The Opium Trade
Western nations, mainly Britain, transported opium grown in India to China in the 18th and 19th centuries—despite the Chinese government's ban on its sale and use. The East India Company developed a method of cultivating the product cheaply and abundantly, and soon established a trade monopoly in the eastern province of Bengal. The Company subcontracted with small country traders, who shipped the contraband to smugglers along the Chinese coast, collected payment, and returned the gold and silver to the Company representative in Canton. Profits from opium sales went towards the purchase of items desired in the West, such as tea and silk. The illegal opium trade finally led to the outbreak of two trade wars—the Opium Wars.

Walter S. Sherwill. Illustrations of the Mode of Preparing the Indian Opium Intended for the Chinese Market. From drawings by Captain Walter S. Sherwill. London: J. Madden, 1851. Gift of Charles Wason

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