The following are my insights on materials from professional organizations, including the AHA and AAS. The AHA gives the reader the opportunity to answer their own questions by coming up with questions and then giving accompanying sources. I was surprised to discover though that most of these sources cannot be accessed because the links are invalid. Also, sources do seem to be in the wrong place. For example, I found a map of China during the warring states period in with the imperialism section. While there may have been imperialism back then, it was many, many centuries before the western countries engagement in Chinese imperialism.
One time-period appropriate link that did work led me to a letter to Queen Victoria. In this letter, the Chinese argue that, since the foreigners were taking some of their wealth, the Chinese should receive some of the foreigners wealth. Furthermore, they argue that the opium is detrimental to the Chinese people. Yet, because this is a diplomatic letter, the Chinese specifically state that they do not think that the English mean to purposefully poison the Chinese people. They further mention that opium is banned in Great Britain, showing that the British know of its dangers. Thus, the Chinese argument is that the British simply don’t care about what they’re doing to the Chinese people.
It is my opinion that the arguments the Chinese made in this letter are valid. However, looking back, there was no way that a distant Queen Victoria, focused on enhancing the British empire, would stop the opium trade. It is only in recent years that the idea of universal human rights, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or country of origin, has gained mass popularity. She would have been blocked by her natural ethnocentrism, which would tell her that the Chinese were sub-human and thus not worthy of consideration. What’s more, arguments were made at the time that addiction was the fault of those who were addicted, not of those who had gotten them addicted. This has only been partially refuted in recent years, with widespread media coverage of the heroin epidemic.
Also, at that time (and, to some extent, now), the world was ruled by a “might makes right” policy. China had lived in centuries of isolation and thus did not have a large army and navy. Also, it did not yet have access to Western inventions, including military ones, like cannons and guns. Had these above not been true, perhaps the Chinese could have fought off the European imperialists.
Information courtesy of:
n.d. “Modern History Sourcebook: Comissioner LIn: Letter to Queen Victoria, 1839.” Fordham University. Accessed December 1, 2020. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1839lin2.asp.