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The Opium War

The European countries especially Britain were in war with China in the early 17th and 18th centuries. According to the Chinese history, China had a dynasty named Yuan, which was formed and ruled by Chinese leaders and had its own way of life. However, a point was reached when European countries had confrontations with China. Differences in trade mainly caused these conflicts. The differences initiated poor relations between these two and eventually led to Opium Wars. It required the intervention of Jesuits intermediaries to settle the situation. This essay is in pursuit of discussing the role of trade during these times, the merchants involved in this trade and the commodities sold. Finally, it discusses the roles of the Jesuits in China as mediators between Chinese and European culture and thought.

The countries that were members of the Chinese foreign trade were: U.K, U.S, India and Britain, Chinese merchants and other western countries. According to Karsh, there was establishment of a huge organization known as the British East India Company, which was located in Canton.  This company was mandated to conduct trade with India, Far East countries and China. Nonetheless, Regulated trade at Canton was hectic due to negative attitudes directed to the Chinese, poor rapport with Hong merchants. This company was a representative of the British community in China. However, a time came when those in the British company would no longer get along with the Chinese. Lord Napier, a British manager, started misunderstanding the Chinese hence becoming stubborn. He disregarded his colleagues who had knowledge in China trade. This behavior was contrary to the Chinese policies that required the Europeans to acknowledge China’s cultural and political stands. The Europeans were to portray respect to Chinese emperors through language and actions.

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As time went by, foreign trade became extremely restricted. The Chinese formed Cohong, a trade guild overtook Canton and improved its profitability. Furthermore, Hong merchants were ordered to monitor foreign merchants’ behavior. Any foreigner who wanted to conduct business was to pay fees to the Chinese government. The situation worsened when the British were denied access to Canton introducing what was known as the ‘Canton System’.

The westerners were instructed to only contact Hong merchants in all their issues. They had no other choice but to ensure healthy rapport with these merchants.  The merchants were also strict and followed all instruction from their bosses to the latter. At this time, the only product that China allowed for foreign exchange was the valued silver bullion. It was illegal to trade any other type of product. They would therefore undergo all the struggles to only export silver to China. There was an outcry from the Westerners due to the sluggish procedure that was required to conduct foreign business. This inadequacy caused a thrilling demand for tea in the western countries. Tea was grown in large scale by Chinese and it did quite well. Tea could not do well in European countries, there was therefore need for importation. Despite this situation, it was illegal to sell tea to foreigners. Britain requested for the inaugural of new ports in China borders and the establishment of better tariffs that would favor foreign trade. Nonetheless, China refused to agree to any of these pleas. This act led to more strained associations among the two countries. The Chinese leaders could even use insulting language when addressing the westerners. “Barbarians” was the term used to refer to western merchants.  This hatred that existed between the two was the chief cause for the unforgettable war that was experienced back them. Once again, the British had not yet given up and therefore opted to send a ship to Canton to beseech with China about the poor state of overseas trade. Sadly, the ship returned to London on receiving threats from the Chinese authorities.

The British company at Canton set up a factory in Xiamen. However, there erupted conflicts between the Taiwan and the Chinese forces, and the factory was burnt. The British Company gathered new strength and started an alternative industrial unit located in Canton still. The British successfully got a chance to trade at Canton. This moment allowed good performance in tea trade. The British company managed to import tea though not from China directly. As more demand for tea in Europe came in, the British company imported huge tons of the product for its consumers. The tea business boomed unexpectedly. The British company experienced exponential growth and was able to trade even other products like porcelain and silk. They also got a way of carrying on with opium that was initially illegal in China. Re-introduction of opium brought feelings of misunderstanding with Europe as the foreign trade became no longer controllable.

Opium is a drug which is very addictive but can also be used for medicinal purposes. It is usually gotten from poppy. During that era, the drug business triggered the wars that evolved between these realms. Opium became the highly sold good of trade during this period. It became affordable even to the underprivileged and its demand increased as it was abused and valued  by almost all classes of people in the Chinese society. The British Company ventured into opium business through Macao depot However, the company was conducting the business secretly with an aim of preserving virtuous associations with China. The Chinese were disappointed on learning thriving trade on opium which had become tough to deal with. Chinese authorities applied force to the British Company, but the company affirmed that it was not in any way engage in the unlawful trade. However, on the other hand, the company encouraged opium farmers and smugglers to continue investing in it. Slowly, the company started smuggling opium into China secretly. The corporation further introduced Mulwa opium that was additional to the initial Patna opium. Regardless of this situation, the British company continued to make losses in the other trades. However, the losses did not in any way affect opium importation. The company continued to carry on with the business with a motivation of recovering the losses they encountered in porcelain, silk and tea trade. China fought with illegal opium trade by implementing punishments that involved strangulation and death. The Chinese government banned poppy farming in China. The manager at Canton also prohibited the business to protect his workers from death penalties. The trade was eventually suppressed, and most of the opium smugglers and users really suffered.

After a long period of the strained relationship between the European countries and China, China agreed to sign the first unequal treaty that required them to allow several issues. Firstly, the agreement needed them to open five ports so as to enhance foreign trade. Secondly, it needed them to do away with the Cohong monopoly that restricted foreign trade in Canton. They were also subjected to customs duties that had strict schedules. In addition to that, the British acquired Hong Kong as their territory. Eventually, treaty ports prospered commercially especially Hong Kong. Hong Kong became the Chinese chief commercial city. England regarded the opium war as a great triumph. France and the US started pressuring China to be granted their own treaty. They wanted China to accept the entry of foreigners like doctors, missionaries and travelers into the interior. This condition marked the beginning of a century of humiliation t to China.

The new treaty ports allowed foreign dealers who worked in partnership with Chinese merchants to get into china’s interior. It is during this time that Christian teachings came in through the missionaries. The two opium wars were regarded as a way set for the foreign power to get its way to China. This period marked the beginning of and technological and commercial progress.

In the 15th century, European countries viewed China as the center of civilization and technologically developed. Travelers’ and all people talked about Chinese’ immense projects and marvelous creations. However, Europe changed this view after the industrial revolution. The initial view of China shifted as more missionaries and visitors continued to assess the Chinese lifestyles. Westerners now got a mentality of the Chinese being arrogant, inflexible and culturally weak. On the other hand, the Chinese thought that they were the most civilized in the world and that their technological sophistication attracted many people. They, therefore, believed that they had all it took to rule their empire. They disregarded foreigners by calling them barbarians. They thought that they would gain nothing by interacting and trading with the westerners. They claimed that it was the westerners who needed help getting rhubarb, porcelain and tea from China.

Role of Jesuits as Mediators between China and the European Culture

The presence of the Jesuits in China can be argued to be the primary reason for the Chinese acceptance of the European culture. The Jesuits China mission was established by Francis Xavier in 1506. The Jesuits played a significant role in China to ensure the integration of the Chinese and the European Culture. The Jesuits achieved their mission of mediating between China by initiating the indigenous Churches that brought them together. However, during the initial stages the Chinese were reluctant to welcome the European missionaries (Mungello). According to Mungello, the Chinese accepted the idea of Christianity later and this gave them a better chance to talk to infiltrate Westernization.

In assessing the prosperity of the Jesuits in China, the following aspects are significant to understanding this issue. Firstly, it is the ability of the Jesuits to pass the information about the scientific knowledge to the Chinese. Secondly, it is vital to assess their success in introducing Christianity to the Chinese natives. Thirdly, it is necessary to examine and evaluate their success in all aspect. It is also necessary to consider the obstacles that were encountered in the pursuit of mediation.

Ways in which Jesuits Sent Information about China to Europe

The first strategy that the Jesuits used to send information about Europe to China was through writings that portrayed the western culture. They wrote several books in Chinese that had significant information about the Western culture. The papers were spread throughout China and this aspect provided a lot of information to the China. Some parts of the Chinese were willing and ready to embrace the western civilization, but the majority were still opposing.

Mungello in his book has pointed out that another method that was used in conveying information about Europe use of the European visual art. The Jesuits had noticed that the use of pictorial artworks would be more efficient than using words only. Some of these artworks contained the information about the western culture that facilitated the learning process. For instance, in teaching catechism, they use the picture of hell and heaven that was drawn in the European way to show the fate of humanity. Several copies of the art were made and distributed all over China from civilized to the indigenous people. Some of the pictures were also placed on the major churches and this element attracted a greater number of Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese were eager to learn from the Jesuits who encouraged universality. Consequently, through the Jesuits persistence to achieve wholeness, a broad range of Chinese individuals acquired the European culture. Gregory has also acknowledged that many Chinese people became Catechists and assisted the Jesuits in promoting Catholicism. Therefore, the majority of the Chinese population to accessed information about the European culture.

Another aspect that attracted the Chinese was the use of illustrated books with loose sheets of drawings from Europe. The Jesuits tried to mix the European and the Chinese cultural aspects in these drawings. Mungello has pointed out that the books were spread rapidly because it contained some European realm that captivated most of the Chinese artists. These artists adopted these artistic drawings from Europe and it resulted in them getting information about Europe.

Another strategy was establishing some significant relationship with the Chinese ruling class. The Jesuits approached the political leader in China and established some rapport with them. This aspect facilitated the rapid spread of Christianity among the Chinese natives and they learned about the western civilization in the process.

Ways in which Jesuits Conveyed Information about China to Europe

In giving information about the Chinese culture, most of the Jesuits encyclopedia depended on the Chinese journals and monographs for reference. The Jesuits obtained information from these sources and interpreted them because they had learned the Chinese language. Most of the encyclopedias contained the positive details of their culture. Lehner has also pointed out that the information conveyed was easy to understand an easy work hence for the Jesuits. In the entire encyclopedia genre the use of references fluctuated from the direct quotations and piracy. They also considered the use of other scholarly sources written by the Chinese academic class. The significance of this strategy is that it contained the first-hand information that was more accurate about the Chinese culture. They could also interpret the information according to how the Chinese wanted to hear in an effort to please them.

Another method was considering the Chinese culture as an academic discipline in Europe. The study of Chinese behavior was implemented in the West. They involved the use of the Chinese scholars who were knowledgeable about the Chinese culture. This method was relevant because it gave the Europeans the quality information. They learned and appreciated the Chinese culture and also adopted the some of the interesting Chinese behavior.

In the arrangement of the Chinese mythical traditions, the Jesuits handled and adopted the Chinese presentation of sishu. For the essential sources of the Chinese traditions, they labeled them as a classical inscription of China. They used the Chinese experts in identification and naming of the geographical elements. The physical features were inclusive of the geographical features.

Before the arrival of the Jesuits in Europe, China had ventured in technological advancement. They had invented a clock that interested the Jesuits on their arrival in China. They became eager to learn about the Chinese civilization so that they could use the knowledge to spread Christianity. In the process, they learned most of the Chinese ways of life and transmitted it back to Europe. They also embraced some of the significant Chinese habits. For instance, Gregory has pointed out that they adopted Chinese cooking methods and transmitted them to Europe. They also learned the Chinese language so as to be able to translate the Bible in Chinese.

Another way that Jesuits involved in spreading the Chinese culture to Europe was through the fax. During the dark ages in Europe, China had advanced in industrialization and many Europeans migrated to China. Europe had majored in Christianity and they were busy spreading the Gospel. In the process of working together, there was some cultural exchange.

The main purpose of the Jesuits entrance in Europe was to champion the spread of Christianity. Mungello has pointed out that they convinced the Chinese scholarly class by learning some of Chinese classical writing. However, the Chinese doubted the goal of the Jesuits because of the presence of the Portuguese. The Portuguese appeared to be focusing much on the material things and this aspect confused them greatly. Therefore, the Jesuits mission in that land was accompanied with many challenges such as strange treatment. However, Gregory has acknowledged that despite the challenges the Jesuits managed to get information about Chinese culture and reflect them back to Europe.

Another aspect was the construction of the churches in a manner that was appealing to the Chinese. This method was meant to make the Chinese have a sense of belonging. They even wore the dresses that most Chinese preferred so that they could identify with them. The Jesuits ended up winning their trust and this aspect made them share a lot of information about the two cultures. The Jesuits transmitted the information they got back to Europe and used it also to spread Christianity.

If critically analyzed, the most significant process was the transfer of information from Europe to China. This process is the most significant because the Jesuits had more interest in spreading Christianity to the Chinese people. Lehner has pointed out that the use of journals and encyclopedias were expensive hence not the most suitable. Despite being the most detailed source of transmission of information, they were time-consuming. It took long time to interpret the journals and process them into meaningful information. It was important for them to invent strategies that would enable them attract the scholars and the intellectuals. This criterion was also significant in ensuring that these people would assist them in comprehending the Chinese language. It would also facilitate an efficient conveying of the necessary information about China back to their motherland.


Trade had a significant role during the Yuan times up to the Opium War period. Chinese were only involved in farming and other technological works within their country. They were not used to working with foreigners. However, a time came when the westerners were determined to conduct business with the Chinese. Nonetheless, trade seemed strange and new to the Chinese. The knowledge of trade was not received with ease by the Chinese. They fought against the westerners about conducting business with them. The poor relations between the two parties lasted for relatively a long period leading to wars. The Chinese would live in darkness if the westerners did not insist on trading with them. On the other hand, the Jesuits indeed played a significant role in ensuring that assimilation prevailed between the European and Chinese cultures. They chose their methods wisely in a manner that ensured that there was peaceful co-existence between the two cultures. Obtaining a means to translate the written and the oral was also an essential move in ensuring that they mediated between the two cultures successfully. Their tactics ensured that they were in proper control of the area hence success. People should embrace change and quickly adapt to changes. If the Chinese had taken the trade idea early enough, then the Opium wars would never have erupted .however, Chinese must be congratulated for accepting the Jesuits' advise that helped settle their differences with Europeans easily.

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