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Saturday, 9 April 2011

Great Britain's H.E.I.C. Nemesis for China.

Sometimes grand achievements are blighted by dreadful origins. I suppose we sometimes look back at the Roman Empire, or any other, and think of its wonders but don't take into account the suffering of the many that succumbed to such power of a grand empire - the many people that are caught up in its suffering. I think this is often so of the British Empire. Sometimes something grand comes out of dreadful and ominous beginnings. It's no consolation to those who suffered the horrendous beginning, however. 


Model of H.E.I.C. Nemesis
In the late 1830s, Great Britain was full of private overseas companies searching the orient for trade. These British run companies would often use the vast Royal Navy to protect their trade interests. When looking at the vast areas of land, that Great Britain was beginning to rule; the empty areas of Australia, Canada and Africa paled when compared to the vast oceans used to gain access to the ageing civilizations of China and India.

Technology wise, the old and ancient civilizations of Asia had become stagnant but their produce of food and other materials offered vast bounties for the entrepreneurs of Europe – especially the British who had gained an enormous advantage with the growth of its Navy and developing industrial abilities.

The rulers of China had become over confident in their old and, once mighty, territory. In reality, the nation of China was less of a match for the more unscrupulous trade companies and adventurers of Great Britain then realised. Sometimes the vast and very great Empire of Great Britain is seen in a perspective of grand achievement, but it is also fair to look at it in another light – the one which shows immoral civilian profiteers using evil methods of acquiring trade.

The British business companies of the time wanted Chinese tea, which was now very popular in Great Britain and other parts of the Empire. Instead of using money to trade for tea, the British transported and used opium as a currency for China's tea and caused a terrible drug problem.

When the Chinese rulers witnessed the apathy and degradation that opium caused among its population they tried to halt the trade of opium. The British companies would not oblige by the Chinese rulers’ demands and attempted to continue trading in opium. Therefore, China excluded Great Britain from trading in their ports.

The British industrialists called upon the British government to employ the Royal Navy to protect their interests and in 1839 began to attack Chinese ports and occupy them with land forces.
H.E.I.C. Nemesis destroying Chinese Junks in 1841

During one of the prominent events of the First Opium War, in 1841, a state of the art ship owned by the East India Company called H.E.I.C. Nemesis went up the River Yangtze after Canton was captured by the British. Chinese junk ships were sent to confront the huge paddle steamer but the fire power of the East India company, British ship, was devastating and the fleet of junks were destroyed or dispersed. The British continued up the river and captured the tax barges, which denied the Chinese government huge revenue. It was the major blow to China’s Qing authority – the war lasted until 1842 when Chinese Qing authorities in Peking were forced to sue for peace. The Treaty of Nanking was signed and Great Britain gained Hong Kong as a foothold into China – a deep water port, and a way of trusting imperial China to stick to its part of the bargain.

The British continued to trade opium for tea. Hong Kong developed into a huge industrial powerhouse, becoming a place of prominent trade and commerce until this day. The British remained in Hong Kong until 1997, but the blighted Opium Wars brought about this legacy.



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