1912.
  • The first Opium War (1839–42) was fought between China and Britain.
  • The Second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the Arrow War or the Anglo-French War in China, was fought by Britain and France against China.
  • In each case, the foreign powers were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China.
  • The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treaties and other inroads on Qing sovereignty that helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynasty in favour of republican China in the early 20th century.
How did they begin?
  • The Opium Wars arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade.
  • Foreign traders (primarily British) had been illegally exporting opium mainly from India to China since the 18th century, but that trade grew dramatically from about 1820.
  • The resulting widespread addiction in China was causing serious social and economic disruption there.
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