How the British colony of Hong Kong began
Here’s an interesting history question. China resisted what country in the world’s first major drug war?
For all of the high minded talk of modern days, it was Britain that got the Chinese addicted to opium and started the first major drug war.
The Portuguese founded Macau in 1554-57 as a trading center with China. This was with the consent of the Emperor of China. The Portuguese were followed by Spanish, Dutch, French, and English traders . They were all here to trade porcelain, tea, and silk or were hell bent on saving souls. To maintain control, the Chinese restricted all foreigners to Macau . In 1757, the Chinese relented somewhat and foreign traders were allowed to live just outside Canton, now known as Guangzhou, for 8 months a year .
Trading in Canton was frustrating for the foreigners. It took at least 20 days for messages to be relayed to the Emperor, local officials had to be bribed, and Chinese justice was thought unfair . The Chinese confined foreign traders to a small, restricted zone and forbade them to learn Chinese. The Chinese required the western traders to buy Chinese products with silver.
To avoid these payments of silver, the British started offering opium to the Chinese. The spread of the opium habit and the subsequent outflow of silver alarmed Chinese officials as early as 1729 . They issued edicts forbidding importation of the drug, but these were not strictly enforced until 1839 . Then a heroic and somewhat fanatical imperial commissioner, Lin Ze-xu (Lin Tse-hsu), laid siege to foreign factories in Canton and detained the traders until they surrendered more than 20,000 chests of the drug, almost a year’s worth of trade . The foreigners also signed bonds promising to desist from dealing opium forever, upon threat of death. The opium was then destroyed .
The resulting tension between the government and foreign traders led to the Opium Wars. Queen Victoria’s superior firepower in the form of gun boats forced china to cede Hong Kong to the British under the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. Later another treaty added Kowloon to the British bounty.
British Hong Kong flourished from the start, especially the trade in opium, which was not outlawed until after WWII . The population almost immediately began to boom from 4,000 in 1841 to more than 23,000 in 1847 as Hong Kong attracted anyone anxious to make money or escape Chinese feudalism .
This was not all bad for China. China began to realize what a financial benefit it was to trade with the West through Hong Kong. In 1898, this caused the Chinese to lease the New Territories to Britain for 99 years .