The British East India Company was making profits by exchanging opium for tea in China. When Chinese authorities tried to obstruct this traffic, Britain waged the Opium War (1839-1842) and through the treaty of Nanjing forced them to allow trade and to cede the island of Hong Kong. In the painting the mandarin called Li is ordering the destruction of 20,291 bales of opium. (World History Plusl)
The East India Company about this time took over the importation of opium to China and by 1830 the illegal traffic averaged almost three million pounds a year. The effort of the Chinese to stop this illegal traffic, coupled with trade disagreements between Cantonese and British merchants, resulted in the so-called opium war between England and China in which the British enforced their right of free trade. China had to pay a huge indemnity, open certain ports for trade, and Britain established a government monopoly by which Indian opium was sold to Chinese merchants.
East India Company's opium factory stacking room.
Some idea of the huge volume of opium imported to China is conveyed by this picture of the stacking room in the East India Company's opium factory at Patna, India. The East India Company developed a monopoly of opium cultivation in India but disengaged itself legally and officially from the illicit trade with China by using private merchants, the so-called "country ships," sailing under its license to transfer and sell the opium in China. Private traders, however, grew restive under this monopoly, and their discontent, combined with the more general free trade agitation in Great Britain, resulted in the abolition of the Company's monopoly of the China trade in 1833. This in turn led to a new influx of opium traders, including many Americans, and the extension of the traffic beyond the Canton region to the entire southeastern coast of China. (source: COSMEO)
Opium factory in India.
A documentary about the opium wars. Part of a series called "Guns Slaves and Drugs" by Tom Joseph