Gunboat Diplomacy: the Subjugation of China
Patrick Harris -During the Nineteenth century, China was a backwater. The Qing dynasty was nearing the end of its long decline. To European Imperialists, particularly the British and French, China was ripe for the picking. The first battle was the one for trade, which the Europeans had won much earlier, in the Eighteenth century. The forcible opening of China to trade would be the catalyst for a long line of events, culminating in the dissolution of the Empire and the eventual rise of Communism. The weapon of this catalyst was opium.
Opium was big business for the British, in the form of the East India Company. The company was of the opinion that if the Chinese population became addicted, leading to massive internal problems for China, it was not the companies problem . This was not the Chinese point of view, so in 1839, China banned the import of opium. Naturally, the East India Company did not take kindly to the Chinese government killing off one of their principal revenue sources. Though what the Chinese did was the act of a sovereign government within its own territory, the British government felt compelled to intervene when Chinese warships fired upon two British ships that were attempting to help ship opium into Canton (Guangzhou). A force of warships was dispatched, including the experimental Nemesis.
Nemesis was a gunboat. Commissioned into the service of the East India Company, she was one of the first of her kind, she had an extremely shallow draft and a flat bottom, allowing her to navigate rivers, harbours and other shallow waters which may be other wise impassible to larger, more traditional, warships. Nemesis was armed with two 32 pounder and four 6 pounder guns, as well as a congreve rocket launcher. The Chinese had wooden war junks, some of which were not armed with guns, only bows. When Nemesis arrived in China, it was a turkey shoot.
|Here the Nemesis destroys a Chinese war junk in one salvo of congreve rockets|
The gunboat, first iterated in the Nemesis, would become a symbol of European naval dominance, patrolling the vast lands of Europe's empires in the dying age of imperialism.