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What caused the First Opium War?

By History Extra

By the 1830s, opium was causing severe social and economic problems in China – but when the emperor targeted the trade in 1838, the British responded in a surprising way. Stephen Platt traces the events that led to the First Opium War and the beginning of the end of imperial China.

By the 19th century, opium smoking had become a major problem in China. Use – and, correspondingly, supply – of the drug had expanded rapidly over the previous century, despite efforts by various rulers to quash the trade. From 1773, most opium in China was imported by British traders, and by 1838 some 40,000 chests – around 2,500 tonnes – were arriving in Chinese ports each year. The Daoguang Emperor decided it was time to act.

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