Treaty of Nanjing

(1842)

The Treaty of Nanjing ended the Opium War of 1839–1842 and created the framework for a new commercial and diplomatic relationship between Great Britain and the Qing Empire of China. By demanding that China open new ports, fix regular tariffs on imports and exports, and abolish the merchant guild, or “Cohong,” system of commerce, the Treaty of Nanjing rectified for the British what they considered to be long-standing problems in their dealings with the Chinese. In the immediate sense, then, the Treaty of Nanjing provided a legal and enforceable means of maintaining a “harmonious” relationship between China and Great Britain.

In a larger sense the 1842 treaty did far more than settle a trade dispute. It opened a new chapter in the history of global power and provided a template for the dominance of Western trading nations in East Asia for roughly a century. As the first of many “unequal” treaties between modern mercantile nations and traditional East Asian societies, the...

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Illustration of an attack by the Chinese on a British boat in Canton River during the Opium War (Library of Congress)

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