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why china trade silk porcelain tea opium

The Company grew opium in India. They were looking for something that the Chinese would accept instead of silver, to pay for the goods they bought at Canton. Opium was a valued medicine which could deaden pain, assist sleep and reduce stress. But it was also seriously habit forming and some Chinese were addicted. Was this the answer?

In 1773 the Company assumed the monopoly of opium growing in Bengal, now their territory. The opium was sold at auction in Calcutta and smuggled into China. The Company ships did not carry it because the Emperor banned its sale. But the cash they received from the auctions was laundered through London or Calcutta. With this they got the silver they needed.

After the Company's trade monopoly was abolished in 1834, smuggling of opium into China by European private traders intensified. The Chinese state was deeply disturbed at this and threatened force. Britain was prepared to defend 'free trade' and, in 1840, they went to war. These 'Opium wars' led to a humiliating defeat of the Chinese and a trade treaty which ceded Hong Kong to the British.

Ethical trading it was not.

  opium factory   Chinese Export Album

Scenes in the Patna opium factory, from the London weekly magazine, The Graphic, 24 June 1882
(click image to enlarge)

Further Information

Chinese Export Album illustrating the evils of opium. 19th century
Or 7408.f10
(click image to enlarge)

Further Information

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