The Treaty of Nanjing: Summary & Effects

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

The Treaty of Nanjing was an agreement that lead to a series of other 'unequal treaties.' Summarize the events of the Opium trade and war, the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing, and the effects it eventually had on both the West and China. Updated: 12/20/2021

History of China and the West

For centuries, China was an isolated country. It closed its doors to the world and developed internally. This all began to change during the 1600s, when Western merchants gradually opened up trade with China. Over time, European countries like Great Britain made important in-roads with the Chinese government, and the British realized that China was an important trading partner because:

  • The Chinese offered overseas markets for British goods.
  • The British were able to important various items from China that they could not produce themselves.

Over time, this partnership began to tip in favor of Great Britain, at the expense of China. And it eventually led to the Treaty of Nanjing, which marks the beginning of a series of unfair agreements that benefited the West and hurt China.

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  • 0:02 History of China and the West
  • 0:45 The Opium Trade
  • 1:45 The First Opium War
  • 2:22 The Treaty of Nanjing
  • 3:11 Effects of the Treaty…
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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The Opium Trade

Beginning in the 1700s, Great Britain made an enormous amount of money by exporting opium to China. The opium, a highly addictive drug, was made from poppy plants grown in India, one of Britain's many colonies. Chinese buyers quickly became addicted to the drug, causing the demand for opium to grow.

Widespread addiction was devastating for the Chinese people and for the country's economy. As you can imagine, the Chinese government was not happy with the British. The Chinese government put a ban on the opium trade and forbade the British from bringing it into the country in 1799.

Despite the ban, the British continued to illegally trade the drug in China. In March 1839, the Chinese government took action by destroying roughly 1,400 tons of opium; that's about 2.8 million pounds. Within a few days, tensions between British merchants and the Chinese were on the rise. To make matters worse, a group of British sailors killed a Chinese man. The British government, however, would not hand over its accused citizens. This made the Chinese government even angrier.

The First Opium War

The initial conflict between Great Britain and China in 1839 led into the three-year-long First Opium War. Shortly after the Chinese government destroyed the opium, a British ship destroyed a Chinese blockade meant to prevent British trade up the Pearl River.

In 1840, a British military detachment made its way from Hong Kong up the Pearl River to the port of Canton. After the two countries failed to reach an agreement, the British captured Canton in May of 1841. One year later, they captured the city of Nanjing as well. At this point, the Chinese realized that they didn't stand a chance against Great Britain's military might and were forced to surrender.

The Treaty of Nanjing

The Treaty of Nanjing officially brought the First Opium War to an end on August 29, 1842. As part of the agreement, the Chinese agreed to:

  • Repay the British for the opium the government had destroyed
  • Give Great Britain the city of Hong Kong
  • Open five ports where the British could both trade and live
  • Place a very low tariff on all British goods

One year later, Great Britain and China signed the British Supplementary Treaty of the Bogue that expanded on to the Treaty of Nanjing. At this point, the British secured the right to extraterritoriality. Extraterritoriality means that the British citizens who committed a crime in China would be tried in British courts. The supplementary agreement also included a most-favored nation clause meaning that, whatever trade terms China allowed other counties, Great Britain would be allowed to trade under those terms as well, if it pleased.

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