The First Opium War (1839–42), also known as the Opium War and as the Anglo-Chinese War, was fought between Great Britain and China over their conflicting viewpoints on diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice for foreign nationals.
Chinese goods, particularly silk, spices and tea were in high demand in European countries. However, the market for Western goods in China was virtually non-existent, partly because China was largely self-sufficient and trade laws denied foreigners access to China's interior. In addition the Chinese Emperor banned the trade of most European goods, leaving silver and gold as the only acceptable method of payment. This caused a silver shortage back in Europe and became a significant hindrance to trade. This trade deficit was alleviated when the Europeans found a product the Chinese consumers did want; highly addictive opium. While this too was banned by the Emperor, smuggling of the drug was rampant.The silver deficit was quickly reduced and eventually reversed. However, as a result of this new trade, the number of opium addicts increased, which greatly concerned successive emperors.
Before the conflict, Chinese officials attempted to end the spread of opium, and confiscated around 20,000 chests of opium (approximately 1.21 gigagrams or 2.66 million lb)from British traders. The British government, although not officially denying China's right to control imports of the drug, objected to this seizure and used its military power to enforce violent redress.
In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking—the first of what the Chinese later called the unequal treaties—granted an indemnity and extraterritoriality to Britain, the opening of five treaty ports, and the cession of Hong Kong Island, thereby ending the trade monopoly of the Canton System. The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the Second Opium War (1856–60).The war is now considered in China as the beginning of modern Chinese history.