Britain's Opium Wars


  • John Newsinger



History, Imperialism


It is a little known fact that during the reign of Queen Victoria, the British capitalist state was the largest drug pusher the world has ever seen. The smuggling of opium into China was by the 1830s a source of huge profits, played a crucial role in the financing of British rule in India and was the underpinning of British trade throughout the East. This is one of those little historical details that are often overlooked in the history books where the opium trade is either played down or ignored altogether. Most recently Professor Denis Judd's Empire, a 500-page history of British Imperialism has no discussion of either the trade or the wars it occasioned, while the prestigious Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire has a couple of brief inadequate and uninformative paragraphs, a mere passing mention. The opium trade deserves more attention. It was, in the words of John K. Fairbanks, "the most long-continued and systematic international crime of modern times.

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