Is the Opium War a Defining Moment in Chinese History? A View from Trade Routes, Interregional Trade, and the Lower Yangzi

Xin Zhang
June 2010
Modern China Studies;2010, Vol. 17 Issue 2, p75
Academic Journal
For years, the Opium War has been considered by Chinese historians a defining moment in Chinese modern history: the beginning of China's modernization, the commencement of fully fledged Western imperialism, and the inception of semi-colonial period in China. The very notion that the event is a watershed between tradition and modernity has been deeply embedded in the psyche of not only those who study modern Chinese history but also the general public and even the movie makers. In deep contrast, however, most scholars in the United States will shy away from a question such as whether the Opium War is a defining moment in Chinese history, given the fact that the field of China studies has largely moved away from this kind of inquiry. Since the appearance of Paul Cohen's criticism of the "impact/response" paradigm known to be associated with John Fairbank and the "Harvard-school of sinologists," we have consciously or unconsciously avoided topics that would might be considered "Western centered" topics (Cohen). The question becomes not only relevant but also important to all of us today as we are all witnessing unprecedented changes in China, after it has open itself to the world since the late 1970s. Because this is the second time China has "opened up"- the first took place right after the Opium War, as a result of China's defeat in the war- it is necessary for us to reexamine how the war relates to the internal changes in the country to draw historical lessons from the past. In order to provide a fresh look at the matter, I approach the question from a unique angle: Rather than looking from the perspectives assumed by precious researchers, I will scrutinize the issue from an angle of trade routes. Step by step, I will discover the main trade routes: how they were utilized by long distance travelers to create an efficient and stable system of interregional trade; how the development of one of the main routes, the Yangzi River, provided opportunities for new cities like Shanghai; then how that system broke down when the Opium War took place; and how the war led to the rise of Shanghai and the opening of the lower Yangzi region, both of which hastened the shifting of main trade routes from the interregionally based to transnationally based. Through the following research, we will be able to see that the Opium War, though unintendedly contributed to the transition of China's trade system, shall not be considered a defining movement in Chinese history.


Related Articles

  • Atlas of shame.  // Geographical (Campion Interactive Publishing);Sep96, Vol. 68 Issue 9, p9 

    Reports that China will publish an atlas portraying the humiliation and invasions that world power inflicted on it since the first opium war.

  • Children changing `history.'  // Christian Science Monitor;11/4/96, Vol. 88 Issue 238, p20 

    Editorial. Focuses on interactive CD-ROMs, which allow children to change the history of Opium War of the 19th century, between Britain and China. Aims of the Chinese government; Information on the cartoon-book character Soccer Boy; Details of a touring exhibition arranged by Eastern...

  • From the Editors. MARVIN; BETTY // New Politics;Summer2010, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p5 

    An introduction to the journal is presented in which the editors discuss the cover design artist Lisa Lyons and several articles published within the issue, including one on female genital cutting and one on China's Opium War.

  • TIME TRIP.  // Current Events;9/29/2000, Vol. 100 Issue 4, p2 

    Accounts on the first Opium War in China. Involvement of Great Britain; Illegal importation of opium by European merchants; Impact of illegal opium trafficking on the economic condition; Effects of opium addiction on the military; Implication of the Treaty of Nanjing for the European traders.

  • When the empire relied on opium.  // New Statesman;10/9/2006, Vol. 135 Issue 4813, p20 

    The article presents a history of Britain's involvement in the trade in opium, in light of its attempts to halt drug trafficking in Afghanistan in 2006. Two Opium Wars were fought between Great Britain and China in the 19th century, in order to give the British the right to deal the drug in...

  • From Both Sides Now. Lovell, Julia // History Today;Jun2012, Vol. 62 Issue 6, p72 

    A review of the article "Wars of the Poppies," by Leslie Marchant, which appeared in this journal's May 2002 issue 5, volume 52, is presented.

  • First Opium War.  // Chinese American Forum;Oct-Dec2014, Vol. 30 Issue 2, p4 

    An excerpt regarding the First Opium War fought between Great Britain and China, from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is presented.

  • THE WARS OF THE POPPIES. Marchant, Leslie R. // History Today;May2002, Vol. 52 Issue 5, p42 

    Focuses on the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60. View on merchants in Confucian China; Outlooks that moulded Great Britain's approach to the world in general and Manchu China in particular; Reasons the threat of a drug culture developing in the empire emerged after the Portuguese...

  • Catholicism in Gansu.  // Chinese Sociology & Anthropology;Spring1994, Vol. 26 Issue 3, p23 

    The article focuses on Catholicism in Gansu Sheng, China. Foreign missionaries brought Catholicism into Gansu after the Opium Wars. It was the product of imperialist aggression. After its spread, many parishes were established and large numbers of churches built. Up to the time of Liberation,...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics