The Opium War: Britain and the Birth of Modern China, 1839-1842 (HIH1406)

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In 1839, Britain, at the urging of opium traders, went to war with China. After three years, the victorious British imposed the Treaty of Nanjing on the Qing Empire. Within two decades, China would be ‘opened’ to Western traders; territory, including Hong Kong and much of Shanghai, was ceded to Britain; and Europeans and Americans would no longer be subject to local law on Chinese soil. For historians of the British Empire, the Opium War and the series of conflicts with China that followed it marked the beginnings of ‘gunboat diplomacy’: the use of technological superiority to dictate to lesser powers. For Chinese historians, though, the conflict marks a defining moment in the transformation of a multinational empire into a modern nation state.