China remained one of the few juicy pieces still to be divided among the "civilized nations". Her plight was exacerbated by the weakness and impending fall of the ruling Manchu dynasty which had been in power since XVII century. Crises of that kind are painful for any monarchy; China had experienced a number of them in her long history, and all of them brought about civil strife, turmoil, and human suffering. Under such conditions the much-coveted "opening up" of ancient China was taking place; the Chinese, however, saw it as "slicing of the melon".
As usual, the first issue on the table is free trade; then claims are made for "concessions" and "zones of influence" for every trade partner; and soon the country itself is gone, split into colonies and protectorates. Again as usual, the leadership was Great Britain's. Problems with export of Chinese tea to Europe began in early XIX c.: British tea clippers, those white-winged sea beauties, returned to China loaded with opium, the hottest item in the noble gentlemen's business plans. China had never known opium before: in a matter of few decades it swept the country and became the scourge of the nation. Christian missionaries, who helped their flock get rid of the loathsome addiction, proudly ascribed their success to the "advantages of the Western civilization"; they never stopped to think who introduced the drug in China in the first place.
Little wonder that the government of China did not share the British views on free trade and "advantages of the Western civilization"; hence the First Opium War with Britain, then the Second, with Britain and France, than with Japan, than again with France, than once again with Japan, all with the same outcome: defeat of the Chinese army, humiliation of the Chinese state, expansion of foreign influence.
 Nat Brandt. Massacre in Shansi. Syracuse Univ. Press, 1994, p.48