It starts with piracy in the Caribbean, which gives way to growing sugar there - and forcing slaves from Africa to work them. Trade with India brings wealth to men like Robert Clive who progress from trader to governor. The empire grows piecemeal as chartered companies take over large tracts of foreign territory - answering only to head office in the City of London. Illegal opium sold to China makes a fortune for British businessmen - but sparks a war with the Chinese emperor.
Druglibrary | IN a vague way, we are familiar with the "opium evil" in China, and some of us have hazy ideas as to how it came about. The China Year Book for 1916 has this to say on the subject: "The poppy has been known in China for 12 centuries, and its medicinal use for 9 centuries. . . . It was not until the middle of the 17th century that the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking purposes was introduced into China. This habit was indulged in by the Dutch in Java, and by them taken to Formosa, whence it spread to Amoy and the mainland generally. There is no record to show when opium was first smoked by itself, but it is thought to have originated about the end of the 18th century. Foreign opium was first introduced by the Portuguese from Goa at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1729, when the foreign import was 200 chests, the Emperor Yung Ching issued the first anti-opium edict, enacting severe penalties on the sale of opium and the opening of opium-smoking divans. The importation, however, continued to increase, and by 1790 it amounted to over 4,000 chests annually. In 1796 opium smoking was again prohibited, and in 1800 the importation of foreign opium was again declared illegal. Opium was now contraband, but the fact had no effect on the quantity introduced into the country, which rose to 5,000 chests in 1820; 16,000 chests in 1830; 20,000 chests in 1838, and 70,000 chests in 1858."
The China Year Book makes no mention of the traders who carried these chests of opium into China. The opium came from India, however, and the increase in importation corresponds with the British occupation of India, and the golden days of the East India Company. "Opium was now contraband, but that fact had no effect on the quantity introduced into the country," smuggled in wholesale by the enterprising British traders.
China was powerless to protect herself from this menace, either by protests or prohibition. And as more and more of the drug was smuggled in, and more and more of the people became victims of the habit, the Chinese finally had a tea-party, very much like our Boston Tea Party, but less successful in outcome. In 1839, in spite of the fact that opium smoking is an easy habit to acquire and had been extensively encouraged, the British traders found themselves with 20,000 chests of unsold opium on their store-ships, just below Canton. The Chinese had repeatedly appealed to the British Government to stop these imports, but the British Government had turned a persistently deaf ear. Therefore the Emperor determined to deal with the matter on his own account. He sent a powerful official named Lin to attend to it, and Lin had a sort of Boston Tea Party, as we have said, and destroyed some twenty thousand chests of opium in a very drastic way. Mr. H. Wells Williams describes it thus: "The opium was destroyed in the most thorough manner, by mixing it in parcels Of 200 chests, in trenches, with lime and salt water, and then drawing off the contents into an adjacent creek at low tide."
After this atrocity, followed the first Opium War, when British ships sailed up the river, seized port after port, and bombarded and took Canton. Her ships sailed up the Yangtsze, and captured the tribute junks going up the Grand Canal with revenue to Peking, thus stopping a great part of China's income. Peace was concluded in 1843, and Great Britain came out well. She recompensed herself by taking the island of Hongkong; an indemnity Of 21 million dollars, and Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shanghai were opened up as "treaty ports"-for the importation of opium and the "open-door" in general.
Mr. Wells, in his "Middle Kingdom" describes the origin of this first war with England: "This war was extraordinary in its origin as growing chiefly out of a commercial misunderstanding; remarkable in its course as being waged between strength and weakness, conscious superiority and ignorant pride; melancholy in its end as forcing the weaker to pay for opium within its borders against all its laws, thus paralyzing the little moral power its feeble government could exert to protect its subjects. . . . It was a turning point in the national life of the Chinese race, but the compulsory payment of six million dollars for the opium destroyed has left a stigma upon the English name."
He also says, "The conflict was now fairly begun; its issue between the parties so unequally matched --one having almost nothing but the right on its side, the other assisted by every material and physical advantage-could easily be foreseen" and again, after speaking of it as being unjust and immoral, he concludes "Great Britain, the first Christian power, really waged this war against the pagan monarch who had only endeavored to put down a vice harmful to his people. The war was looked upon in this light by the Chinese; it will always be so looked upon by the candid historian, and known as the Opium War."
Within fifteen years after this first war, there was another one, and again Great Britain came off victorious. China had to pay another indemnity, three million dollars, and five more treaty ports were opened up. By the terms of the Treaty of Tientsin, the sale of opium in China was legalized in 1858.
From a small pamphlet, "Opium: England's Coercive Policy and Its Disastrous Results in China and India" by the Rev. John Liggins, we find the following: "As a specimen of how both wars were carried on, we quote the following from an English writer on the bombardment of Canton: 'Field pieces loaded with grape were planted at the end of long, narrow streets crowded with innocent men, women and children, to mow them down like grass till the gutters flowed with their blood.' In one scene of carnage, the Times correspondent recorded that half an army of 10,ooo men were in ten minutes destroyed by the sword, or forced into the broad river. " The Morning Herald " asserted that "a more horrible or revolting crime than this bombardment of Canton has never been committed in the worst ages of barbaric darkness."
Naturally, therefore, after the termination of these two wars, China gave up the struggle. She had fought valiantly to protect her people from opium, but the resources of a Christian nation were too much for her. Seeing therefore that the opium trade was to be forced upon her, and that her people were doomed to degradation, she decided to plant poppies herself. There should be competition at least, and the money should not all be drained out of the country. Thus it came about that after 1858 extensive tracts of land were given over to poppy production. Whole provinces or parts of provinces, ceased to grow grain and other necessities, and diverted their rich river bottoms to the raising of opium. Chinese opium, however, never supplanted Indian opium, being inferior to that raised in the rich valley of the Ganges. The country merely had double quantities of the drug, used straight or blended, to suit the purse or taste of the consumer.
Then, in 1906, the incredible happened. After over a hundred years of steady demoralization, with half her population opium addicts, or worse still, making enormous profits out of the trade, China determined to give up opium. In all history, no nation has ever set itself such a gigantic task, with such a gigantic handicap. China, a country of immense distances, with scant means of communication; with no common language, a land where only the scholars can read and write, suddenly decided to free herself from this vice. The Emperor issued an edict saying that in ten years' time all opium traffic must cease, and an arrangement was made with Great Britain whereby this might be accomplished. To the honor of America be it said that we assisted China in this resolution. We agreed to see her through.
A bargain was then made between China and Great Britain, in 1907, China agreeing to diminish poppy cultivation year by year for a period of ten years, and Great Britain agreeing to a proportional decrease in the imports of Indian opium. A three years' test was first agreed to, a trial of China's sincerity and ability, for Great Britain feared that this was but a ruse to cut off Indian opium, while leaving China's opium alone in the field. At the end of three years, however, China had proved her ability to cope with the situation. Thus, for a period of ten years, both countries have lived up to their bargain, the amount of native and foreign opium declining steadily in a decreasing scale. April 1, 1917, saw the end of the accomplishment.
China's part was most difficult. In the remote, interior provinces, poppies were grown surreptitiously, connived at by corrupt officials who made money from the crops. However, drastic laws were enacted and severe penalties imposed upon those who broke them. If poppy cultivation could not be stopped, England would not hold to her end of the bargain. Not only was there a nation of addicts to deal with, but these could obtain copious supplies of opium from the foreign concessions, over which the Chinese had no control. We shall show, in another article, to what extent this was carried on. Yet somehow, in some manner, the impossible happened. Year by year, little by little, one province after another was freed from poppy cultivation, until in 1917, China was practically free from the native-grown drug, and foreign importation had practically ended.
In this manner, first by large smuggling, then by two opium wars, was China drugged with opium. And in this manner, and to this extent, has she succeeded in freeing herself from the curse. But in one way, she is not free. She has no control over the extra-territorial holdings of European powers, for in each treaty port are the foreign concessions already mentioned-German, Austrian, British, French, Russian. And in these concessions, opium may be procured. Simply by crossing an imaginary line, in such cities as Shanghai and Hongkong, can the Chinese buy as much opium as they choose. China will never be rid of this menace till she is rid of these extraterritorial holdings. Opium shops, licensed by foreign governments, are always ready to supply her people with the forbidden drug.
We say that the China market is closed. So it is, in one way. But the British Opium Monopoly is not ended. The year 1917 saw a tremendous blow dealt to the British opium dealers, but other markets will be found. There are other countries than China whose inhabitants can be taught this vice. The object of this discussion is to consider these other countries, and to see to what extent the world is menaced by this possibility.