Treaty of Nanking
The 29th of August 1842 AD
History is written by the victors, at least in the first place: for Britain, its triumph over the Qing Empire in the First Anglo-Chinese War was a blow for free trade and openness. That the free trade in question was at least in part the sale of opium by the British in China – hence the conflict’s other title, the First Opium War – puts a different slant on the situation for modern readers with the benefit of moral hindsight.
On August 29 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed aboard HMS Cornwallis anchored in the port of Nanking. It would be ratified later by Victoria and the Emperor.
From a position of strength Britain had negotiated an agreement where it alone gained: Hong Kong was ceded to Britain; the trade that had previously all been funnelled through Canton was opened up via four more ports; and massive reparations payable over three years were imposed on the Chinese (including for the opium they had disposed of at the beginning of the war), the losers even forced to pay Britain’s cost of waging the war. Not unnaturally the treaty and similar agreements caused lasting resentment in China.
For contemporary readers it is hard not to make comparisons, and wonder how certain similar easy military victories recently will be regarded in the fullness of time.
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