The First Opium War

In 1839, British conflict with Lin Zexu’s policies in Guangdong led to the outbreak of the First Opium War. The technologically superior British overwhelmed the more numerous Chinese. The victorious British forced the Chinese into the first of many “unequal treaties,” the Treaty of Nanjing. This treaty marked the beginning of China’s century of humiliation, or chi (耻), the title of this chapter.

While Wei, living in Yangzhou, was not affected by the war directly, he created an important record of the conflict. In An Account of the Daoguang-Era Pacification Campaign Against the Western Ships, Wei glorifies Lin Zexu’s heroic attempts to resist the British. A translation by Edward Harper was published in 1888 under the title Chinese Account of the Opium War.

Read this illustrated essay from scholar Peter Perdue on the entire history of the opium trade in China and the First Opium War.

A Chinese negotiator visits Hong Kong to exchange the signed Treaty of Nanking