QuikScan for better reading            EZ breaks   |  PDF   |  Help    |  QuikScan.org

The Wars of the Poppies

Leslie Marchant

History Today, Volume 52, Issue 5, 2002

Leslie Marchant sees the Opium Wars as a philosophical clash between two cultures and two notions of government and society.

A Philosophical Clash Led to the Opium Wars
Britain believed in that free trade brought benefits to all people. China did not value free trade or respect merchants.
British Attitudes Rooted in Enlightenment
Britain believed in both spiritual conversion and secular programs to improve society and believed in bringing progress to backward nations—by war if necessary.
Misunderstanding China, Britain Ignored Chinese Objections to Opium
Britain refused to accept China's right to ban opium and didn't realize China's longstanding policies against importing opium.
China Took Strong Action against Opium Trade
British merchants profited greatly from the opium trade, but China strove to stamp out addiction.
Practical Reason for China's Actions
China recognized that opium addiction was hurting industrial production, creating a balance of trade problem, and disrupting the currency.
Events Leading to War
The Chinese Official Lin and the British official Elliot came into direct conflict—events that led to war. Lin's letter to Queen Victoria was apparently not received or ignored.
Title TK 1
TBD
Title TK 2
TBD
Title TK 3
TBD

A Philosophical Clash Led to the Opium Wars

▲1 The Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars of 1839–42 and 1856–60, and the later Cold War that resulted in the 1876 Chefoo Convention, were doctrinal in origin. They involved, on the one side, a European power driven by a doctrine of action – the belief that free trade and the internationalization of commerce would create wealth for all nations, and the utopian idea that this would produce a new peaceful world order – and, on the other, protectionist China under a literati which, in the light of the Confucian Renaissance under the Manchus, discounted doctrinarism in the belief that this had caused the Ming dynasty to fall, valued reason and rejected the idea that trade could elevate human society. 2 Merchants in Confucian China were viewed as limited people, ranked with the lower levels of society, self-seekers who put material gain above scholarship and the spiritual.

3 Ideological war was not new to the British. Edmund Burke had warned about this when the French revolutionary armies sought to replace monarchies with republics:

“We are in a war of a peculiar nature. It is not with an ordinary community ... We are at war with a system which by its essence is inimical to all other governments; and which makes peace or war as peace and war may best contribute to their subversion. It is with an armed doctrine that we are at war.”

The war lasting from 1793 to 1815 was fought largely to check the spread of Jacobin thought. Political liberals, anti-slavers, evangelical revivalists, believers in the family of nations promoted by the author of The Law of Nations, Emerich de Vattel (1714-67), anti-monopolists and free-traders all joined in the British struggle in China was a logical continuation of this ideological war, which persisted even after 1815.

The emperor Ch'ienlung receives the British envoy Lord Macartney in 1793, but rejects the request for Wading privileges.

The ground had been laid for the free trade movement in 1776 by the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Ten years later William Pitt laid the practical foundations with a commercial treaty with France abolishing protective duties. But the real change came in 1823 with William Huskisson's Reciprocity of Duties Bill, which relaxed the protectionist Navigation Acts.

British Attitudes Rooted in Enlightenment

5 First, The Industrial Revolution led people to believe that humanity could save itself and improve the human condition without relying on the grace of God. The idea that God helps those who help themselves is more evident in the practices of activists such as William Wilberforce (1759–1833), the religious Clapham Sect, and reformers such as Hannah More (1745–1833) and Robert Owen (1771–1858), than in written theory. In the same way, Confucian China had long believed that the development of human society depended on Man, and that divine intervention was not a factor.

6 Second, distinctive methods, both religious and secular, for this were seen to exist. The religious method was spiritual conversion, its popularity exemplified by the multiplication of Protestant Missionary Societies, starting with formation of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792, and their expansion to China as part of the treaty system. Secular methods included the creation of a national system of education, the way for which had been paved by writers such as John Locke (1623–1704), Robert Owen and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78). (This belief also lay at the core of Confucian civilization.)

Others saw progress effected by science, which had created such miracles in Britain. Yet others looked to legislation as a way to progress, as the French philosopher Claude Helvetius (1715–71) had advocated; this method included international treaty-making. Finally, thinkers influenced by physiocrats such as Francois Quesnay in France and British moral philosophers such as Adam Smith (1723–90) and Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) believed that commerce not only was an agent for national development, but also could create a new moral international order. This led to the prediction that a world of peace and plenty could be brought about by the international spread of competitive trade, just as competitive sport was later to be viewed as a way to peace, friendship and reconciliation.

William Jardine (1784-1843), an East India Company surgeon, became a leading opium trader in the 1820s, and adviser to Palmerston in the 1830s.

7 Third, it was believed that those equipped with the proper knowledge could save nations and civilizations that had fallen by the wayside. Merchants and missionaries both advocated this in China when they moved in after the treaties, and undertook its reform.

8 Fourth, although those who accepted the use of violence in China were not directly influenced by the traditional theory of the Just War, the ideological war with revolutionary France had shown that, for good' to prevail, a fight against the “agents of backwardness” might be required. This became clear to the British as a result of the 1802 Peace of Amiens, which had been made by the British to expand commerce but was used by Napoleon for military advantage. Napoleon's action convinced waverers that war might be necessary to effect progress. The British China-merchants saw the Anglo-Chinese wars in this light.

Misunderstanding China, Britain Ignored Chinese Objections to Opium

  • 9 British decision makers lacked unbiased knowledge of China.
  • 10 Therefore, the British pursued their own trade interests and ignored the legal measures China took to stop opium trade and use.
  • 11 The Chinese had a long history of drug control.
  • 12 Opium had been banned for a long time in China though imports had never stopped.
The opium poppy Papaver somniferum, by J. le Moyne de Morgues (c.1530-88).

9 Where the British merchants and their government supporters fell down is that they lacked a deep knowledge of China and were ignorant about the Confucian Renaissance. Some of the fruits of this had been passed on by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century through their Lettres Edifiantes. But with its demise before the French Revolution, Britain relied primarily on the misleading opinions of merchants.

10 The resultant misinformation provided a paradox in regard to using legislation to progress. while Britain insisted on opening China by way of treaty, she refused to accept that China had the right to legislate against opium trafficking and usage in its own territory. The British government ignored the legal measures China took in the form of edicts to stop the trade and prevent usage. This paradox was compounded by the European demand to use their own courts to try citizens accused of crimes in China, ignoring Chinese law.

11 Although Chinese legislative action to control opium began in 1729, the measures taken to prevent imports began in earnest in 1796 as a result of the increase in European drug trafficking. Opium had been imported into China long before, introduced by Arabs during the T'ang Dynasty (AD 618–907), when it appears the drug was used for medicinal purposes, not as a narcotic. This changed in the twelfth century when, following the creation of Islamic sultanates in Southeast Asia, Arabs established a trade base at Canton. But opium usage was not a serious problem. The preferred social intoxicant, as in Europe, was wine, which was used to accompany courtly and other dining rituals, and stimulated poets.

The stacking room of the opium factory at Patna, Bihar, from the Graphic of June 1882.

The threat of a drug culture developing in the empire emerged after the Portuguese had settled at Macao in 1557. There were two reasons. The Portuguese imported both tobacco and opium, and supplied a cheap instrument for addicts, the pipe. The consumption of opium, which could be mixed with tobacco for easy use, now increased. Tobacco was banned in 1641 to protect the population, but imports continued and Chinese farmers in the western regions soon began growing tobacco as a cash crop, as happened later with opium.

12 Legal action was first taken against opium as opium smoking dens multiplied, addiction spread, markets grew and foreign imports increased. As has been noted, the first edict banning opium imports to protect minors was issued by the Manchu Emperor Yung Cheng in 1729, at which time some 200 chests were being imported from India annually. Despite the law, imports increased. Two further edicts banning the drug were issued in 1796 and 1800. Imports continued, but opium merchants were henceforth classified as smugglers.

China Took Strong Action against Opium Trade

  • 13 Private merchants ignored Chinese laws and imported Opium.
  • 14 The early 1800s saw a dramatic rise in the amount of Opium imported to China.
  • 15 Evidence about the impact of Opium was given to the Emperor.
  • 16 In response, Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850), governor-general of Hunan and Hupeh, ordered a massive clean-up operation. Lin had a long history of fighting Opium.

The British East India Company gave over the opium trade to 13 private merchants who paid little attention to the rule of law in China. After the reorganization of the East India Company in 1833 and the loss of its charter to trade with China in 1834, imports escalated together with China's drug problem, as part of the move to incorporate China into a free-trade zone. Opium was merely one of the commodities; but it took the limelight. Profits were large. Opium, packed in little chests, was easy to handle; and small ships could be used, requiring a relatively small capital outlay. 14 By the 1830s, some 30,000 chests were entering China each year, carried mostly by private British merchants. 15 The consequent dramatic increase in drug addiction led the Emperor Tao Kuang (r.1821-51) and his officials, Confucian and humanist by training, to take action. It was this step that laid the foundation for the wars.

Although the Chinese government was acting on principles similar to those proposed by Helvetius in Europe, using legislation in the form of imperial edicts to eradicate problems and construct a more perfect society, there was a major difference between the Chinese approach and the British. The laws on opium in China stemmed from empirical research conducted by officials into the effect of the drug on individuals and society. A renaissance in Confucian thought had taken place in the years following the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. Academic investigations into the cause of the fall of the last native Chinese dynasty gave rise to an empirical school of research whose followers, not unlike the ancient Greeks, differentiated between "opinion" and knowledge based on research verifiable by others. The “flood of new ideas”, as the Chinese Renaissance was termed, produced the method of empirical research, which in turn produced a new breed of scholar-officials, and the new empirical approaches guided Confucian administration. One concerned scholar, for example, Tai Chen (1724-77), had applied the empirical research method to social analysis and reform, starting a new school of enquiry.

Eastern opium pipes and associated smoking equipment, from A. Racinet's Historical Costumes (1888).

The new outlook was noted in positive terms by Jesuit missionaries, who impressed Europeans such as Voltaire and Goldsmith with the idea of an enlightened Confucian China ruled by scholarly monarchs and public officials.

Information about the existence of an opium problem affecting China was presented to the Emperor on June 2nd, 1838, by a civil servant, Huang Chueh-tzu. His memorandum advocated drastic laws. The document was sent about the empire for comment and advice from other officials. 16 On July 10th, 1838, Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850), governor- general of the Liang Hu vice-regency (Hunan and Hupeh) north of Canton, added his own thoughts to the memorandum, making quite clear the threatening effects of the drug, noting:

“If we continue to pamper it, a few decades from now we shall not only be without soldiers to resist the enemy, but also in want of silver to provide an army.”

Others branded opium as a deadly poison. In a massive clean-up operation, Lin had already destroyed 5,500 opium pipes and 12,000 ounces of the drug itself. He now proposed drastic action at a national level, recommending the destruction of the addicts' equipment; a time limit for addicts to reform; the banning of opium imports; and heavy punishments for traders and dealers.

These suggestions were based on evidence that showed that opium was addictive. Addicts did not seem to be able to help themselves. It was clear that their lifestyle and that of their families consequently suffered. Drug use thus threatened to undermine not only family morals, but also the social and moral foundations of the empire. Further, Chinese officials identified British merchants as the main source of the problem, claiming these imported most of the opium used in China.

Practical Reason for China's Actions

  • 17 Drug addiction was weakening Chinese domestic industries, opening the way for more foreign imports.
  • 18 At the same time Western powers led by Britain were pushing for an open door for trade.
  • 19 Thus opium imports disrupted the Chinese balance of trade and currency, especially because traders insisted on being paid in silver.

Further researches by Confucian officials identified other problems. 17 First, that drug addiction was affecting the workforce and undermining production, thus opening the way for foreign imports to increase at the expense of China's domestic industries. Officials therefore saw the presence of narcotics as a threat to the industries they were charged with protecting. 18 The demands made by the British foreign secretary Lord Palmerston to open China to trade were later supported by the United States which made its own trade treaty in 1844, supporting free trade and an "open door" into China though taking a strong line against the opium drug trade. France followed suit. Chinese officials consequently saw they were facing a consortium of powers pressing for free trade, with opium slipping in under this pretext, threatening domestic productive capacity.

Cutting up the opium balls and mixing the drug with tobacco. From a 19th-century album 'The Evils of Opium Smoking'.

19 Second, the importation of opium was seen to be causing a crisis in payments that affected the currency. The root of this problem was the insistence of British and other opium traders on being paid in silver. China, at the time, had a bi-metalism system: silver and copper were both used for exchange purposes. The latter was the general coinage used among the populace, but taxes and such like had to be paid in silver. There was usually a fixed rate of exchange between the two coinages, though this was upset when opium poured in and silver flowed out, causing a scarcity of the latter. This affected the rate of exchange, creating an inflationary effect. Goods paid for in copper rose in price, while taxes, paid for in silver, rose correspondingly. Those who handled only the copper currency suffered. The increase in hardship and poverty that resulted from this situation was blamed on Britain and its "foreign mud", as opium was called.

An early 20th-century landscape warning of the evils of opium, showing an addict with emaciated flesh and patched clothes.

This problem was first identified by a prominent scholar official serving at Canton, Juan Yuan, in the mid-1830s. In response he advocated a system of licensing opium in order to control imports, raise revenue and control the silver outflow.

Neither the Chinese nor the British understood what they were truly up against. The Chinese authorities were unaware that just six years earlier, in 1832, a British parliamentary committee of enquiry into the Indian revenue had approved India's opium trade. Opium exports helped balance India's budget, while prospering Bengali and other farmers. Meanwhile Palmerston and the free traders in London viewed the Chinese edicts against opium as cunning attempts to keep out British opium so they could sell their own crop, and prosper their own farmers, though this was in fact imaginative nonsense: Chinese opium was regarded as poor quality, and fetched a fraction of the price of the Indian variety. In any case, Britain refused to recognise China's anti-opium laws as legally binding if China could not itself enforce them.

'The first downward step': the beginning of a sequence of sixteen facsimiles of Chinese drawings 'The Evils of Opium Smoking' reproduced in the British press in 1883.

The British held two other misconceptions, both gained on the spot in Canton. The first stemmed from the fact that, although opium was banned under Chinese law, it was handled by officially appointed Hong (foreign trade) merchants when it was landed from the foreign ships. This, to the British, made a mockery of the law, and seemed to corroborate reports that official corruption was rife throughout China and confirm the opinion that the country was in decay. In fact, the Emperor had appointed an incorruptible official in Lin Tse-hsu.

The second misguided impression originated from Juan Yuan, who had publicly advocated compromise in the first half of the decade, suggesting that China might soon legalise the opium traffic. This impression seemed to be strengthened when Yuan was called to Beijing in 1835 to serve in the Grand Secretariat. Unfortunately for the merchants, though, Yuan retired in 1838.

Events Leading to War

  • 20 Commissioner Lin arrived in Canton and forced Hong merchants to sign a bond agreeing not to deal in opium.
  • 21 Following the exit of the East India Company from Chinese trade, British interests were represented by a government official, Captain Elliot. Because of his government status, disagreements could more readily escalate into armed conflict—as they did.
  • 22 Lin forced Elliot to hand over the Canton Opium chests, which Lin destroyed.
  • 23 Lin wrote to Queen Victoria explaining China's strong moral and practical objections to the opium trade. However, there is no record of Lin's letter ever reaching Victoria or her officials.

20 Lin Tse-hsu arrived at Canton on March 10th, 1839, and, to the surprise of the foreign merchants, took immediate, drastic action. On March 18th, he informed the Hong that the opium trade was over, advising the foreign merchants that if they wished to trade at Canton at all, they had to sign a bond agreeing not to deal in opium. They were also ordered to hand over their stock, followed by a demand to hand over a prominent British opium trader Lancelot Dent. The Hong merchants fell into line. The British protested. Dent fled.

21 The British government became involved. Following the abolition of the East India Company's Charter for trade in China, a crown official, Captain Charles Elliot, had been appointed to look after British interests in Canton. This increased the possibilities of conflict, as Elliot, representing the Crown, could not be treated the same as an East India Company employee. Offending him would be a slight to Britain.

'Deaf to entreaty': wife and child weep and aged mother brings tea, as the home no longer throngs with attendants.

22 But on March 24th, 1839, Lin ordered Elliot to hand over all the British opium at Canton. With the port blockaded and Chinese staff gone, Elliot conceded. He ordered all the merchants to pass their opium over to him, and on March 28th promised to hand over 20,282 chests for destruction. He blundered: the British did not in fact have that much opium in Canton. He therefore had to import an additional 523 chests to make up the number he had submitted to Lin. Then, to the surprise of those foreigners who viewed Chinese officials as corrupt, Lin publicly destroyed the opium.

In an attempt to consolidate matters and stamp out the problem at the source, 23 Lin wrote to Queen Victoria at about the same time, advising her that trading in drugs was against natural law, and that dealers who caused injury to others for personal gain, were immoral. He then described the effects of the drug. However, there is no record of Lin's letter, which was made public in China, ever reaching Victoria or her officials.

Title TK 1

'The opium appetite keener than that for food': an old friend offers charity, but the addict has lost all appetite for ordinary food.

A new phase in the crisis began with the murder of a Chinese villager by British and foreign sailors on July 7th, 1839. Lin demanded the murderers be handed over. Elliot refused, preferring to deal with the culprits under British law. As a result of this refusal, Lin expelled the British from Canton on August 26th. They retreated to the sparsely populated Hong Kong island.

The next day, Lin wrote a second letter to Queen Victoria. This time the favourably disposed Captain Warner of the ship Thomas Coutts promised to deliver the letter personally. However, when Warner arrived in London, Foreign Office officials refused it, with the excuse that it did not come through normal diplomatic channels, therefore could not be accepted. It never reached the Queen, and neither she nor Palmerston seem to have been officially aware of its existence. However, the following year, it was published in full in The Times on June 11th, 1840. In it Lin explained to the Queen the Emperor's concern about the evil of opium, and insisted that the source of the problem was the trade conducted by the British:

“There are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience? I have heard that the smoking of opium is very strictly forbidden by your country; that is because the harm caused by opium is clearly understood. Since it is not permitted to do harm to your own country, then even less should you let it be passed on to the harm of other countries - how much less to China!”

He then outlined the regulations and punishments that were to be imposed.

In the meantime, the British merchants expelled from China found a safe haven in Hong Kong, though the island possessed nothing to eat or drink. When they went to get supplies at Kowloon on September 4th, 1839, they were refused. The British opened fire. Skirmishes followed. Then on November 26th, Lin banned all British ships from Canton; on December 13th, all British trade was banned completely. Palmerston responded by sending a punitive expedition, including modern steam warships and thousands of marines, from Singapore to blockade Canton and take action along the southern Chinese coast. He justified this by calling for the opening of China to free trade and played down the drug trade, the root of what the Chinese saw as the trouble.

'The opium appetite keener than that for food': an old friend offers charity, but the addict has lost all appetite for ordinary food.

China found itself up against the fruits of the British Industrial Revolution, pitting junks against steam warships. A Chinese poem provided a full description:

“Their length is more than three hundred feet, Their height and breadth more than thirty feet, They use iron guns of a great size and strength, They are painted all over of a black colour, Having the look of being covered in iron garments. The fire ship has wheels on both sides Which are made to revolve by fire made of coal. She runs with the swiftness of a fleet horse.”

Title TK 2

The First Opium War was officially ended by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, and it revealed two things. The overwhelming military success of the British showed Confucian China was in need of reform and scientific and technical development. This reinforced the British belief that China should be opened for its own good. In this view they received support from the US commissioner to China, Caleb Cushing, acting for President Tyler, who in 1844 enacted a treaty opening the door to American merchants while taking a strong anti-opium line. Ten years later the Americans provided a model for opening Asian trade in a drug-free manner by taking independent action, sending Commodore Matthew Perry with three steam warships to force Japan to open. Europe had to follow the American lead.

Opium smokers in China in the 1870s.

China's opium problem was largely ignored in British government circles, although opium usage and its perils had been in the news for some time. In 1821 the writer Thomas De Quincey, for example, had revealed how easy it was to get the drug in London and to enter paradise as a result. And during the war, articles in the press recorded that not only was opium being grown and processed in Britain for medical uses, there was also an addiction problem at home. The Times of July 17th, 1840, recorded that 'there is not another county where narcotics are as much used ... as Lincoln”, and that all opium users are also “beer and gin drinkers while teetotallers abstain”.

Towards the end of the war Victoria wrote about China, but only in the context of her baby Victoria, born in 1840. She confided to the King of Belgium on April 13th, 1841:

“Albert is so amused at my having got the Island of Hong Kong, we think Victoria ought to be called Princess of Hong Kong in addition to Princess Royal.”

But neither the war in China, nor the trade in opium went unopposed. The prominent leader of the evangelical group in the Church of England and life-long opponent of the opium trade, Lord Ashley, later Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-85), after welcoming the news of peace in his journal on November 22nd, 1842, added:

“But I cannot rejoice - it may be unpatriotic, it may be un-British - in our successes. We have triumphed in one of the most lawless, unnecessary, and unfair struggles in the records of history; it was a war on which good men could not invoke the favour of Heaven, and Christians have shed more heathen blood in two years than the Heathen have shed of Christian blood in two centuries.”

In the following year, on April 4th, Ashley moved in the Commons:

“That it is the opinion of this House that the continuance of the trade in opium, and the monopoly of its growth in the territories of British India, are destructive of all relations of amity between England and China, injurious to the manufacturing interests of the country by the very serious diminution of legitimate commerce, and utterly inconsistent with the honour and duties of a Christian kingdom; and that steps be taken as soon as possible, with due regard to the rights of governments and individuals, to abolish the evil.”

The next day The Times used seven columns, plus a leading article, to disseminate Ashley's speech. British and American evangelical Protestants were not long in starting an anti-opium crusades at home and in the provinces of China that had been opened by the treaties.

In 1856, Palmerston, by now prime minister, launched the Second Opium War following a Chinese seizure of a British ship. This led to hostilities along China's coastline and up its rivers, extending to north China where Beijing was occupied in October 1860.

The result was a further expansion of British territory and the further opening of China to foreign trade, including opium. This was followed in 1876 by the Chefoo Convention which opened more ports, arranged for inland trade with British Burma and local taxes on commerce.

Title TK 3

Under the administration of the now-dominant faction of compromising officials, China continued to accept Indian opium until 1902 when the Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi (1835-1908) laid the foundations for its gradual phasing out. In 1911, an international conference on opium at The Hague left drug trafficking to be dealt with at the international level in place of bilateral treaties between interested parties.

The first custom house on Shanghai waterfront. Painting by Lieutenant Durand, c. 1856.

Confucian scholar-officials continued to contribute at the end, as they had at the beginning of the trade. The eminent statesman Li Hung-chang (1823-1901) wrote pointedly about it in 1893, claiming, at one with the Christian evangelists, that

“Because of this money-grasping, trade-compelling feature of England's dealing with my country, millions of wretched people of China have been made miserable ... paupers, vagrants and the lowest of criminals.”

but also advising that:

“Christianity has suffered a much slower growth among the Chinese because of this one curse of opium.”

In keeping with the Confucian literary tradition, he penned his thoughts in poetry, condemning Britain for coming:

“Not as a friend ...But with a cry for blood and gold and more.”

while warning his countrymen in his Ode to the Poppy:

“Who would think to look upon you, Nodding sweetly in the fields, That the scented heart within you, Our soul's vilest passion yields.”
The campaign against opium: balls of the drug are placed in a furnace in Shanghai in 1919.

Although the hardline Lin Tse-hsu had in 1840 been dismissed and exiled to a remote northern province, his stance was vindicated in 1929. In that year June 3rd, the day he had destroyed the confiscated opium in Canton ninety years earlier, was set down as National Opium Prohibition Day.

This Chinese interest, and the treatment of the opium factor in China's history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has had a balancing effect. It ensures that Palmerston's record of events - which discounts Chinese evidence, and downplays the opium drug trade that China viewed as a basic cause of war - has to be re-examined in the context of Chinese official sources. Valuing Western sources above others has warped the historiography of China. For example, there is no reason to claim, is some writers do, that China was carved up into European spheres in the nineteenth century, making it a “semi-colony”. The point of the free-trade movement was to preserve China's territorial integrity by opening it to trade, for the treaty ports were open to all. That is why China itself opened a lot of ports at the close of the century.

The Dowager Empress Tzu-hsi; she moved to ban opium during the reforms after the Boxer Rising.

Victoria's last prime minister, Lord Salisbury, realised this in the 1890s, laying at the same time foundations for Anglo-Chinese friendship that would preserve an open door to British trade. He helped ensure that Japan did not get exclusive rights and a sphere of interest in 1895, after its victory over China. He also saw that, despite the open-door policy, power lay in China's provinces, not in Beijing. The provincial officials guarded the integrity of their own territories and used their taxing authority to protect domestic trade and production. And most important as far as future friendship was concerned, was Salisbury's response when Sun Yat-sen was kidnapped by Manchu agents in London in 1896. He took swift and firm action, thereby saving the life of the future president of the Chinese Republic.

When the Republicans took control in 1912, thanks to the open-door policy they inherited the empire intact, with the framework of a modern state. Prominent amongst the centralising institutes was Beijing University, established in 1898. There was a major question: would China's new educators teach the ways endorsed both by Chinese Renaissance scholars and European Age of Enlightenment, or would they teach doctrine, some of which had links with science?

In 2001, the centenary of the death of Victoria, the hopes of the Queen and Palmerston for China were finally realised when it joined the World Trade Organization. But one thing was out of order. Its government was one that crushes freedoms and imprisons democrats. This triumph for the principle of free trade was therefore tainted by the continued defeat of Enlightenment values in China, whether those of Confucius or of Helvetius.

A Philosophical Clash Led to the Opium Wars

The Opium Wars were caused by conflicting belief systems: (a) Britain was action driven and believed that free trade created a richer, better world; (b) China valued reason and didn't see benefits in trade. The Qing believed that merchants were limited and lowly.

The British had already fought an ideological war against the radical beliefs of Jacobin France. The British war in China was another ideological war stemming from their belief in free trade.

British Attitudes Rooted in Enlightenment

The Enlightenment gave the British people four key beliefs. The first was that God helped those who helped themselves. Second was that social improvement could come from both religious conversion and secular programs in education, science, legislation, and commerce. Third was that enlightened nations had a duty to spread these ideas to nations such as China who remained "backward" and unmodern. Fourth was that war might be necessary to effect progress—a belief strengthened by events during the Napoleonic War.

Misunderstanding China, Britain Ignored Chinese Objections to Opium

British decision makers lacked unbiased knowledge of China. Therefore, the British pursued their own trade interests and ignored the legal measures China took to stop opium trade and use. The Chinese had a long history of drug control. Opium had been banned for a long time in China though imports had never stopped.

China Took Strong Action against Opium Trade

Private merchants ignored Chinese laws and imported Opium. The early 1800s saw a dramatic rise in the amount of Opium imported to China. Evidence about the impact of Opium was given to the Emperor.

In response, Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850), governor-general of Hunan and Hupeh, ordered a massive clean-up operation. Lin had a long history of fighting Opium.

Practical Reason for China's Actions

Drug addiction was weakening Chinese domestic industries, opening the way for more foreign imports. At the same time Western powers led by Britain were pushing for an open door for trade. Thus opium imports disrupted the Chinese balance of trade and currency, especially because traders insisted on being paid in silver.

Events Leading to War

Commissioner Lin arrived in Canton and forced Hong merchants to sign a bond agreeing not to deal in opium. Following the exit of the East India Company from Chinese trade, British interests were represented by a government official, Captain Elliot. Because of his government status, disagreements could more readily escalate into armed conflict—as they did.

Lin forced Elliot to hand over the Canton Opium chests, which Lin destroyed. Lin wrote to Queen Victoria explaining China's strong moral and practical objections to the opium trade. However, there is no record of Lin's letter ever reaching Victoria or her officials.

Title TK 1

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

 

Title TK 2

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt.

Title TK 3

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga.

Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus

 

Title TK 4

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga.

Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus

LiveInk logo Powered by Live Ink

A Philosophical Clash Led to the Opium Wars

     1 The Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars
         of 1839-42
            and 1856-60,
       and
        the later Cold War
      that resulted
         in the 1876 Chefoo Convention,
           were doctrinal
            in origin.
The emperor Ch'ienlung receives the British envoy Lord Macartney in 1793, but rejects the request for Wading privileges.
     They involved,
           on the one side,
             a European power
         driven
           by a doctrine
         of action -
            the belief
          that free trade
         and the internationalization
            of commerce
         would create wealth
            for all nations,
              and
            the utopian idea
         that
           this would produce
         a new
            peaceful world order -
                and,
           on the other,
             protectionist China
         under a literati which,
            in the light
         of the Confucian Renaissance
           under the Manchus,
            discounted
          doctrinarism
                in the belief
          that this
           had caused
            the Ming dynasty
              to fall,
           valued reason
         and rejected
           the idea that trade
             could elevate human society.

     2 Merchants
        in Confucian China
           were viewed
                as limited people,
       ranked with the lower levels
            of society,
           self-seekers
          who put material gain
            above scholarship
             and the spiritual.

     3 Ideological war
       was not new
         to the British.

     Edmund Burke
         had warned about this
             when
                 the French revolutionary armies
                   sought
                     to replace monarchies
                    with republics:
         "We are
             in a war
                 of a peculiar nature.

     It is not
         with an ordinary community
           ... We are
             at war with a system which
            by its essence
           is inimical
             to all other governments;
            and which
             makes peace
                or war as peace
                    and war
           may best contribute
             to their subversion.

     It is
         with an armed doctrine
      that we
           are
            at war."

     The war
         lasting from 1793
            to 1815
       was fought largely
         to check
           the spread
            of Jacobin thought.

     Political liberals,
           anti-slavers,
             evangelical revivalists,
            believers
         in the family of nations
           promoted
         by the author
           of The Law
            of Nations,
           Emerich de Vattel (1714-67),
             anti-monopolists
         and free-traders all joined
           in the British struggle
            in China
           was a logical continuation
            of this ideological war,
           which persisted
            even after 1815.

     The ground
         had been laid
             for the free trade movement
                 in 1776
                by the publication
                    of Adam Smith's
            Wealth of Nations.

     Ten years later William Pitt
         laid
            the practical foundations
              with a commercial treaty
            with France
             abolishing protective duties.

     But the real change
           came in 1823
            with William Huskisson's
              Reciprocity of Duties Bill,
       which
         relaxed
           the protectionist Navigation Acts.

British Attitudes Rooted in Enlightenment

     1 First,
       The
            Industrial Revolution led people
         to believe
           that humanity
       could save itself
         and improve
            the human condition
             without relying on
                the grace
                  of God.

     The idea that God
         helps
       those
         who help themselves
       is more evident
            in the practices
              of activists such
            as William Wilberforce
              (1759-1833),
               the religious Clapham Sect,
                 and reformers
              such as
                Hannah More (1745-1833)
             and Robert Owen (1771-1858),
               than
                in written
                  theory.

     In the same way,
       Confucian China
         had long believed
           that
            the development
              of human society
         depended
            on Man,
           and
          that divine intervention
           was not a factor.

     2 Second,
           distinctive methods,
             both religious and secular,
            for this were
         seen
            to exist.

     The religious method
       was spiritual conversion,
         its popularity
           exemplified by the multiplication
            of Protestant Missionary
                Societies,
           starting with formation
            of the Baptist Missionary Society
                in 1792,
                  and
              their expansion
                 to China
                     as part
                        of the treaty system.

     Secular methods
         included
            the creation
             of a national system
                of education,
       the way for which
         had been paved
             by writers such
                as John Locke (1623-1704),
       Robert Owen
         and
             Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78).

     (This belief
       also lay at the core
            of Confucian civilization.)

     Others
       saw progress
      effected
        by science,
       which had created such miracles
            in Britain.

     Yet
      others looked
            to legislation
              as a way
                to progress,
       as the French philosopher
            Claude Helvetius (1715-71)
         had advocated;
        this method
         included
            international treaty-making.

     Finally,
       thinkers influenced
         by physiocrats such
             as Francois Quesnay in France
                 and British moral philosophers
          such as
            Adam Smith (1723-90)
              and Jeremy Bentham
            (1748-1832)
              believed
             that commerce
         not
       only was an agent
            for national development,
       but also could create
           a new moral international order.

     This led
            to the prediction
              that a world of peace
                 and plenty
           could be brought about
             by the international spread
            of competitive trade,
       just
         as competitive sport
       was later to be viewed
         as a way
             to peace,
       friendship and reconciliation.
William Jardine (1784-1843), an East India Company surgeon, became a leading opium trader in the 1820s, and adviser to Palmerston in the 1830s.
     3 Third,
       it was believed that
         those
             equipped
                with the proper knowledge
       could save
           nations and civilizations
          that had fallen by the wayside.

     Merchants and missionaries both
         advocated this in China
       when they
         moved in
            after the treaties,
       and undertook its reform.

     4 Fourth,
       although those
         who accepted
        the use
            of violence
              in China
       were not directly influenced
         by the traditional theory
           of the Just War,
       the ideological war
         with revolutionary France
           had shown that,
             for good'
        to prevail,
       a fight against the
         "agents
            of backwardness"
              might be required.

     This became clear
         to the British
            as a result
                of the 1802 Peace of Amiens,
       which
         had been made
             by the British
                 to expand commerce
         but was used by Napoleon
            for military advantage.

     Napoleon's action
         convinced waverers
           that war
             might be
               necessary
                   to effect progress.

     The British China-merchants
       saw
        the Anglo-Chinese wars
            in this light.

Misunderstanding China, Britain Ignored Chinese Objections to Opium

The opium poppy Papaver somniferum, by J. le Moyne de Morgues (c.1530-88).
     9 Where
         the British merchants
             and their government supporters
               fell down
       is
         that
      they lacked
        a deep knowledge
          of China
            and were ignorant
         about the Confucian Renaissance.

     Some
          of the fruits
            of this
           had been passed on
             by the Jesuits
                 in the seventeenth century
                     through their Lettres Edifiantes.

     But with its demise
        before the French Revolution,
       Britain
         relied primarily
            on the misleading opinions
                of merchants.

     10 The resultant misinformation
       provided a paradox
            in regard to using
           legislation
                to progress.
       while Britain
         insisted
           on opening China by way
            of treaty,
       she refused
         to accept
           that China
         had
            the right
           to legislate against opium
             trafficking
                    and usage
                 in its own territory.

     The British government
         ignored
           the legal measures China
             took in the form
                 of edicts
                     to stop
                        the trade
                      and prevent usage.

     This paradox
         was compounded
             by the European demand
         to use
          their own courts
             to try citizens accused
                 of crimes
            in China,
       ignoring Chinese law.

     11 Although Chinese
         legislative action
            to control
          opium began
            in 1729,
       the measures
         taken
                to prevent imports
       began
         in earnest
             in 1796
                 as a result of the increase
            in European drug trafficking.

     Opium
         had been imported
             into China long before,
       introduced by Arabs
         during
            the T'ang Dynasty (AD 618-907),
           when it appears
          the drug
           was used
                for medicinal purposes,
                  not
                 as a narcotic.

     This
         changed
             in the twelfth century when,
       following
        the creation
            of Islamic sultanates
                in Southeast Asia,
           Arabs
             established a trade base
                at Canton.

     But opium usage
           was not a serious problem.

     The preferred social intoxicant,
           as in Europe,
             was wine,
            which
         was used
           to accompany courtly
            and other
         dining rituals,
           and stimulated poets.
The stacking room of the opium factory at Patna, Bihar, from the Graphic of June 1882.
     The threat
         of a drug culture developing
             in the empire
         emerged
             after the Portuguese
               had settled at Macao
                in 1557.

     There were two reasons.

     The Portuguese
            imported both tobacco
         and opium,
       and supplied a cheap instrument
            for addicts,
           the pipe.

     The consumption
        of opium,
       which
         could be mixed
           with tobacco
            for easy use,
           now increased.

     Tobacco
       was banned in 1641
         to protect the population,
       but imports
         continued
          and
            Chinese farmers
             in the western regions
               soon began
             growing tobacco
                 as a cash crop,
           as happened later
            with opium.

     12 Legal action
       was first taken
         against opium
             as opium smoking dens multiplied,
                   addiction
                 spread,
                   markets
                     grew
                    and foreign imports
                 increased.

     As has been noted,
       the first edict
         banning
          opium imports
             to protect minors
       was issued
         by the Manchu
            Emperor Yung Cheng
              in 1729,
       at which time some 200 chests
         were being imported
           from India annually.

     Despite the law,
       imports
         increased.

     Two further edicts
         banning
           the drug
       were issued in 1796
            and 1800.

     Imports
         continued,
       but opium merchants
           were henceforth classified
            as smugglers.

China Took Strong Action against Opium Trade

  • 13 Private merchants ignored Chinese laws and imported Opium.
  • 14 The early 1800s saw a dramatic rise in the amount of Opium imported to China.
  • 15 Evidence about the impact of Opium was given to the Emperor.
  • 16 In response, Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850), governor-general of Hunan and Hupeh, ordered a massive clean-up operation. Lin had a long history of fighting Opium.
     13 The British
       East India Company gave
         over the
            opium trade to
              13 private merchants
          who paid little attention
             to the rule of law
            in China.

     After the reorganization
         of the East India Company
             in 1833
            and
              the loss
                of its charter
               to trade with China
                in 1834,
       imports
         escalated together
            with China's drug problem,
           as part
            of the move
           to incorporate China
            into a free-trade zone.

     Opium was merely one
         of the commodities;
        but it
           took the limelight.

     Profits
       were large.

     Opium,
           packed
            in little chests,
           was easy
         to handle;
            and
          small ships
         could be used,
           requiring a relatively
         small capital outlay.

     14 By
        the 1830s,
       some 30,000 chests
         were entering
       China each year,
         carried mostly
            by private British merchants.

     15
      The consequent dramatic increase
            in drug addiction
           led the
            Emperor Tao Kuang (r.1821-51)
             and his officials,
       Confucian and humanist
         by training,
           to take action.

     It was
         this
       step that
         laid
            the foundation
             for the wars.
Eastern opium pipes and associated smoking equipment, from A. Racinet's Historical Costumes (1888).
     Although the Chinese government
         was acting
             on principles similar to those
         proposed by Helvetius
            in Europe,
       using legislation
         in the form of imperial edicts
           to eradicate problems
          and construct
             a more perfect society,
           there was a major difference
             between the Chinese approach
                and
                  the British.

     The laws
         on opium
             in China
                 stemmed from empirical research
                     conducted
                         by officials into the effect
                        of the drug
                            on individuals and society.

     A renaissance
         in Confucian thought
           had taken place
             in the years
               following
                the fall
                 of the Ming Dynasty
                    in 1644.

     Academic investigations
         into the cause
      of the fall
            of the last
              native Chinese dynasty
         gave rise
           to an empirical school
            of research whose followers,
       not unlike
        the ancient Greeks,
       differentiated
         between "opinion" and knowledge
             based on research verifiable
                by others.

     The
         "flood
            of new ideas",
              as the Chinese Renaissance
           was termed,
             produced
            the method
              of empirical research,
                which in turn
                 produced a new breed
                    of scholar-officials,
       and
      the new empirical approaches
           guided Confucian administration.

     One concerned scholar,
           for example,
             Tai Chen (1724-77),
            had applied
              the empirical research method
         to social analysis
           and reform,
            starting a new school
              of enquiry.

     The new outlook
       was noted in positive terms
            by Jesuit missionaries,
       who impressed Europeans such
         as Voltaire and Goldsmith
             with the idea
                of an enlightened
            Confucian China ruled
                by scholarly monarchs
            and public officials.

     Information
           about the existence
            of an opium
              problem affecting China
               was presented
                    to the Emperor
                on June 2nd,
                   1838,
                     by a civil servant,
                    Huang Chueh-tzu.

     His memorandum
         advocated drastic laws.

     The document
       was sent about the empire
         for comment and advice
            from other officials.

     16 On July 10th,
           1838,
             Lin Tse-hsu (1785-1850),
            governor- general
         of the Liang Hu vice-regency
           (Hunan and Hupeh)
            north
              of Canton,
       added his own thoughts
         to the memorandum,
           making
             quite clear
                the threatening
           effects
             of the drug,
       noting:
         "If we
             continue
               to pamper it,
       a few decades from now
      we shall not only be
         without soldiers
           to resist the enemy,
       but also in want of silver
         to provide an army."

     Others
         branded opium
            as a deadly poison.

     In a massive clean-up operation,
       Lin had already destroyed
         5,500 opium pipes
            and 12,000 ounces
         of the drug itself.

     He now proposed drastic action
            at a national level,
       recommending
        the destruction
         of the addicts' equipment;
            a time limit
             for addicts
                    to reform;
            the banning
             of opium imports;
            and heavy punishments
                for traders and dealers.

     These suggestions
       were based
            on evidence
          that showed
           that opium
       was addictive.

     Addicts
       did not seem
         to be able
           to help themselves.

     It was clear
           that
            their lifestyle
          and that
             of their families
                 consequently suffered.

     Drug use thus threatened
       to undermine
          not only family morals,
       but also
        the social
            and moral foundations
         of the empire.

     Further,
       Chinese officials
         identified British merchants
             as the main source
                 of the problem,
           claiming these
             imported most
                 of the opium
                     used
                        in China.

Practical Reason for China's Actions

  • 17 Drug addiction was weakening Chinese domestic industries, opening the way for more foreign imports.
  • 18 At the same time Western powers led by Britain were pushing for an open door for trade.
  • 19 Thus opium imports disrupted the Chinese balance of trade and currency, especially because traders insisted on being paid in silver.
     Further researches
            by Confucian officials
      identified other problems.
Cutting up the opium balls and mixing the drug with tobacco. From a 19th-century album 'The Evils of Opium Smoking'.
     17 First,
       that drug addiction
         was affecting
            the workforce
         and undermining production,
       thus opening
        the way
         for foreign imports
            to increase
              at the expense
                of China's domestic industries.

     Officials
          therefore saw
            the presence
              of narcotics as a threat
       to the industries
      they were charged
         with protecting.

     18
      The demands made
         by the British
            foreign secretary
              Lord Palmerston
         to open China
            to trade
       were later supported
         by the United States which
             made its own trade treaty
                in 1844,
       supporting free trade
         and an "open door"
            into China
         though taking a strong line
             against the opium drug trade.

     France
         followed suit.

     Chinese officials
         consequently saw
          they were facing
             a consortium of powers
           pressing
            for free trade,
       with opium
         slipping in
            under this pretext,
       threatening domestic
        productive capacity.

     19 Second,
       the importation
        of opium
       was seen
            to be causing
          a crisis
            in payments
          that affected the currency.

     The root
        of this problem
         was
            the insistence
              of British
             and other opium traders
         on being paid
            in silver.

     China,
           at the time,
             had a bi-metalism system:
            silver
         and copper
           were both
          used for exchange purposes.

     The latter
       was
        the general coinage
      used among the populace,
       but taxes
            and such
         like had
           to be paid
            in silver.

     There was
         usually a fixed rate of exchange
           between the two coinages,
       though this
         was upset
        when opium
          poured in
        and silver
       flowed out,
         causing a scarcity
           of the latter.

     This
         affected the rate of exchange,
       creating an inflationary effect.

     Goods
         paid
             for in copper rose
                in price,
                   while taxes,
                     paid for
                    in silver,
                      rose correspondingly.

     Those
         who handled only
           the copper currency suffered.

     The increase
         in hardship and poverty
      that resulted
        from this situation
           was blamed
            on Britain
             and its "foreign mud",
       as opium
         was called.
An early 20th-century landscape warning of the evils of opium, showing an addict with emaciated flesh and patched clothes.
     This problem
         was first identified
           by a prominent scholar official
         serving
            at Canton,
               Juan Yuan,
                 in the mid-1830s.

     In response
       he advocated a system
         of licensing opium
             in order
                    to control imports,
       raise revenue
         and control
            the silver outflow.
'The first downward step': the beginning of a sequence of sixteen facsimiles of Chinese drawings 'The Evils of Opium Smoking' reproduced in the British press in 1883.
     Neither the Chinese
       nor the British
         understood
          what they were truly up against.

     The Chinese authorities
       were unaware
          that just six years earlier,
               in 1832,
                 a British parliamentary committee
             of enquiry
               into the Indian
              revenue
               had approved
                 India's opium trade.

     Opium exports
         helped balance
             India's budget,
       while prospering Bengali
         and other farmers.

     Meanwhile
          Palmerston and the free traders
            in London
       viewed
        the Chinese edicts
          against opium
         as cunning attempts
           to keep out British opium
          so they
           could sell their own crop,
       and prosper
        their own farmers,
           though this
               was
                in fact imaginative nonsense:
        Chinese opium
       was regarded
        as poor quality,
       and fetched a fraction
            of the price
                of the Indian variety.

     In any case,
       Britain
         refused
       to recognise
         China's anti-opium laws
           as legally binding
             if China
           could not itself enforce them.

     The British
         held two other misconceptions,
       both
         gained on the spot
            in Canton.

     The first stemmed
         from the fact that,
       although opium
           was banned
            under Chinese law,
           it was handled
            by officially appointed Hong
         (foreign trade)
            merchants when it
           was landed
            from the foreign ships.

     This,
           to the British,
             made a mockery
         of the law,
            and seemed
                to corroborate
           reports
             that official corruption
           was rife throughout China
          and confirm
           the opinion that the country
             was
            in decay.

     In fact,
       the Emperor
         had appointed
            an incorruptible official
              in Lin Tse-hsu.

     The second misguided impression
         originated
            from Juan Yuan,
       who had publicly advocated
         compromise
           in the first half
             of the decade,
           suggesting
               that China
           might soon legalise
               the opium traffic.

     This impression
       seemed
            to be strengthened
      when Yuan
         was called
           to Beijing
             in 1835 to serve
               in the Grand Secretariat.

     Unfortunately for the merchants,
           though,
             Yuan
         retired
            in 1838.

Events Leading to War

  • 20 Commissioner Lin arrived in Canton and forced Hong merchants to sign a bond agreeing not to deal in opium.
  • 21 Following the exit of the East India Company from Chinese trade, British interests were represented by a government official, Captain Elliot. Because of his government status, disagreements could more readily escalate into armed conflict—as they did.
  • 22 Lin forced Elliot to hand over the Canton Opium chests, which Lin destroyed.
  • 23 Lin wrote to Queen Victoria explaining China's strong moral and practical objections to the opium trade. However, there is no record of Lin's letter ever reaching Victoria or her officials.
     20 Lin Tse-hsu
         arrived at Canton
            on March 10th,
               1839,
                 and,
                to the surprise
                  of the foreign merchants,
                took immediate,
               drastic action.

     On March 18th,
       he
            informed the Hong
         that the opium trade
           was over,
             advising
               the foreign merchants that
                  if they
                   wished
                       to trade at Canton
                        at all,
                they had
                 to sign a bond
                   agreeing
                     not to deal
                        in opium.

     They were also ordered
         to hand over
            their stock,
       followed by a demand
         to hand over
            a prominent British opium trader
             Lancelot Dent.

     The Hong merchants
       fell
        into line.

     The British
         protested.

     Dent
         fled.

     21
            The British government
         became involved.

     Following
        the abolition
            of the East India Company's
              Charter
                for trade
            in China,
               a crown official,
                 Captain Charles Elliot,
                had been appointed
             to look after British interests
                in Canton.

     This
         increased
            the possibilities
              of conflict,
               as Elliot,
                 representing the Crown,
                could not be treated
                  the same
             as an East India Company employee.

     Offending him
       would be a slight
         to Britain.
'Deaf to entreaty': wife and child weep and aged mother brings tea, as the home no longer throngs with attendants.
     22 But
        on March 24th,
           1839,
             Lin
         ordered Elliot
           to hand over all
            the British opium
              at Canton.

     With the port
         blockaded
                and Chinese staff gone,
       Elliot
         conceded.

     He ordered all
        the merchants
         to pass
            their opium
              over to him,
       and on March 28th
         promised
             to hand over 20,282 chests
                for destruction.

     He blundered:
        the British
       did not
        in fact
       have
        that much opium
            in Canton.

     He therefore
         had
       to import
         an additional 523 chests
             to make up
            the number
          he had submitted
            to Lin.

     Then,
       to the surprise
            of those foreigners
          who viewed Chinese officials
            as corrupt,
           Lin publicly destroyed
               the opium.

     In an attempt
           to consolidate matters
         and stamp out
            the problem
             at the source,
       23 Lin
         wrote
           to Queen Victoria
             at
                about the same time,
       advising
           her
             that trading
            in drugs
       was
        against natural law,
       and that dealers
           who caused injury
                to others
            for personal gain,
       were immoral.

     He then described
        the effects
            of the drug.

     However,
       there is no record
            of Lin's letter,
           which
             was made public
            in China,
                ever reaching
               Victoria or her officials.

Title TK 1

'The opium appetite keener than that for food': an old friend offers charity, but the addict has lost all appetite for ordinary food.
     A new phase
            in the crisis
         began
             with the murder
                 of a Chinese villager
            by British and foreign sailors
                on July 7th,
       1839.

     Lin demanded
           the murderers
         be handed over.

     Elliot
         refused,
       preferring
         to deal with
            the culprits
              under British law.

     As a result
            of this refusal,
       Lin
         expelled
             the British from Canton
            on August 26th.

     They retreated
            to the sparsely populated
              Hong Kong island.

     The next day,
       Lin
         wrote a second letter
             to Queen Victoria.

     This time
         the favourably disposed
       Captain Warner
            of the ship Thomas Coutts
         promised
             to deliver
                the letter
                 personally.

     However,
       when Warner arrived
        in London,
           Foreign Office officials
             refused it,
                with the excuse
                  that
                     it did not come through
                      normal diplomatic channels,
       therefore
         could not be accepted.

     It never reached the Queen,
           and neither she
             nor Palmerston
         seem
                to have been
           officially aware
         of its existence.

     However,
           the following year,
             it was published
         in full in The Times
            on June 11th,
              1840.

     In it
      Lin explained
         to the Queen
             the Emperor's concern
            about the evil
              of opium,
       and insisted
          that
            the source
              of the problem
           was
            the trade
         conducted
             by the British:
         "There are
           barbarian ships that strive
             to come here for trade
                for the purpose of making
               a great profit.

     The wealth
        of China
           is used
            to profit
              the barbarians.

     That is
        to say,
       the great profit
         made by barbarians
       is all taken
         from the rightful share
            of China.

     By what
       right do they
         then in return use
            the poisonous drug
              to injure the Chinese people?

     Even though the barbarians
         may not necessarily intend
           to do us harm,
       yet in coveting profit
         to an extreme,
           they have no regard
             for injuring others.

     Let us
         ask,
       where is your conscience?

     I have heard
          that
            the smoking
              of opium
           is very strictly forbidden
             by your country;
            that is
          because the harm
           caused
            by opium
           is clearly understood.

     Since it
           is not permitted
               to do harm
                 to your own country,
       then even less
         should you let it
       be passed on
         to the harm
            of other countries
        -- how much less
         to China!"

     He then outlined
           the regulations and punishments
      that were
            to be imposed.

     In the meantime,
       the British merchants
         expelled from China
           found a safe haven
            in Hong Kong,
           though
            the island possessed nothing
             to eat
                 or drink.

     When they
         went
            to get
           supplies at Kowloon
            on September 4th,
               1839,
                 they were refused.

     The British
         opened fire.

     Skirmishes
         followed.

     Then on November 26th,
       Lin banned all British ships
            from Canton;
              on December 13th,
           all British trade
             was banned completely.

     Palmerston
         responded
             by sending a punitive expedition,
       including modern
         steam warships and thousands
            of marines,
       from Singapore
         to blockade Canton
           and take action
             along the southern Chinese coast.

     He justified this
         by calling for
            the opening
              of China
             to free trade
         and played down the drug trade,
       the root
         of what
            the Chinese saw
         as the trouble.
'The opium appetite keener than that for food': an old friend offers charity, but the addict has lost all appetite for ordinary food.
     China
         found itself
            up against the fruits
                of the British
            Industrial Revolution,
       pitting
         junks
          against steam warships.

     A Chinese poem
         provided a full description:
           "Their length
             is
               more than three hundred feet,
       Their height and breadth
          more than thirty feet,
       They
         use iron guns
           of a great size
            and strength,
       They are painted all over
         of a black colour,
           Having
            the look
             of being covered
                in iron garments.

     The fire ship
       has wheels
        on both sides
      Which
         are made
           to revolve by fire made
            of coal.

     She runs
         with the swiftness
            of a fleet horse."

Title TK 2

     The First Opium War
       was officially ended
         by the Treaty of Nanking
            in 1842,
       and
      it revealed two things.

     The overwhelming military success
         of the British
            showed Confucian China
         was in need of reform
             and scientific
                 and technical development.

     This
         reinforced
           the British belief
          that China
           should be opened
             for its own good.

     In this view
       they received support
         from the US commissioner
           to China,
               Caleb Cushing,
                 acting
                for President Tyler,
                  who in 1844
             enacted a treaty
               opening
                the door
             to American merchants
            while taking
             a strong anti-opium line.

     Ten years later
       the Americans
         provided a model
             for opening Asian
       trade in a drug-free manner
         by taking independent action,
       sending Commodore Matthew Perry
            with three steam warships
         to force Japan
            to open.

     Europe
       had
            to follow the American lead.
Opium smokers in China in the 1870s.
     China's opium
          problem
             was largely ignored
               in British government circles,
       although opium usage
            and
          its perils
           had been in the news
            for some time.

     In 1821
           the writer Thomas De Quincey,
             for example,
            had revealed how easy
         it was
           to get
            the drug in London
              and
            to enter
           paradise
                as a result.

     And during the war,
       articles in the press recorded
         that not
          only was opium
             being grown
         and processed in Britain
             for medical uses,
       there was
         also an addiction problem
            at home.

     The Times
        of July 17th,
           1840,
             recorded that
         'there is not
           another county
          where narcotics
           are
            as much used
         ... as Lincoln",
            and
              that all
          opium users are also
             "beer and gin drinkers
                while teetotallers abstain".

     Towards the end
            of the war Victoria
           wrote
            about China,
       but only in the context
            of her baby Victoria,
       born
        in 1840.

     She confided
         to the King of Belgium
            on April 13th,
       1841:
         "Albert
           is so amused
            at my having
           got the
            Island of Hong Kong,
       we think
      Victoria
         ought to be called
             Princess of Hong Kong
            in addition
              to Princess Royal."

     But neither
        the war
            in China,
       nor
        the trade
          in opium
         went unopposed.

     The prominent leader
         of the evangelical group
           in the Church of England
            and life-long opponent
             of the opium trade,
                   Lord Ashley,
                     later Earl of Shaftesbury
                 (1801-85),
                    after welcoming
                      the news
                    of peace in his journal
                      on November 22nd,
                    1842,
                   added:
                 "But I cannot rejoice
        -- it may be unpatriotic,
       it may be un-British --
         in our successes.

     We have triumphed
         in one
             of the most lawless,
                   unnecessary,
                     and unfair struggles
                    in the records
                      of history;
                    it was
                   a war
                  on which good men
                 could not invoke
                    the favour
                      of Heaven,
                   and
                  Christians have shed
                 more heathen blood
                    in two years
                      than the Heathen
                   have shed of Christian blood
                    in two centuries."

     In the following year,
           on April 4th,
             Ashley
         moved in the Commons:
           "That
             it is
                the opinion of
                 this
           House that
            the continuance
              of the trade
            in opium,
       and the monopoly
         of its growth
            in the territories
                of British India,
       are destructive
            of all relations
                of amity between England
                 and China,
           injurious
             to the manufacturing interests
                 of the country
                    by the very serious diminution
                of legitimate commerce,
                  and utterly inconsistent
                 with the honour
                    and duties
                     of a Christian kingdom;
            and that
           steps be taken
             as soon as possible,
       with due regard
         to the rights
            of governments and individuals,
       to abolish the evil."

     The next day
         The Times used
           seven columns,
               plus a leading article,
                 to disseminate Ashley's speech.

     British
         and American
            evangelical Protestants
           were not long
         in starting
             an anti-opium crusades
            at home
              and in the provinces
                of China
              that had been opened
                 by the treaties.

     In 1856,
           Palmerston,
             by now prime minister,
            launched
              the Second Opium War
         following a Chinese seizure
           of a British ship.

     This
         led to hostilities
             along China's coastline
               and up its rivers,
       extending
         to north
            China
              where Beijing
           was occupied
            in October 1860.

     The result
       was a further expansion
            of British territory
             and the further opening
                of China
                  to foreign trade,
       including opium.

     This was followed in 1876
            by the Chefoo Convention
              which opened more
       ports,
         arranged for inland trade
            with British Burma
             and local taxes
                on commerce.

Title TK 3

     Under the administration
         of the now-dominant faction
           of compromising officials,
       China
         continued
       to accept Indian opium
          until 1902
            when the Empress Dowager
              Tzu-hsi (1835-1908)
           laid
            the foundations
              for its gradual
         phasing out.

     In 1911,
       an international conference
         on opium at The Hague
       left drug trafficking
         to be dealt with
             at the international level
                in place
                  of bilateral treaties
            between interested parties.
The first custom house on Shanghai waterfront. Painting by Lieutenant Durand, c. 1856.
     Confucian scholar-officials
         continued
                to contribute
             at the end,
       as they
           had at the beginning
             of the trade.

     The eminent statesman
            Li Hung-chang
         (1823-1901)
       wrote pointedly about it
            in 1893,
               claiming,
                 at one
             with the Christian evangelists,
               that
             "Because of this money-grasping,
       trade-compelling feature
         of England's
           dealing with my country,
       millions
            of wretched people
              of China
           have been made miserable
         ... paupers,
           vagrants and the lowest
            of criminals."
              but also advising that:
             "Christianity
               has suffered
                a much slower growth
                 among the Chinese
                     because of this one curse
                    of opium."

     In keeping
         with the Confucian
            literary tradition,
       he penned his thoughts
            in poetry,
           condemning Britain
            for coming:
         "Not as a friend

     ...But with a cry
             for blood and gold
                and more."
            while warning
             his countrymen
                in his Ode
                    to the Poppy:
             "Who would think
               to look
                upon you,
                  Nodding sweetly
                 in the fields,
                    That
                      the scented heart
                        within you,
       Our soul's vilest passion
         yields."
The campaign against opium: balls of the drug are placed in a furnace in Shanghai in 1919.
     Although the hardline Lin Tse-hsu
           had
            in 1840
         been dismissed
             and exiled
                 to a remote northern province,
       his stance
         was vindicated
            in 1929.

     In that year June 3rd,
       the day
         he had destroyed
        the confiscated opium
          in Canton ninety years earlier,
       was set down
         as National Opium Prohibition Day.

     This Chinese interest,
       and
        the treatment
            of the opium
       factor in China's history
         in the late nineteenth
            and early twentieth centuries,
       has had
           a balancing
       effect.

     It ensures
          that Palmerston's record
            of events
        -- which discounts
            Chinese evidence,
       and downplays
           the opium drug trade
          that China
           viewed as a basic cause
            of war --
         has
                to be re-examined
               in the context
                of Chinese official sources.

     Valuing Western sources
            above others
       has warped
        the historiography
            of China.

     For example,
       there is no reason
           to claim,
               is
              some writers do,
                that China
               was carved up
             into European spheres
               in the nineteenth century,
                making it a "semi-colony".


     The point
            of the free-trade movement
         was to preserve
             China's territorial integrity by
         opening it
            to trade,
       for the treaty ports were open
         to all.

     That is
       why China itself
         opened a lot
            of ports at the close
              of the century.
The Dowager Empress Tzu-hsi; she moved to ban opium during the reforms after the Boxer Rising.
     Victoria's last prime minister,
           Lord Salisbury,
             realised this in the 1890s,
            laying at the same time
          foundations
            for Anglo-Chinese friendship
          that would preserve
            an open door
              to British trade.

     He helped
       ensure
        that Japan
       did not get
           exclusive rights and a sphere
            of interest
              in 1895,
       after its victory
        over China.

     He also saw that,
           despite the open-door policy,
             power lay in China's provinces,
            not
              in Beijing.

     The provincial officials
         guarded
            the integrity
             of their own territories
               and used
                their taxing authority
               to protect domestic trade
                 and production.

     And most important as far as
       future friendship
         was concerned,
       was Salisbury's response
         when Sun
          Yat-sen
             was kidnapped
                 by Manchu agents
                    in London
            in 1896.

     He took swift
         and firm action,
       thereby saving
        the life
         of the future president
             of the Chinese Republic.

     When the Republicans
         took control
            in 1912,
       thanks
         to the open-door policy
          they inherited the empire intact,
           with the framework
             of a modern state.

     Prominent
            amongst the centralising
          institutes
           was Beijing University,
       established
        in 1898.

     There was a major question:
        would China's new educators
       teach
        the ways
      endorsed both
            by Chinese Renaissance scholars
              and European
            Age of Enlightenment,
       or would
      they teach doctrine,
           some of which had
               links
                with science?

     In 2001,
       the centenary
            of the death
              of Victoria,
           the hopes
             of the Queen
                and
              Palmerston
                for China
                 were finally realised
                  when it
                   joined
                       the World Trade Organization.

     But one thing
         was out of order.

     Its government
       was one that
         crushes freedoms
          and imprisons democrats.

     This triumph
          for the principle
            of free trade
       was therefore
          tainted
             by the continued defeat
                 of Enlightenment values
            in China,
       whether those of Confucius
            or
              of Helvetius.
one
two
three
four