The most significant cause of European imperialism in China during the 18th and 19th century was the desire for natural resources and goods in China, such as silk, spices, and tea, which were so highly sought by European powers that it indirectly led to the Opium Wars, which impacted China for years to come. There was a great request for Chinese silk and porcelain, but Britain did not have adequate silver to exchange with the Qing Empire (Ebrey, Buddey 32-33). Henceforth, a system of bargaining centered around opium was made to resolve this issue of trade, but disagreements among the Qing and British over the drug eventually heightened into the notorious Opium Wars (Lin Zexu 50). This is historically significant because this detrimentally affected Chinese society in a multitude of ways, which could have been avoided by using silver or currency. The Chinese were importing so much opium that everyone had become addicted and had built a dependency for it, creating a demand, as well as a market that was controlled entirely by the British.
The situation was even more dire once the Chinese government tried to intervene and prohibit it, but the English merchants smuggled the opium in. The English were deliberately benefiting at the cost of the Chinese, as they still received the highly sought after Chinese goods, as if they were using silver, with almost no cons to using this substitute. The ensuing exponential increase of opium in China, due to dependency, addictions and ultimately the British, brought an era of societal precariousness and insecurity, which was very harmful to Chinese society for generations to come.
The most significant method of imperialism in China was the utilization of the Opium Wars to further European influence, which exemplifies imperialism as the English forced their values, as well as opium on to the Chinese for British gain. Amidst the end of the Qing Dynasty, China sent out numerous products to European nations including tea, silk, and porcelain. During this period of extensive exports, China didn’t import as much (Ebrey, Buddey 32-33). China for the most part minded its own business and just enabled outside dealers to exchange goods through specific ports. Keeping in mind the end goal was to make another market in China, British dealers with the British East India Company began to import opium into China. As more Chinese became dependent on opium, British dealers started to profit off of selling opium, but the Chinese government didn’t want or need opium. This ideal was recognized after removing corrupt officials who took bribes from the British, and putting into place Lin Zexu.
His disgust in the drug is shown in a letter to Queen Victoria, monarch of Britain at the time where he states, “All those people in China who sell opium or smoke opium should receive the death penalty” (Lin Zexu 50).” There was now a large, noticeably large number of the population dependent on the drug, but due to Lin no opium was able to be smuggled in. Before long, battling broke out between the two sides and the Opium War started once the British had too much excess opium due to Lin’s strictness. The most significant effect of European imperialism in China was the collapse of the last Chinese imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty, which ruled China since 1644. In the early 1900s, the Qing Dynasty began to crumble as a result of many rebellions and revolts. More significantly, the Europeans had weakened the Chinese economy by instigating the Opium wars, which when added to the internal rebellions and revolts led to famine, weakening all of China and cutting its population (Ebrey, Patricia Buddy 34).
1890 thru 1900, was a period of embarrassment for China, yet insurgents, like Sun Yat Sen were compelled to end the debasing treatment that China was forced to experience. Sun Yat Sen was a vital figure to the Chinese society around the turn of the eighteenth century. As a patriot and political pioneer, he helped China ascend out of foreign control, and declare independence as a Republic that embraced western routes in industry, farming and commerce. Unless China did this, Sun was persuaded that it was destined to stay in reverse by western principles. He was the first president of the Republic of China and was able to strengthen the gaps that existed to due to corruption and the weak central government (Facinghistory.
org). Unfortunately, once he died, China fell back into bickering regions led by different military commanders.