04 February 2015

Opium Wars - Plundering China

The Opium Wars were two wars fought in the mid-1800s that were the climax of a long dispute between Britain and China. In the second war, France fought alongside Britain.

History of the Precious Metals by Alexander Del Mar, 1902, Excerpt

In 1838 the Chinese government, desiring to destroy a traffic which corrupted the morals and promoted the degeneracy of its people, made the use of opium a capital crime, and destroyed British stock of opium at Canton. In 1899 Baron Ketteler, of the German legation at Peking, was killed by a Chinese fanatic. This incident, and the pretense of protecting their own legations, was made the occasion of an attack upon China by the combined forces of Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria, Italy, the United States, Russia, and Japan, in which upwards of one hundred Chinese cities were captured and plundered, upwards of 50,000 innocent people were destroyed.

The allies took the silver, jade, silks and furs, everything of value. The English gathered the furs, ornaments and furniture from every house in their quarter and sold them at auction. The Japanese devoted their energies to gold, silver, and munitions of war, which they shipped to Japan. The French took all they could find. The Germans came late, so they organized "punitive expeditions." A Peking dispatch says that the Chinese women, to escape the nameless bestiality of the Russians, drowned themselves by tens of thousands. The scene of wanton carnage, outrage and spoliation, defy description. The poor innocent children were slain without mercy. Gold, silver and lust were not the only incentives. Wanton murder was added to the other horrors of war upon a defenseless people, against whom war had never been declared.

By this conduct the Chinese hatred of the foreigner will be very justly intensified, and the Chinaman now hates the foreigner a thousand times more than he did when the Boxer troubles began.

Battle-scene from the First Chinese Opium War (1839-42)

The palace of shame that makes China angry
02 Feb 2015
There is a deep, unhealed historical wound in the UK's relations with China - a wound that most British people know nothing about, but which causes China great pain. It stems from the destruction in 1860 of the country's most beautiful palace, the old Summer Palace in Beijing. It's been described as China's ground zero - a place that tells a story of cultural destruction that everyone in China knows about, but hardly anyone outside.  The palace's fate is bitterly resented in Chinese minds and constantly resurfaces in Chinese popular films, angry social media debates, and furious rows about international art sales.  And it has left a controversial legacy in British art collections - royal, military, private - full of looted objects.

The Opium Wars: the British army was sent to force Chinese imperial rulers to open up their country further to Western trade and influence. French troops reached Beijing and the Summer Palace, where they began helping themselves to porcelain, silks and ancient books - or simply destroying what they found. British troops joined in when they arrived shortly afterwards. "Officers and men seemed to have been seized with temporary insanity," said one witness. "In body and soul they were absorbed in one pursuit which was plunder, plunder." Loot was an established part of army pay. The army tradition was to share out the spoils, with officers and other ranks taking their cut, and some of the cash used to compensate the families of dead or wounded soldiers.

Soon after the Summer Palace's destruction in 1860, the 8th Earl of Elgin made a triumphant entry to the center of Beijing, his procession symbolizing British and Western domination - and Chinese humiliation.

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