Why Britain wanted to Open China to Trade

My dad recently emailed me a pdf of a history book his cousin wrote on Chinese immigrants to America and Canada. That side of my family sailed over in 1887 and landed in Victoria. In reading through it, I came upon the following reason for Britain’s forcing China into a trade relationship in the mid 19th century. Interestingly, one of the main results of opening China from a Christian point of view was God’s raising up of an indigenous Christian group that has recovered many truths and practices in the Scriptures, and whose fellowship I now enjoy.

China’s efforts to stem the tide of illegal opium might have succeeded had Peking grasped an important but subtle change in its trade relations with Great Britain. Heretofore, European traders had been interested in the goods China had to offer-tea, silk, porcelain and other products-and China generously opened its ports to these traders. China neither needed or wanted any goods in return; it already possessed “all things in prolific abundance” and lacked “no product within its borders.” But at this time the British began thinking of China primarily as a market for its own goods. The British wanted to make China part of its commercial empire, which had blossomed during the Industrial Revolution. To have a market for its cotton yarn and goods, vehicles, machines, ships and guns was the chief ambition of British capitalism. Ideally, these foreign markets would in return provide raw materials and agricultural products. With its 400 million customers, untapped mineral resources and fertile land, China was a prize, to be taken at all costs. The navy was Britain’s most powerful weapon for achieving that goal. Commercially-based and trade-minded, the navy played a pivotal role in the acquisition of colonies. By 1839 it had opened the way for its “nation of shopkeepers” in North America, Australia, New Zealand and India, and was ready to bring one of the oldest world civilizations into the capitalist system. 

Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World – Anthony B. Chan


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