The desire took over and sparked an interest in trading in order to obtain more tea than was already accessible in England. As a result, China became one of England's most important trading partners throughout the Victorian era. Because of their quality silk, China was also a key commercial partner. However, trade relations between the two countries were not always positive, with wars breaking out between 1856 and 1860 and 1880-1885.
As well as importing Chinese products such as tea, silk and porcelain, England exported goods such as timber and meat to China. One item that China did not want or need was opium which England began exporting there in 17th century. The Chinese government tried to stop its import but it still played a major role in causing addiction among the population. This is why Britain and America started trading with China; they wanted to get rid of their own supplies of opium.
Britain's involvement in the First Opium War against China in 1839-1842 was followed by the Second Opium War in 1856. France, Russia, Japan and America all took part in this conflict too. When China refused to pay compensation to Britain for losses incurred during the war, the British government decided to strengthen its presence in India where much of its Asian trade went through. This would give it better access to the Chinese market.
In fact, after 1840 Britain turned its attention away from Europe and focused all its efforts on Asia.
British firms acquired large quantities of Chinese tea, as well as luxuries such as silks, porcelain, and other ornamental products. The rich Chinese were also big fans of British gold, silver, and jewelry. Toward the close of the 18th century, British ships began bringing into China a more contentious item: gunpowder.
As early as 1757, a Chinese official complained that his country was becoming "a powder keg." This was not because China had any fear of invasion, but rather because of the destructive power of this new commodity. Gunpowder was being used to make bombs, and these bombs were being thrown at Chinese cities during riots over trade disputes and other issues between the two countries.
The British continued to trade with China until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. By then, the world's most powerful nation had become enamored with manufacturing industry and no longer needed to rely on foreign suppliers for essential goods.
China was not ready to give up its lucrative trade with Britain though. Over the next few decades, there were several attempts by Beijing to revive it, but without much success. In 1833, Britain and China signed a treaty under which both nations agreed to stop arming against each other. This treaty is now considered one of the first peace agreements by neither side in modern times.
In addition to guns and gunpowder, Britain imported silk from China and sold American cotton items to the country.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the trade in Chinese items such as tea, silks, and porcelain had become enormously profitable for British merchants. The British began trading with China legally in 1834, when they established the Shanghai International Settlement. This settlement was protected by treaty from foreign intrusion and served as a base for business dealings with China.
The British government also set up trading stations on the Indian Ocean coast where they could sell opium that had been grown in India. The profits from this drug trade with China helped the British government pay for the expeditionary forces that were fighting the French in Asia. When the Chinese banned the importation of British opium in 1773, the British government responded by banning the export of Chinese goods to Britain. But despite this ban, China remained one of Britain's most important markets. By the time of Queen Victoria's accession in 1837, there were almost 200 British merchants living in Shanghai.
China's opening to the world in 1842 led directly to the decline of its lucrative opium trade. Opium smoking was becoming popular among the urban middle class in China who saw it as a mark of modernity. But the drug was also used as currency outside of China's legal economy and this practice contributed to China's economic problems.