Project Description

London, UK: Tea and Opium


Who would have thought that the preservation of the ever so civilized ‘tea time’ would drive the British to instigate nationwide drug addiction and a ‘century of humiliation’ in China?

By the 18th century, Britain was drinking so much tea from China that it had built up an enormous trade deficit. Eager to reduce the deficit, Britain tried to import tea from India and export European clothes to China. However, tastes are hard to change and the British stuck to their Chinese tea just as stubbornly as the Chinese stuck to their own silk.

chinese taking opiumOpium
Everything changed when the British started selling opium to the Chinese. The opium poppies were grown in India and traded through the overseas Chinese in southeast Asia. Not only did Britain succeed in turning the trade imbalance to its favor, it also increased China’s opium addict population 50-fold between 1820 and 1835, with disastrous impact on Chinese society. In response, the Qing Court put a stop to all opium imports.

Shareholders at the East India Company’s headquarters in London, who made a 2000% profit on opium sold to China, were not amused. And so, in June 1840, a British force of 15 barracks ships, 4 steam-powered gunboats and 25 smaller boats with 4000 marines reached the coast of Guangdong. The First Opium War had started.

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