An Insight From The Opium war
The entire world is witnessing a COVID19 pandemic due to the novel coronavirus the roots of which is believed to belong to the Chinese soil and therefore there are people who prefer to call the novel coronavirus as Chinese virus. Looking into the conduct of Chinese government it is quite clear that in the 21st century the Chinese have been involved in various kinds of treacherous activities be it an Anti-Satellite Test of 2007, aggressive outer space man oeuvres and stances, One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR, announced in 2013) or Chinese Debt Trap diplomacy. China is a big civilization like India and both the countries went through tough times of crisis due to foreign invasions.
The present-day China although appears to have a strong economy, it is still very much different from what it used to be. The ascent of China is considered as a serious threat because of its notorious activities, “Salami Slicing” tactics (strategies involving divide and conquer process of threats and alliances to overcome opposition and acquire new territories) and expansionist policies. Thus, it becomes imperative to fathom the Chinese mindset.
The territorial claims of People Republic of China (hereafter PRC or China) have engaged Chinese into persistent disputes with its neighbors and other countries. The aggressive policies of China aiming at expansion of its territory have been a major part of Chinese policy and upon examining the early modern history of China we find that several events in the past have been responsible for shaping the national mindset. Historically, China has been the center of global political power, having great influence in the present-day Asia, as a result, the Sino centric perception in the history has been of Cultural, Religious, Social and Political dominance. The olden days Chinese considered them to be the ‘Centre of Universe’ surrounded by foreign countries and communities whereas the foreign countries were regarded as “inferior” as well as “barbarian”, especially “culturally barbarian”. Chinese, during those times, considered the Chinese Confucianism as something that was much more superior ideology than any other system. However, the changing paradigms in the early modern history posed new challenges for China which the Chinese refused to accept and this led to humiliation and misery for the Chinese.
"The olden days Chinese considered them to be the ‘Centre of Universe’ surrounded by foreign countries and communities whereas the foreign countries were regarded as “inferior” as well as“barbarian”, especially “culturally barbarian”. Chinese, during those times, considered the Chinese Confucianism as something that was much more superior ideology than any other system"
What gives China a sense of being China? What gives Chinese the sense of what it is to be Chinese? China, unlike the western state, is shaped by its sense of Civilization. China is a Civilization state rather than a Nation state and its history of years of conquest, occupation, absorption, and assimilation have nurtured the Civilization state of China. China is a new kind of paradigm.
Going back in the 18th century, the Chinese goods were in great demand in the West. As a result, the demand for products like Chinese tea, silk and porcelain grew in London. Chinese however needed little the West could provide. The Chinese Qing government mandated that goods can only be traded for Silver and this resulted in drain of wealth for the British in the form of Silver. The British became fearful of too much precious coin leaving the country and in order to rectify the trade deficit with China, the British introduced Opium to Chinese consumers in exchange for Silver, the strategy worked for London and Opium gave the western powers a chance to enter into the Chinese market which has long been impenetrable.
The Chinese allowed British to open trading station at Canton in 1737 after its arrival on Chinese land in 1637. The British through East India Company (EIC) established a trading scheme; partially legal and partially illegal for smuggling Opium into China. They opened a triangular trade of Opium-smuggling Opium from the British India into China. The British marketed Opium aggressively after they took control of the main producing areas in British India. The British exports of Opium to China grew manifold and its trade deficit with China turned into trade surplus. The Chinese started accepting Opium in lieu of precious coins. Americans also entered the Opium trade. The British, the Americans, the Portuguese and other European nations took to Opium trade with China because of their chronic imbalance with China. Despite several decrees by the Chinese government the smuggling of processed (at Benares & Patna) Opium in China by EIC continued. Though the Chinese imposed ban on Opium import, opium exports from India grew from 77 metric ton (by 1775 AD) to 300 metric ton (by 1800 AD) and to 2500 metric ton (in 1839 AD). The Chinese delegation to International Opium Commission of Shanghai (in 1909 AD) reported a peak of 350000 metric ton of domestic production of Opium in 1906. The enormous production of 35000 metric ton in 1906 can be understood by comparing it with Afghanistan which produces almost 95% of Opium today. In 2007, it produced 9000 metric ton of Opium. The Chinese reserves have declined, the number of Opium addicts in the country increased and too many people were loafing around leading to decline in the Industrial output. Opium trade has long term implications for the Chinese government and the society. The Chinese emperor Daoguang imposed restrictions on Opium trade, the emperor’s step backfired, eventually London became angry and responded by sending its Navy to China demanding compensation. Conflict started and that led to the First Opium War between China and British.
"The British won the First Opium war which gave them more control over the Opium trade in China. The Chinese ports were opened for Opium trade and Hong Kong was given to Britain. The Chinese empire felt humiliated at the defeat by merely 44 British navy ships."
The British won the First Opium war which gave them more control over the Opium trade in China. The Chinese ports were opened for Opium trade and Hong Kong was given to Britain. The Chinese empire felt humiliated at the defeat by merely 44 British navy ships. The other world powers sought this as an opportunity to exploit the situation and enter the Opium market of China. The Second Opium war waged by British and French opened new ports for the British to trade Opium and ensured that the opium continues to generate wealth for the British Empire. It started when Chinese authorities seized a Chinese ship (for involvement in smuggling and piracy) bearing British flag. The British, the American and the French gained access to several trading ports allowing them expand through all of China. Chinese markets were flooded with Opium leading to rise in British India exports. The Chinese were forced to legalize Christianity and Opium. Furthermore, in 1887 the Chinese ceded the port city of Macau to the Portuguese.
The ruling emperor of China felt embarrassed at the unfavorable terms of surrender. European powers have formed a regional coalition in Asia threatening the Chinese historical superiority. The Chinese experienced a period of Social Unrest led by foreign encroachment and followed by Yellow river flood of 1887.In 1894-95 the Qing dynasty lost Korean peninsula and Taiwan to Japanese. The Japanese force of 240000 troops defeated strong Chinese army of 630000 troops. In 1899, the Qing dynasty empress Cixi along with Boxer Rebellions (a peasant uprising aimed at driving foreigners out of Chinese soil) declared war against United Kingdom, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Austria, Netherlands and United States of America. The nine nation coalition army defeated the Chinese imperial army and major cities were occupied and local people faced ruthless atrocities. The Russian-Japanese war of 1904-05 further weakened the Qing dynasty. The imperialist demand increased and the desire to see a unified China gave rise to revolutionary movements. The revolutionary groups intensified their activities in China. Qing dynasty witnessed frequent revolts demanding Constitutional Monarchy. In 1912 the Qing dynasty was overthrown in a revolution. China became a Democratic Republic. Sun Yat-Sen was declared the President of the new Republic. This was the first revolution for a complete change which China was to witness in 1949. Although the new government created the Republic of China it failed to create a unified China. The foreign countries remained neutral with the sole aim of protecting their interest gained through various treaties signed with the Qing dynasty. The United States was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the newly formed Republican government. It was soon followed by British, Japan and Russia. The absence of a central strong power led to the emergence of small provinces being governed by warlords. China witnessed mass unrest for the next thirty years. The 1925 Civil war forced the Chinese to focus inwards. Japanese and Russian forces invaded the Manchurian region in the 1930’s. In 1937 Japan again invaded China leading to continuous defeats for the Chinese. The Japanese killed lakhs of Chinese citizens and soldiers. The Japanese army committed mass murder and mass rape of the citizens of Nanjing (Nanjing Massacre), the then capital of China.
The 1940 witnessed an important event in the history of China. Widespread disparities existed between the wealthy coastal cities and eastern cities of China, and Mao Zedong, the then president of Communist Party took advantage of the disparity and raised an army. The poor peasants formed the majority of the army. They stood against the Japanese and it was after a long that Chinese were able to stand against a foreign aggressor. They drove Japan out of the mainland of China. Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China. In 1958, Mao introduced the Great Leap Forward policy aiming at industrializing the agrarian societies. All private firms were placed under the care of the government and millions of people were moved from rural areas to work in industries. The Great Leap Forward policy of Mao failed because of the overstated estimates of production, pressure on the Communist officials to perform and exchange of crops for heavy machineries with the Soviet Union.
This resulted in famine during 1959 to 1961. The economic decline caused by the Great Leap Forward has lasting effect for the next twenty years. Although the true power lied with Mao, he took a backseat in the government. In 1966, with the aim of comeback and gaining power he launched the Cultural Revolution. He motivated the students, frustrated peasants and soldiers to denounce and challenge the authorities. Mao Zedong consolidated the power under the guise of Cultural Revolution. For most of the 20th century the China is shaped and designed according to the will of the Communist government. The Communist ideology has its roots in the post-Opium era which is a period of humiliation and disgrace for China. The period from 1839 to 1939 shaped the current geo-political mindset of China. The Chinese consider majority of the treaties signed during 1839-1939 as unfair.
Undoubtedly, the Chinese bloodsheds and humiliation of past have shaped the modern Chinese mindset, therefore, Chinese hardly trust on the international agencies and foreign nationals. In fact, for Chinese, the international agreements are aimed at keeping a check on its Chinese sovereignty. The present Chinese policy makers strongly believe that in the past they have been defeated because of their defensive strategies; therefore, the Chinese has sought the solution in in the aggressive policies towards the outside world and have adopted the ideology of ‘Developmental Nationalism’ and modern-day China has strong nationalistic system with the focus on becoming an economic power. As a result, the Chinese mindset and the growth cannot be simply understood with the conventional approach that is dominated by the western ideology. China is different, its past has been different and the future is going to be different and the modern Chinese mindset will mutate only when hell freezes over.
(Authors are experts on various Economic issues, Science & Technology, International Relations and Strategic Affairs. Dr.Siddharth Singh is working as Assistant Professor, Department of Economics in DAV, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India and Dr.Kunwar Alkendra Pratap Singh is an Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India)