My Image

Episode 12 - The War on Drugs: Britain and China Clash over the Opium Trade (1839-1842)

Uploaded: 24 March 2018

Staying with the Eastern theme, this episode takes our listeners a few hundred miles west and a few decades earlier of Episode 11, presenting them with scenes that may seem all too familiar.

Drawn by an insatiable appetite for Chinese goods such as silk, porcelain and - most importantly - tea, British and European traders had been familiar with China for centuries. This was even despite constant friction with the rulers (e.g. the creation of the Canton trading system, where foreigners were allowed to enter and trade in only one port). 

However, the "trade deficit" - or loss of Britain's gold and other metal resources that were being exchanged for vast amounts of tea - caused concern in the 1830s. There was simply no appetite among Chinese traders for any of Britain's other goods, meaning - in the eyes of the government - that Britain was "losing" gold to China.

That is, until opium came along.

The opium trade, despite being illegal, took off in a huge way and completely reversed the trade balance situation. However - the Chinese Emperor was not happy with either this or the moral decay that he saw among his subjects - something had to be done...

The Dragon Ship (left) lays waste to Chinese war junks.
​​​​​​​The Nemesis was the East India Company's brand new steam-powered ironclad - infinitely superior to any vessel it came up against at the time

Further sources:

A. Ghosh, The Ibis Trilogy,

H. Mao et al., The Qing Empire and the Opium War: The Collapse of the Heavenly Dynasty, https://amzn.to/2G9UDbx
MIT, VisualisingCultures,  https://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027/opium_wars_01/ow1_essay01.html​​​​​​​

Download MP3

Watch on YouTube

Full access includes our regular Dispatches email and episode updates

Subscribe on iTunes