Themes and Goals
Through an examination of the 19th-century England-China opium trade, this unit introduces students to the encounters between China and the West as China and England sought to resolve a range of issues relating to trade, diplomatic relationships, and intercultural communication. By assigning students a particular side in the dispute over the opium trade, the exercise will encourage them to speak from another's perspective, enhance critical thinking skills, and be active participants in class discussions.
The unit addresses themes including the nature of imperialism and its impact on China and the conflict between Chinese and English conceptions of trade, morality, diplomatic relations, political systems, legal customs, and the rights of the individual. The unit can also be used to explore the connections between the historical conflicts over the drug trade and other cultural issues and contemporary examples involving globalization, legal and diplomatic rights, human rights, and cultural encounters.
Audience and Uses
This unit can be used in secondary school and undergraduate classes, both in class and in online teaching in the following disciplines:
Student Readings and Films
The following readings are taken from a variety of primary and secondary sources. They can be found compiled in print in:
Readings in Global History, Vol. II , Revised 2nd Edition. Edited by Anthony SNYDER and Sherri WEST. Dubuque , IA : Kendall-Hunt, 1997. Pages 149-188. The readings are presented here by permission of Kendall-Hunt.
The readings are divided into three sections: A) Secondary Resources and Historical Background, B) “Pro-China”/Chinese Point of View, and C) “Pro-West”/Western Point of View. See the classroom activity section below for further instructions on selecting readings. Films are listed in section D.
A. Historical Background
B. "Pro-China" / Chinese Point of View
C. Pro West / Western Point of View
Suggested Videos for use if Time Permits
Dealing with the Demon Directed by Chris Hilton and David Roberts.
“China : The Mandate of Heaven,”
This assignment can be completed in two split classes (80 min. periods each) or can be spread over one week (5 sessions.) If it is necessary to cover this in one three hour class, provide students with sufficient background in a prior class, and give them time to read and prepare the written worksheet before the three-hour class.
A. Student Readings and Background Lecture (1-1 ½ hours)
Assign students background readings on China during the Ming or Qing from your textbook, from section A of the Student Readings above, and/or from section A of Instructor Resources and Further Reading below .
In lecture, provide a brief overview of China 's history since 1500, focusing on the wealth of the Qing dynasty, China's role in the global economy, the Chinese government attitudes towards trade, government, diplomacy, and Chinese philosophical beliefs.
Background videos: If you have time, show the recommended short segment from the “Legacy” series. Explain the Chinese view of trade by focusing on trade at the port of Canton . This could be followed by the recommended 10-minute clip from Dealing with the Demon .
Assign students a role— Chinese or English—for a debate to take place in the next class (if this is a secondary school setting, have students work on their assignment for several days, with the debate scheduled to extend over 2 classes at the end of the week). For a class of 30, you can break the class into six groups of five students each, so that all can participate actively within their group. You can also assign specific roles within each category. For example, have students take the role of a Chinese or English merchant, official, diplomat, missionary, or average person, and ask students to speak from that particular view in the debate. Most of the assigned readings provide specifics to enable students to do this, with the possible exception of the missionary and the ordinary person, but the supplementary readings have primary reading selections from which to choose.
B. Preparation for Student Debate
Assign students a point of view in the opium dispute — Chinese (see section B of Student Readings) or English (see section C of Student Readings). Provide students with a “worksheet” that includes the following questions. Ask them to answer the questions from their assigned perspective, using the assigned readings. Answers should be recorded on the student worksheet. An adequate written answer to each question is a paragraph or two. (See below for a sample student response.) Encourage students to be detailed in their written responses so they can speak from their worksheets during the debate. The questions will not be covered systematically during the debate; instead the worksheet will serve as a reference for students.
If you are grading each student for this assignment, you can ask students to make a copy of their worksheet and collect them at the beginning of the class. You can also assign a group grade based on their collective work during the debate. If the class is very large, you can also create a group of judges — the judges can discuss the worksheet questions as the “Chinese” and “British” are meeting and then pass judgment on the merits of each side's arguments.
Questions for Student Worksheet:
C. Student Debate in Class or Online
Divide students into groups of 4-6, depending on the size of the class. Give them 15-20 minutes to discuss their findings with the goal of selecting the five best arguments for their side, along with the reasons for their choice(s).
Group Presentations. 15 minutes. Select one group to begin. Give each group approximately five minutes to present the arguments for their side. List the arguments for each side on the board. Depending on the size of the group, it is possible to incorporate questions and a group discussion into these presentations. It often becomes chaotic, but is more spontaneous and generates more excitement. Try it both ways.
Discussion/Debate. 30 minutes. Students can ask questions and debate/rebut any point listed on the board. What usually follows is a spirited discussion where even the most reticent students become involved. The instructor acts as recorder and moderator, though a student could also do this.
Summary/Debriefing. 15-20 minutes. With the remaining time, cover the outcome of the first Opium War by examining the terms of the Treaties of Nanjing and Wang-Hea and explain Chinese reactions to the War by looking at reform and rebellion. Throughout the debriefing discussion, introduce references to today's war against drugs (the last worksheet question) or other contemporary issues to enliven debate.
D. Student Example
The following is a sample of particularly good student responses to question one.
Student Example: English Perspective
The Hong merchants are clearly negligent with regards to “free trade,” the very basis of which our great nation has flourished and expanded. They regard our tributary gifts as mere toys, with absolutely no concept of the level of mathematics, science, and precise craftsmanship needed to produce such finery. Yet they have the audacity to call us “barbarians.” Our technology is superior, our weaponry is superior and our knowledge of the world is superior. Then how can they call us barbarians? Particularly when we know that the white race is superior. Quote from the reading, #40: “The Hong merchants are extortionate in their demands for tariffs on our cotton, and various excise tax on goods we buy. Since they have a monopoly on all trade with China , there is no way to lower their prices through increased competition.
Student Example: Chinese Perspective
The opium trade is something that is very hazardous to our country and needs to be put to an end. His Majesty the Emperor is furious about the situation at hand. He has decided that no more opium will be allowed to enter our country. The barbarians that bring it over to China are seducing our people and poisoning them with it. “Such persons who only care to profit themselves, and disregard their harm to others, are not tolerated by the laws of Heaven and are unanimously hated by human beings.” There is not one export that China distributes to other countries that are harmful. All are beneficial. Why should we continue to trade with them if they are doing nothing but hurting our country? We can get along fine without trading with your barbarians, but will they survive without our trade?
Instructor Resources and Further Reading
A. Historical Overviews
De Bary, Wm. Theodore, Richard Lufrano. Sources of Chinese Tradition. 2 nd ed. Vol. 2. New York : Columbia University Press, 2000.
Schirokauer, Conrad. A Brief History of Chinese Civilization . Harcourt Brace: New York : Harcourt Brace, 1990.
Schoppa, R. Keith. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York : Columbia University Press, 2000.
B. Supplementary Resources
Internet East Asia History Sourcebook
Baumler, Alan, ed. Modern China and Opium: A Reader Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 2001.
Booth, Martin. Opium: A History . New York : St. Martin 's Press, 1998.
Brook, Timothy, Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, eds. Opium Regimes: China , Britain , and Japan , 1839-1952. University of California Press, 2000.
Fairbank, John King. The Great Chinese Revolution: 1800-1985, New York : Harper Collins, 1987.
Empires in Collision: The Genius That Was China . [Film] Production of Film Australia in association with WGBH, Boston for NOVA Publisher. Northbrook , IL : Coronet Film & Video, 1990. 58 min. Producer & writer, John Merson; producer & director, David Roberts, Narrated by Richard Kiley.
Perdue, Peter. “ China in the Early Modern World: Short Cuts, Myths, and Realities.” Education About Asia 4, no. 1 (1999): 21-26
Rowe, William T. “ China and the World, 1500-1800. ” In Asia in Western and World History: A Curriculum Guide, edited by Ainslee T. Embree and Carol Gluck, 466-473. New York : M.E. Sharpe, 1997.
Watt, John. “Qianlong Meets Macartney: Collision of Two World Views.” Education About Asia 5, no. 3 (2000): 6-18. (http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/watt.htm ).
Historical Research on Drug Policy 1800-1850, Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/history/1800.htm