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Opium Wars (China)

27 Nov 2015

Our Subjects / Ā Mātou Kaupapa:

Where can I find information about the Opium Wars in China?

LEVEL: Secondary

The two Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) were concerned with free trade in China and China's right to rule itself.  Up until this time China was self-sufficient but the British needed Chinese commodities like tea and silk.  This meant that British money went into China, and never came back.  The British wanted to take advantage of this unexploited market place, and so they sold the drug opium to Chinese merchants.  The dispute came about in response to the restrictions placed upon British trade by the Chinese government, and China's concern over the effects of opium and the opium trade.

There are a lot of complex issues that we need to understand about the causes of the Opium Wars in China.  Let's start by familiarising ourselves with the history of China in general - take a look at our ManyAnswers post China (History).  The links in that post will give us an idea of the atmosphere in China when the wars started.

Next, let's learn a little about British and Chinese trade at the time.  The British Library has a great article about British trade in China before the Opium Wars that includes examples of primary resources for our topic, as well as links to more information and primary resources (like this one).  We also found this essay by a lecturer at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America) that talks a little about the opium trade itself.  Lastly, although we'll learn that the wars weren't really about opium per se, we really should know what opium is, and why the Chinese were so concerned with its effects on their people.  Kidshealth is a great place to start when we want to learn about drugs and their effects on people.  These days, opium is made into heroin, so when I searched Kidshealth for opium, they gave this result.  We also checked out this page from the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum (the DEA is part of the US Government), which had a lot of easy to understand information.

HOT TIP:  Although our research is about things that happened almost two centuries ago, it's a good time to remember that when thinking about drug abuse, it’s a good idea to talk to a parent, caregiver, or teacher.  If you think you or someone you know may have a problem and you need to talk to someone about it, then the organisations listed at the bottom of this post can also help you.  Make sure you check out this Kidshealth page about drugs in general, and if you have further questions about drug use, check out our ManyAnswers post Drug Abuse.

Now that we know about the main issues that led to the wars, we can understand the information we will find that is directly about the wars. We first went to BBC History, because we know they are an awesome site.  We had trouble using the search feature at their site (we just weren't getting the results we were looking for), so we tried a trick in Google that lets you search for anything on a particular site.

HOT TIP: Check out our ManyAnswers post Google Tips and Tricks to help you with searching that can get you to the exact information you need, quickly. 

We put this into the Google search field: ' "opium wars"' and got some great results, like this podcast as well as this transcript of a radio broadcast.  Before moving on, make sure to take a look through the other results too.

Google Books can be an awesome way to access great information in books that your school or local library may not have.  Simply do a search in Google for our keywords 'opium wars' and when the results load, choose Books from the tabs that appear between the search box and the results.  There are tons of results for this topic, so we can be a bit more specific about our keywords.  If you're interested in learning more about how British trade was a factor in the wars, try searching with these keywords: 'British trade opium wars'.  Once you click on a result you will be taken to a book that has been scanned and put online for people to use - like this one.  With so many results, having an explore is really the best way to find the information you need.

The last resource we know we will find great information is the EPIC databases.  We checked out Britannica School - Secondary and World History in Context.

HOT TIP:  To get to the EPIC databases you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or, you can log on to between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday, and one of the librarians can help you online.  Make sure you are logged in, and then you can click on the links below to go directly to the articles mentioned.

We searched both of these databases for our keywords 'Opium Wars'.  Britannica had this great article, which includes information about the Treaty of Nanking (where Hong Kong was ceded to the British Empire), while World History in Context had this article, which really did give great context for the history of the wars!  They also have an entire article just about the Treaty of Nanking.

HOT TIP:  Another place to look is Wikipedia which has great coverage of many topics, including The History of Opium in China, The First Opium War, and The Second Opium War.  We can use these posts to make sure we've filled in all of the gaps in the story with our other resources.  But you need to be aware that this information is contributed by lots of different people.  If you are using this site, it always pays to check the information against that on other sites or in books from the library.

If you're interested in learning more about China, take a look at these ManyAnswers posts:  Great Wall of China, One-Child Policy (China), Society and Government in the People's Republic of China, and Chinese Cultural Dances.



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Hello this link "Professor J. O'Brien's information for students does not work", it says 404 not found.
Rachel, Palmerston North

Thanks Rachel, we've removed that link.
Lisa, AnyQuestions is a useful site for opium wars primary source
Brian, horlick

thanks for the help guys.

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