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Opium Wars

1839-42 and 1856-60, two wars between China and Western countries. The first was between Great Britain and China. Early in the 19th century, British merchants began smuggling opium into China in order to balance their purchases of tea for export to Britain. In 1839, China enforced its prohibitions on the importation of opium by destroying at Guangzhou (Canton) a large quantity of opium confiscated from British merchants. Great Britain, which had been looking to end China's restrictions on foreign trade, responded by sending gunboats to attack several Chinese coastal cities. China, unable to withstand modern arms, was defeated and forced to sign the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) and the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue (1843). These provided that several ports be open to British trade and residence; in addition Hong Kong was ceded to the British. Within a few years other Western powers signed similar treaties with China, and the Western domination of China's treaty ports began. In 1856 a second war broke out following an allegedly illegal Chinese search of a British-registered ship in Guangzhou. British and French troops took Guangzhou and Tianjin and compelled the Chinese to accept the treaties of Tianjin (1858), to which France, Russia, and the United States were also party. The Beijing conventions of 1860, by which China was forced to reaffirm the terms of the Treaty of Tianjin and make additional concessions, concluded the hostilities. (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2005, Columbia University Press.)

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