20 January 1841: Britain takes possession of Hong Kong

On this day in 1841, Hong Kong island was ceded to Britain following the Chuenpi Convention, along with a resumption of the opium trade.

The 1830s came as a rude shock for China. For centuries, the Chinese empire had been the preeminent power in the region, where it boasted the best bureaucracy, and the latest technology. It had got used to being revered. So when a band of uncivilised Westerners came knocking on the palace gates, the Chinese could be forgiven for thinking all was as it should be. The problem was the Chinese world view was badly out of date.

By the 19th century, China's glory days had long since passed. By contrast, Europe was revelling in the industrial revolution, and Britain was busy carving out a global empire. To do that, Britain needed China or rather, what it had to offer. True to the stereotype, the British had developed a sweet spot for tea. So much so, in fact, that tea imports accounted for 16% of customs revenue. It's been said that 83% of the Royal Navy's running costs could be met by levying taxes on tea alone. Britain felt it had to address this unequal balance of trade. So, it searched its new territories in India and came up with just the export opium.

Opium was no big deal in Britain, where it was ingested as medicine. But the Chinese took a dim view of the narcotic. In China the drug was smoked and took a devastating toll on the health of the nation. The trade also consumed valuable reserves of silver used as currency, and of which China was running short. None of this stopped British traders from unloading the drug at Canton, modern-day Guangzhou. In March 1839, the Chinese ordered the traders to surrender the cargo worth £2m, which at the last moment was guaranteed by the British government. The Chinese seized and destroyed 20,283 chests containing opium, outraging the government in London (who would have had to pick up the bill) and public opinion. Faced with a modern army and navy, China found itself outmatched in the fighting that followed. On 20 January 1841, Hong Kong island was ceded to Britain at the Chuenpi Convention along with a resumption of the opium trade.

Recommended

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed
This day in history

28 May 1937: the Volkswagen car company is formed

On this day in 1937, Volkswagen, now the world's second-biggest vehicle-maker, was founded as the 'Society to Prepare the German People’s Car'.
28 May 2021
1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed
This day in history

20 March 1602: Dutch East India Company formed

The Dutch East India Company – considered by many to be the world’s first multinational company – was founded on his day in 1602.
20 Mar 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021

Most Popular

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021
Two shipping funds to buy for steady income
Investment trusts

Two shipping funds to buy for steady income

Returns from owning ships are volatile, but these two investment trusts are trying to make the sector less risky.
7 Sep 2021
Should investors be worried about stagflation?
US Economy

Should investors be worried about stagflation?

The latest US employment data has raised the ugly spectre of “stagflation” – weak growth and high inflation. John Stepek looks at what’s going on and …
6 Sep 2021