History KS3 / GCSE: Was the British Empire a force for good? (Part 1)

It was borne from the English passion for a cup of tea. In the early 19th Century, China was virtually the only place where tea was grown.

But for 300 years, the country had been closed off from international trade.

Tea brought significant revenue for the British government through taxation, but China was only prepared to trade in exchange for silver.

To get the tea they craved, the British had one thing the Chinese craved even more – opium.

The drug was illegal but there were an estimated 12 million Chinese peasants addicted to it.

Selling Indian opium for Chinese tea was one of the most lucrative deals empire traders had.

So when the Chinese Emperor seized control of more than 1,000 tonnes of British opium in 1839, the two great empires were set on a collision course.

The Chinese army were no match for Britain's gunboats and the country was forced to open up to British trade.

There are references to opium addiction in this clip.

This clip is from the series Empire.

Teacher Notes

This clip should be viewed within a wider study of the impact of the British Empire.

Students should be asked to use the clip as a means to assess if the British Empire was a force for good.

The clip could be paused at intervals for pupils to give interim assessments and also to ask questions.

Students might be surprised by the interpretation and could be encouraged to research this further but also investigate other interpretations of the role of the Empire.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching History. This topic appears in KS3, KS4 and GCSE in England and Northern Ireland. Also KS3 in Wales and National 4 and National 5 in Scotland.

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How did the British gain control of India?
Was the British Empire a force for good? (Part 2)
What can cricket tell us about the British Empire?
What legacy has the British Empire left behind?
What was the role of money and trade in the British Empire?
Rulers and ruled in the British Empire
Why does the British Empire matter?
Why was India so valuable to the British Empire?