Opium Wars, two armed conflicts in China in the mid-19th century between the forces of Western countries and of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 to 1911/12. The first Opium War (1839–42) was fought between China and Britain, and the second Opium War (1856–60), also known as the Arrow War or the Anglo-French War in China, was fought by Britain and France against China. In each case the foreign powers were victorious and gained commercial privileges and legal and territorial concessions in China. The conflicts marked the start of the era of unequal treaties and other inroads on Qing sovereignty that helped weaken and ultimately topple the dynasty in favour of republican China in the early 20th century.
First Opium war
The First opium War arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade. Foreign traders (primarily British) had been illegally exporting opium mainly from India to China since the 18th century, but that trade grew dramatically from about 1820. The resulting widespread addiction in China was causing serious social and economic disruption there. In spring 1839 the Chinese government confiscated and destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium—some 1,400 tons of the drug—that were warehoused at Canton (Guangzhou) by British merchants.
Second Opium war
In the mid-1850s, while the Qing government was embroiled in trying to quell the Taiping Rebellion (1850–64), the British, seeking to extend their trading rights in China, found an excuse to renew hostilities. In early October 1856 some Chinese officials boarded the British-registered ship Arrow while it was docked in Canton, arrested several Chinese crew members (who were later released), and allegedly lowered the British flag. Later that month a British warship sailed up the Pearl River estuary and began bombarding Canton, and there were skirmishes between British and Chinese troops. Trading ceased as a stalemate ensued.