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It's Never Been About the Opium

By South China Morning Post at 11:14 AM 5/30/2020 (PDT)

Britain’s push to bring opium to China seems like an exploitative way to bring down the Qing dynasty. If its citizens all become addicted to the drug, there won’t be much resistance to a British takeover. Yet, taking over China via opium is not the end goal. Rather the British want to increase trade, a justifiable want for a growing empire.

To quote the Representative of Dent and Co., a large British trading company in China, it is “not about how much opium we pump but how much we get [for that opium]” Britain isn’t looking for an opium addled country. They just want fairer terms for their trading companies, with the addition of wanting to be able to share China’s goods. The Qing dynasty's current trade policies restrict British trade companies to only Canton, making it impossible for them to profit as much as possible. That is the heart of a trading company, so it only makes sense that they’re pushing for more trade.

Instead, by being unreasonable and refusing to compromise with the British officials, the Qing dynasty allows their citizens to succumb to unnecessary opium addiction. Should they open up trade for Britain’s trading companies, the opium would be less of a concern. When asked, the Advisor to the Malay States said that opium is only a way to open up China’s trade and it’s not about the opium itself. The Qing dynasty puts themselves in a difficult position but that position can be escaped easily and without bloodshed from either side.

Open up trade like the British asked and opium won’t overrun China. Only by forcing the British’s hand with “the clear lack of compromise” even though, “the population wants to compromise”, as stated by the Chief Superintendent of British Trade in China, the Qing dynasty increases the amount of opium imported and the military power needed to force their hand. All these actions are necessary for the British, “to maintain our power and influence worldwide.” The British are only acting as an empire does, seeking to secure their own power. They are not in charge of the Chinese population but rather the Qing dynasty is. And, they aren’t even reflecting the wishes of their population. Instead, by standing up to the British, the Qing make it more difficult for their citizens in ways. If the Qing allowed British trading companies to trade more freely, the opium influx would die down and Britain would be content. It was never about the opium, just free trade.

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