History KS3 / GCSE: The First Opium War, 1838-1842

Historian Michael Wood visits a tea market to see the importance of the tea trade to Britain.

The role of the British East India Company in expanding the tea trade, and then the opium trade, is discussed with Professor Zheng Yangwen of Manchester University.

Opium was grown in British India, and smuggled into China. The Chinese resisted the opium trade. This led to war, after the Chinese destroyed all the British opium in China.

The Chinese army and navy were no match for the British navy.

As a result of losing the Opium War, China was forced to sign what the Chinese call the 'unequal treaties,' and give ports to Britain and other foreign powers.

The Chinese refer to this period as the 'Century of Humiliation'.

This clip is from the BBC series The Story of China. A series of short films exploring the stories, people and landscapes that have helped create China's distinctive character and genius over four thousand years.

Teacher Notes

You could ask your pupils to draw a diagram showing the triangular trade between Britain, India and China.

You could then ask:

Where else have they come across a triangular trade?

What does the Opium War tell us about the East India Company?

You could finish by discussing how significant the Opium War was in the history of China:

Which criteria will your pupils use to define 'significance'?

Curriculum Notes

This short film is relevant for teaching history at Key Stage 3 and 4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and at Third and Fourth Level in Scotland.

More from The Story of China

The Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864
The Rise of Mao ZeDong