According to

“Treaty of Nanjing, Aug. 29, 1842 ended the first Opium War, the first of the unequal treaties between China and foreign imperialist powers. China paid the British an indemnity, ceded the territory of Hong Kong, and agreed to establish a “fair and reasonable” tariff. British merchants, who had previously been allowed to trade only at Guangzhou (Canton), were now permitted to trade at five “treaty ports” and with whomever they pleased (see Canton system). The treaty was supplemented in 1843 by the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue, which allowed British citizens to be tried in British courts and granted Britain any rights in China that China might grant to other countries.”

Today, the economic, social, and political effects of the Opium Wars can still be palpable. The treaties of Nanking and Tientsin opened many ports in China as the country ventured into foreign trade. The subsequent increase in trade allowed the tea and silk industries to prosper. Chinese customs reported an increased in tea export of over 500% while silk export expanded 28 times the previous amount of bales being shipped from Chinese ports.

The Real de a Ocho, also known as the Spanish silver dollar and later Mexican pesos, had set the standard for a de facto common currency for trade in China with weight of 26.90gm and .900 silver purity. But the rapid increase in trade caused a shortage of the Spanish silver dollar. The Spanish currency eventually appreciated in value considerable and Canton had to outlaw it as a form of currency and introduced the Mexican dollar. On the other hand, the Chinese copper currency depreciated in value due to poor administration and a shortage of copper. It follows that China’s financial system was nearly devastated and in 1853 paper money was introduced to China. Paper money was invented in China in the 9th century, but the base unit of currency remained the copper coin. Copper coins were used as the principal currency in China until the introduction of the yuan in the late 19th century. But in 1830 China, the Mexican silver dollar became the dominant currency of the southern and eastern regions.

Customarily, the Chinese people would calculate value on the basis of the weight of silver and by using coins like the Mexican silver dollar, and with this, a new basis of calculation emerges. The Chinese move from weight to ‘face value’. This journey of coins through China was the precursor of modern global trade into a money-based economy.

While the tea and silk industries thrived other industries became much less profitable. Farmers that had been producing food switched to more profitable tea or silk. This caused the price of food to rise steeply which resulted in boatmen that had worked transporting good to Canton from other areas were no longer needed and lost their jobs. Textile workers also suffered job losses because the handmade textiles produced in China could not compete in price with the machine made textiles from the west. In order to compete with western machined made textiles the remaining Chinese industries still in business lowered prices but the cost of production stayed the same. This caused the textile industry to lose bundles of money and the quality of life for textile workers was drastically diminished. Together with rising food prices and rising unemployment poverty spread rapidly throughout China.

The cost of the wars and the reparations paid to foreign countries fell on the farmers and the Manchu government could no longer protect and provide for its people. The fact that the government had signed the Treaty of Nanking before exhausting all options of resistance disgraced the Manchu government. These issues combined with growing levels of poverty stirred uprisings against the government. Moreover, any foreigner and Chinese citizens that lived with or were employed by a British citizen were exempt from Chinese law which made China a haven for criminals and illegal activity.

Before the Opium wars China had started to develop a market economy, but once the wars began, China was exposed prematurely to western industries and could not compete and became dependent on foreign goods and trade.

After the wars China realized that the country could not continue to be so isolationist. Intellectuals realized that they had to try something else and understand western culture, especially if they were to beat the West at its game. Intellectuals such as Lin Zexu, Xu Ji-yu, and Wei Yuan read translated material from the West and published books on western countries and culture. They mastered western political ideas, social structures, and economics.

Other intellectuals in China began to promote the idea that China not only had to modernize its army and open factories, but that the entire political system needed to be changed. They proposed that the government needed to foster capitalism. It was necessary that private enterprises be formed without government interference and many different enterprises became essential to the modernization effort.

It can safely be said that from the time of the Nanking Treaty in August 29, 1842 to our current time the Chinese have accomplished what they set out to do in a steady and methodical process that has astonished the world.

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