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Ancient China
Lin Zexu and First Opium War

Ancient China
Ancient China

Lin Zexu and First Opium War
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.87

     challenging words:    indemnity, curtail, disembark, hard-line, tenfold, weaponry, disposal, prior, tentative, contraband, latter, downfall, formidable, discontinue, eventual, monopoly
     content words:    Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong, Industrial Revolution, First Opium War, Emperor Daoguang, Lin Zexu, Governor General, Imperial Commissioner, Queen Victoria, Great Britain

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Lin Zexu and First Opium War
By Vickie Chao

1     Have you ever heard the phrase "Timing is everything"? This particular expression is a perfect explanation for what happened to China's last imperial dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). In the early days of this mighty empire, its rulers carried out many popular reforms to stabilize the society and to stimulate the economy. Among them were three emperors (Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong) who were often singled out for their work in creating a time of peace and prosperity for China. During their reign, the ports were teeming with foreign ships. But the arrival of European traders and missionaries did not sit well with the Chinese. For one, they had little interest in having anything to do with foreigners. Thinking that their country was the greatest in the whole world, they found it degrading to deal with people from overseas. To curtail any influence the Europeans could inflict upon the Chinese, the Qing emperors continued the practice from the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644) and set strict guidelines limiting what foreigners could do on Chinese soil. In 1757, Emperor Qianlong issued a new policy that made Guangzhou the only port of call for docking a foreign vessel. (Previously, there were four.) When a ship did come in, its passengers were not allowed to disembark. When it was necessary for foreigners to be on land for whatever reason, their visits were to be short and supervised. As far as missionaries were concerned, only a handful of them could stay in China. The others were all turned back.
2     At the time that China officially shut its door to foreigners, it was indeed a formidable empire. But shortly after the policy was in full swing, the so-called Industrial Revolution swept across Europe. All of a sudden, the countries that the Qing dynasty used to despise had the most advanced technology. When they came knocking again almost a century later, they refused to take "no" for an answer. Now with the latest weaponry at their disposal, they forced the Qing dynasty to sign many unequal treaties. Along the way, the Chinese helplessly watched their lands being gradually taken over by foreigners. Their pride was badly bruised. To them, the First Opium War (1840 - 1842) was the beginning of their nightmares. And losing that critical battle inevitably contributed toward the eventual downfall of the Qing dynasty.
3     Opium is a very addictive drug. Once hooked, a user has a difficult time kicking the habit. And, like all other narcotics, it destroys one's mind, body, and life. To stop its spread, the Qing dynasty issued a decree in 1729 and made the smoking and trading of opium illegal. But that did not solve the problem. Given how lucrative the whole opium business was, the British traders simply ignored the law and continued to smuggle the contraband into China. Between 1821 and 1838 alone, the imports of the drug increased almost tenfold. All of it came from India, where opium was produced under a British government monopoly.

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