Britain's craving for chinoiserie in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in a trade imbalance that threatened to empty the treasury. To pay for the tea, silks, spices and porcelain we liked so much, the East India Company sold enormous quantities of cheap Bengal-grown opium to China, turning an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.
The profits from the opium trade made fortunes, earned revenues for the British government, paid for the administration of the Empire in India and even financed a large slice of Royal Navy costs. When the Chinese tried to halt the import of the drug, the narco-capitalists persuaded Foreign Secretary Palmerston and Lord Melbourne's government to go to war in 1839. The first military conflict, lasting a bloody three years, resulted in the Treaty of Nanking and the transfer of territory including Hong Kong to British rule.
Want to find out more about this dark period in Anglo-Chinese history? To celebrate Chinese New Year and mark the opening of the National Maritime Museum's new Traders Gallery, I'm presenting The Steampunk Opium Wars extravaganza with songs poetry and music from legendary writer Charles Shaar Murray; The Plague's Marc "The Exorcist" Jefferies; Deborah Evans-Stickland performing her Flying Lizards mega-hit "Money (That's What I Want)"; Gary Lammin of The Bermondsey Joyriders; and DJ Zoe Baxter AKA Lucky Cat from Resonance FM.
Historical characters will be slugging it out in verse to persuade us of the pros and cons of waging war to push drugs: with John Crow Constable, Paul Anderson, Hugo Trebels, John Paul O'Neill and Louise Whittle.
The evening is centred around Farrago Poetry's History Slam where the audience will have a chance to write poetry on the theme in workshops led by the historical characters, and then perform them in the slam.
Come and play with us.
Free entry but places have to be booked in advance.
Anna Chen presents "Traders"
National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing
Thursday 16th February 2012
Tickets: Free but book in advance
Tel: 020 8312 6608
The Steampunk Opium Wars Facebook and webpage
SU flags up the event here.