The opium-smuggling trade that britain pursued on the eastern seacoast of China has become the symbol of China's century-long descent into political and social chaos. In the standard historical narratives of both China and Euro-America, opium is the primary medium through which the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) encountered the modern economic, social, and political institutions of the West. Consequently, opium and the Western powers' advent on the Chinese coast have become almost inextricably linked. Opium, however, was not simply a Sino-British problem geographically confined to southeastern China. It was, rather, a transimperial crisis that spread among an ethnically diverse populace and created regionally distinct problems of control for the Qing state.

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