Welcome back! In part one of this post series, we examined the facts around the opium trade between India and China as brokered by the East India Company. Now we are going to take a more personal and in-depth look at the damage done to the Chinese populace. The below article can be found in The Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review, Volume 23, 1850. I have edited out sections that medically explain opium’s effect on the body.
The images come from two editions of The Truth about Opium Smoking: with Illustrations of the Manufacture of Opium, etc, published by Hodder & Stroughton in 1882 and Wikimedia Commons. All are in public domain, of course.
The Opium Trade
As carried between India and China, including a sketch of its history, extent, effects, etc.
OPIUM is one of the oldest and most valuable articles in the Materia Medica. It is used in medicine, in its various preparations, under a greater variety of circumstances, and to accomplish more important results, than any other single article. Strike out this drug from the list of therapeutical remedies, and it would be very difficult for the whole class of narcotics or sedatives, or even both combined, to make good its place. The immortal Sydenham once remarked, that if he could be allowed only two weapons with which to combat disease, in its multifarious forms, opium would be his first choice. So on the other hand, the evils growing out of its abuse, surpass in magnitude, permanency, and extent, those of all other medicinal agents combined, unless it be that of ardent spirits.
The effects of opium on the human system depend very much upon the quantity and frequent use, as well as the age, temperament, habits, idiosyncracy, &c., of the individual. Its first and most common effect is to excite the intellect, stimulate the imagination, and exalt the feelings into a state of great activity and buoyancy, producing unusual vivacity and brilliancy in conversation, and, at the same time, the most profound state of perfect self-complacency. All idea of labor, care, and anxiety, vanish at once from the mind. Then follow a succession of gorgeous dreams, or a continued state of ecstasy, almost indescribable…There seems to be a wonderful power in the use of this drug, to attract and captivate. It holds out a temptation far more powerful than that of any other intoxicating agent. Such is the testimony of all experience, as well as observation in the matter. This fascination does not arise merely from that passion in human nature for exciten1ent——that yearning after stimulus, and that horror of ennui which crowd the Parisian theatre, the English gin palace, and the American bar-room—but from having experienced or heard of that peculiar state of ecstasy which can be produced only by this drug, and which has not inappropriately, in some respects, been termed the “ Chinese Heaven.”
It is the after, or secondary effects of this drug, which have such a destructive influence on the constitution. Its continued use destroys the natural appetite, deranges the digestive organs, impedes the circulation, and vitiates the quality of the blood, depresses the spirits, and gradually Weakens the power of the involuntary nerves, as well as the volitions of the mind, thereby taking away the powers of free agency, and converting the man into the brute. How expressive the remark once made by a native Chinese, It is not the man who eats opium, but it is opium that eats the man.
The practice of eating opium, as a luxury, has prevailed for more than a century in Persia and Turkey, but that of smoking it, originated at a much later period, and has been confined mostly to China and its adjacent provinces…The manner of smoking opium differs materially from that of tobacco. The process consists in taking very long whiffs, thereby expanding the lungs to their utmost capacity, and communicating the influence of the drug to all the air-cells, and, at the same time, retaining it there as long as possible. This secret explains in part the almost instantaneous and powerful effect which it exerts upon the whole is system…Travelers in Persia, Turkey, and other countries where the vice of opium eating has existed for a long time, do not represent the evils to be near as great as those of opium smoking in China. The change produced by the former practice upon the physical system is not characterized by so rapid or marked progress. Its victims, too, retain a better control, as well as a longer use of their mental faculties, and are known oftener to reform. Other essential points of difference might be noticed, but we will here introduce a brief statement from the Chinese themselves, as well as others, who have been careful observers of the effects of smoking opium.
A distinguished Chinese scholar, in a memorial to the emperor, says “Opium is a poisonous drug, brought from foreign countries, and, when the poison takes effect, the habit becomes fixed, and the sleeping smokers are like corpses——lean and haggard as demons.” He proceeds to illustrate, in detail, its effects under these heads—it exhausts the animal spirits—impedes the regular performance of business—wastes the flesh and blood—dissipates every kind of property—renders the person ill-favored—promotes obscenity —discloses secrets——violates the laws—attacks the vitals, and destroys life. Another Chinese, (holding a high office in government,) speaking of opium smokers, remarks that “ when the habit becomes inveterate, it is necessary to smoke at certain fixed hours. Time is consumed, men’s duties are forgotten, and they can no longer live without this poison. Its symptoms are difficulty of breathing, chalky paleness, discolored teeth, and a withered skin. People perceive that it hurries them to destruction, but it leaves them without spirit to desist.” Another government officer writes to Sir Henry Pottinger, that “ opium is an article whose flowing poison spreads like flames. It is neither pulse nor grain, yet multitudes of our Chinese subjects consume it, wasting their property and destroying their lives; and the calamities arising there from are unutterable! How is it possible to refrain from forbidding our people to use it. In another state paper this evil is described by one of the emperor’s ministers, “ as a fearful, desolating pestilence, pervading all classes of people, wasting their property, enfeebling their mental faculties, ruining their bodies, and shortening their lives.”
Dr. G. H. Smith, who resided some years as a surgeon at Penang, describes the effect of opium-smoking, in the Medico-Chirurgical Review for April, 1842, as follows: “The hospitals and poor-houses are chiefly filled with opium-smokers. In one that I had the charge of, the inmates averaged sixty daily; five-sixths of whom were smokers of Chandoo. The baneful effects of this habit on the human constitution are conspicuously displayed by stupor, forgetfulness, general deterioration of all the mental faculties, emaciation, debility, sallow complexion, lividness of lips and eyelids, languor and lack-lustre of eye, appetite either destroyed or depraved. In the morning, these creatures have a most wretched appearance, evincing no symptoms of being refreshed or invigorated by sleep, however profound. There is a remarkable dryness or burning in the throat, which urges them to repeat the opium-smoking. If the dose be not taken at the usual time, there is great prostration, vertigo, torpor, and discharge of water from the eye. If the privation be complete, a still more formidable train of phenomena take place. Coldness is felt over the whole body, with aching pains in all parts. Diarrhea occurs; the most horrid feelings of wretchedness come on; and if the poison be withheld, death terminates the victim’s existence.”
In the London Lancet for 1841, we find these observations, from James Hill, a surgeon of an English ship, which visited China in 1839: “The habitual use of opium, as practiced by the Chinese, cannot fail to produce the most injurious effects upon the constitution. The peculiar, languid, and vacant expression, the sallow and shriveled countenance, the dim and sunken eye, and the general emaciated and withered appearance of the body, easily distinguish the confirmed opium-smoker. The mind, likewise, soon participates in the general wreck of the body; and the unhappy individual, losing all relish for society, remains in a state of sottish indifference to everything around him but the deadly drug, now his only solace, which sooner or later hurries its victim to an untimely grave.” Such is the testimony of two medical observers, whose education and professional duties gave them superior advantages for judging correctly of the effects of this drug.
Mr. R. M. Martin, who is well known as the author of several valuable works on India and the British Colonies, has recently published a large work on China. Mr. Martin for some time held the situation of her “Majesty’s Treasurer for Colonial, Consular, and Diplomatic Services in China,” and was also a “Member of her Majesty’s Legislative Council at Hong Kong.” His opportunities, therefore, of acquiring information, oflicial and by observation, were superior, and in a chapter on this subject, vol. ii., page 176, he remarks thus —‘‘ No language would convey a description of the sufferings of those to whom opium has become a necessary part of existence; no picture could impress the fearful misery which the inmates of an opium-smoking shop exhibit. Those dens of human suffering are attended by unfortunate women—as opium in the early use is aphrodisiac, and as such prized by the Chinese. In few, but very few instances, if indeed in any, moderation in opium is exercised: once fairly begun, there is no cessation, until poverty and death ensue; and when digestion has nearly ceased, and deglutition even becomes painful, the utmost effect of the drug is merely to mitigate the horrors of existence. Those who begin its use at twenty, may expect to die at thirty years of age; the countenance becomes pallid, the eyes assume a wild brightness, the memory fails, the gait totters, mental exertion and moral courage sink, and a frightful marasmus or atrophy reduces the victim to a ghastly spectacle, who has ceased to live before he has ceased to exist. There is no slavery so complete as that of the opium-taker: once habituated to his dose as a factitious stimulant, everything will be endured rather than the privation; and the unhappy being endures all the mortification of a consciousness of his own degraded state, while ready to sell wife and children, body and soul, for the continuance of his wretched and transient delight; transient indeed——for at length the utmost effect produced is a temporary suspension of agony; and finally no dose of the drug will remove or relieve a state of suffering which it is utterly impossible to describe. The pleasurable sensations and imaginative ideas arising at first, soon pass away; they become fainter and fainter, and at last entirely give place to horrid dreams and appalling pictures of death; spectres of fearful visage haunt the mind; the light which once seemed to emanate from heaven is converted into the gloom of hell: sleep, balmy sleep has fled forever; night succeeds day only to be clothed with never-ending horrors; incessant sickness, vomiting, diarrhea, and total cessation of digestive functions ensue; and death at length brings, with its annihilation of the corporeal structure, the sole relief to the victim of sensual and criminal indulgence. The opium-shops which I visited in the East were perfect types of hell upon earth.”
Lord Jocelyn, who was engaged as a military secretary in the campaign of 1840, thus adverts to the use of opium as witnessed at Singapore; “ One of the streets in the center of the town is wholly devoted to shops for the sale of this poison; and here, in the evening, may be seen, after the labors of the day are over, crowds of Chinese, who seek these places to satisfy their depraved appetites. The rooms where they sit and smoke are surrounded by wooden couches, with places for the head to rest upon, and generally a side room is devoted to gambling. The pipe is a reed of about an inch in diameter, and the aperture in the bowl for the admixture of opium, is not larger than a pin’s head. The drug is prepared with some kind of conserve, and a very small portion is sufficient to charge it, one or two whiffs being the utmost that can be inhaled from a single pipe, and the smoke is taken into the lungs as from the hookah in India. On a beginner, one or two pipes will have an effect, but an old stager will continue smoking for hours. At the head of each couch is placed a small lamp, as fire must be held to the drug during the process of smoking; and from the difficulty of filling and properly lighting the pipe, there is generally a person who waits upon the smoker to perform that office. A few days of this fearful luxury, when taken to excess, will give a pale and haggard look to the face, and a few months, or even weeks, will change the strong and healthy man into a little better than an idiot skeleton. The pains they suffer when deprived of the drug, after long habit, no language can describe; and it is only when to a certain degree under its influence that their faculties are alive. In those houses devoted to their ruin, these infatuated people may be seen at nine o’clock in the evening in all the different stages. Some entering, half distracted, to feed the craving appetite they have been obliged to subdue during the day; others laughing and talking wildly under the effects of a first pipe, whilst the couches round are filled with their different occupants, who lie languid, with an idiot smile upon their countenance, too much under the influence of the drug to care for passing events, and fast emerging to the wished for consummation. The last scene in this tragic play is generally a room in the rear of the building, a species of dead-house, where lie stretched those who have passed into the state of bliss which the opium-smoker madly seeks—an emblem of the long sleep to which he is blindly hurrying.”
Such is the testimony of two officers holding important trusts under the English government, as to the pernicious effects of this practice among the Chinese; and we might add many similar statements from travelers and other residents in China, but deem it unnecessary.
In view of these facts, the question naturally arises, what has China done to oppose the introduction, or arrest the progress of such evils? Has she ever, as a government, adopted any decided, systematic measures to prevent them?
Prior to the year 1800, opium was included in the tariff of maritime duties, under the head of medicinal drugs, and was treated by government as an article intended exclusively for medical purposes; and the duty exacted upon its importation, was a mere nominal sum, without any particular reference to raising a revenue. But the practice of smoking the “vile dirt” had already taken deep root, and its evil effects were beginning to awaken the attention of the Chinese government. In 1799, one of the emperor’s chief ministers, “fearing lest the practice of smoking opium should spread among all the people of the inner land, to the waste of their time, and the destruction of their property,” presented a memorial requesting that the sale of the drug should be prohibited, and that offenders should be made amenable to punishment. Soon after this, the Chinese government enacted special laws to prevent both its importation and its use, denouncing upon the seller and smoker of the poison the bastinado, the wooden collar, imprisonment, banishment, and the entire confiscation of his property ; yes, even more, the severe penalty of capital punishment, either by public decapitation or strangulation.
In the years 1809-15-20-30, and 34, edicts, one after another, were sent to Whampoa, Macao, and Canton, proclaiming these laws, and not unfrequently the severest penalties were inflicted upon such Chinese subjects as violated them. Notwithstanding all this, the trade kept constantly increasing. In 1838 it amounted to between 39,000 and 40,000 chests. The emperor, finding that the measures thus far employed had failed to check the traffic, after consulting his ministers, determined to depute an Imperial Commissioner to Canton, clothed with the highest powers and authority. The officer chosen for this purpose was Lin, a man distinguished for his talents, acquirements, and knowledge of maritime affairs.
Lin arrived at Canton in March, 1839, and immediately gave orders that all the opium, whether stored in the factories or on board of ships in the harbor, should be at once surrendered. He succeeded in compelling the merchants to give up 20,000 chests, and to sign a bond that they would forever cease trading in the article. These 20,000 chests of opium were publicly destroyed in the vicinity of Canton, according to the commands of the emperor. This bold measure of Lin to suppress the traffic led to a war between England and China, commonly called the “opium war.”
As the history and character of this war are so well understood we need not here enter into details respecting it, further than briefly to notice its connection with, and the effect of its results upon the opium trade. One argument advanced in favor of the war was to obtain indemnity for the loss of these 20,000 chests, estimated to be worth $12,000,000. Capt. Elliot, the representative of the English government in China, in his public call on British subjects to surrender all the opium in their possession into his hands, to be delivered over to the order of Commissioner Lin, declared himself responsible for its loss on behalf of Her Majesty’s government. And accordingly, the merchants, in confirmation of this pledge of Capt. Elliot, afterwards sent a petition to the lords of Her Majesty’s government, urging the following reasons as a claim : “ That the trade in opium had been encouraged and promoted by the Indian government, under the express sanction and authority, latterly, of the British government and Parliament, and with the full knowledge, also, as appears from the detailed evidence before the House of Commons, on the renewal of the last charter, that the trade was contraband and illegal.”
The English government itself had, in fact, directly approved of the traffic, and was deeply interested in its continuance. For we find that the Parliamentary committee appointed in 1832, expressly for the purpose of considering the opium monopoly in all its bearings, moral, political, and economical, concluded their report, which was accepted, as follows: “In the present state of the revenue of India, it does not appear advisable to abandon so important a source of revenue—a duty upon opium being a tax which falls principally upon the foreign consumer, and which appears, upon the whole, less liable to objection than any other which could be substituted.”
At the time of the war, the East India Company was receiving between $10,000,000 and $12,000,000 of revenue annually from this source. Though it was all collected in India, yet the whole trade, the cultivation of the poppy, and the manufacture of the opium, the sale of the drug in Bombay and Calcutta, and its transportation to China, was encouraged by the government. The opium merchants sailed under the British flag, and were defended by British arms, and looked to the English government for protection. At the same time, it was known to all parties concerned, that the traffic was contraband and illegal.
Thus we see that England was an interested party, and would naturally be disposed to justify recourse to war, in order to secure indemnity for loss, and a continuance of the trade. The Chinese government had endeavored to arrest the traffic by punishing severely, and in various ways, their own subjects, and also remonstrating, entreating, and threatening the English; but all to no purpose. They saw their country and people becoming impoverished and ruined—-the severe punishment of their own subjects of no avail so long as the English continued to sell hundreds and thousands of chests of opium, in spite of entreaties and threats, and in contempt of all law.
That the Chinese government has always been earnest and sincere in resisting the introduction of opium, there can be no doubt. Their laws prove this fact, and such is the testimony of all disinterested foreigners residing in China. Says a writer in the Chinese Repository, (for 1840, p. 416) : “ The opposition of the Chinese government to the opium trade has been steady and strong during a period of forty years; the prohibitions have been as clear and as explicit, and the measures to carry them into effect as constant and vigorous as the combined wisdom and power of the emperor and his ministers could make them.” They refused, also, to allow the cultivation of the poppy in China, which, in soil and climate is admirably fitted for its production. If they would only allow the opium to be produced in China, its importation would soon cease, and thus a heavy drain of silver be saved to the nation. They will not, however, impose any tax or duty upon its importation, though they might in this way raise a large revenue. And all proposals or suggestions in reference to encouraging the cultivation of the poppy, or that the trade in the drug be legalized, originated in the opinion and fear that its contraband introduction could not be prevented. This is a lamentable state of things in a great nation like China, with 350,000,000 of inhabitants.
The war was not of long continuance. The Chinese, finding themselves soon overpowered by British arms, and their country being rapidly brought into subjection to foreign power, were ready to receive proposals of peace on almost any terms. The leading articles of treaty proposed by the English plenipotentiary were :——The Chinese government to pay the English twenty one millions of dollars before the expiration of three years; twelve being for the expenses of the war, three for debts due English merchants, and six for the opium destroyed. Five of the principal cities of China, namely: Amoy, Canton, Ningpo, Shanghai, Fughchan, to be thrown open to British trade and residence, under such restrictions as shall be satisfactory, and the island of Hong Kong to be ceded outright, and forever, to the queen of England. The Chinese endeavored to introduce into the articles of agreement a prohibition of all traffic in, or importation of opium, but failed in the attempt. So that this subject, as far as any restriction or discontinuance was concerned on the part of the English government, was left, after the war, precisely where it was before. But it was far otherwise with China. Five of her chief seaports being now freely opened for general trade and commercial intercourse, afforded still greater facilities, and gave a more permanent foothold than ever for the opium traffic. The Canton Circular of 1846, speaking of the high price which the drug brought at that time, very significantly remarked :—‘‘ We need not ask the question who has been chiefly benefited by the war in China, justly called the ‘ opium war.’ ”
Besides these five cities being thrown open to foreign trade, the island of Hong Kong, possessing one of the best harbors in the world, and easily accessible to any part of the Chinese coast, became, after the war, the sole property of the English government. This place was selected as a great depot for trade, and a large amount of money has been expended here on public improvements, such as roads, wharves, buildings, &c. Opium constitutes here one of the principal articles of commerce. Besides numerous shops and stores, several large receiving ships are stationed the year round in the harbor. In 1845, an important event occurred here in the history of the trade, namely : Governor Davis licensed the public sale of the drug by retail. Mr. Martin, one of the Executive Council, expressing his dissent, says afterwards :—“ Twenty opium shops have been licensed in Hong Kong, within gunshot of the Chinese empire, where such an offense is death! Hong Kong has now, therefore, been made the lawful opium smoking-shop, where the most sensual, dissolute, degraded, and depraved of the Chinese may securely perpetrate crimes which degrade men far below the level of the brute, and revel in a vice which destroys body and soul; which has no parallel in its fascinating seduction, in its inexpressible misery, or in its appalling ruin. When the governor proposed the conversion of Hong Kong into a legalized opium-shop, under the assumed license of our most gracious and religious sovereign, I felt bound as a sworn member of Her Majesty’s Council in China to endeavor to dissuade him from this great crime; but no reasoning would induce him to follow the noble example of the emperor of China, who, when urged to derive a revenue from the importation of opium, thus righteously recorded his sentiments in an answer which would have been worthy of a Christian monarch : ‘ It is true I cannot prevent the introduction of the flowing poison: gain-seeking and corrupt men will, for profit and sensuality, defeat my wishes ; but nothing will induce me to derive a revenue from the vice and misery of my people.’ But money was deemed of more consequence in Hong Kong than morality; it was determined, in the name of Her Majesty, to sell the permission to the highest bidder by public auction—of the exclusive right to poison the Chinese in Hong Kong—and to open a given number of opium smoking-shops, under the protection of the police, for the commission of this appalling vice. Would we have acted thus towards France or Russia, and established a smuggling depot on their shores in a prohibited and terrific poison? We dare not. Why, then, should we legalize and protect this dreadful traffic on an island given to us by the government of China as a residence, and for commercial intercourse.
Thus the war, instead of either terminating, or even checking this evil, has actually afforded greater facilities for its extension. The number of chests of opium imported into China has continued to increase every year, until now they amount to 60,000 chests, estimated to be worth over $40,000,000; a sum greater, by one-half, than is paid by that great empire on the whole imports from all other nations. New market-places for the sale of the drug are opening every year along the coast, up the rivers, and far into the interior of the country.
The Chinese laws prohibiting its use and trafiick remain unchanged, though, to all practical purposes, they are a dead letter on their statute book. Since the war with England, scarcely any vigorous attempt has been made to enforce them, while, prior to that event, punishment for their violation was of very frequent occurrence.
It is somewhat difficult to account for the present inactive course of the Chinese government, in respect to an evil which is exerting such a destructive influence on that people. Mr. Williams, in his work on China, remarks that “this conduct can be explained only on the supposition that having suffered so much, the emperor and his ministers thought safety from future trouble lay in enduring what was past curing; they had already suffered greatly in attempting to suppress it, and another war might be caused by meddling with the dangerous subject, since, too, it was now guarded by well armed vessels. Public opinion was still too strong against, or else consistency obliged the monarch to forbid legalization, which he could hardly avoid acknowledging was the least of two evils.”
Recent intelligence from China states that the emperor Tankwang, who had reigned for about thirty years, is dead, and that one of his sons has succeeded to the throne. Many foreign residents in China are of the opinion that under a new administration of government, the opium traffic will be legalized, and the native cultivation of the poppy encouraged. Bad as the use of the article is, this measure would undoubtedly work far better, in a political and commercial point of view, as well as improve the finances of the nation. It would prevent the immense drain of specie, and cut off the enormous profits of foreign merchants. Mr. Williams states this remarkable fact, that the “opium trade has been for fifteen years nearly fifteen millions of dollars in excess of the regular exchange of commodities, and the drainage of the country for this balance will probably go on so long as the taste for this pernicious narcotic continues, or there is specie to pay for it.” Fifteen millions of dollars annually, for fifteen years, make two hundred and twenty-five millions, to which, if we add the twenty one millions paid the English at the close of the war, we have then two hundred and forty-six millions of dollars, drained from China since the year 1835, over and above the value of all its other exports. Thus, notwithstanding the immense quantities of tea, silks, and other productions which are annually exported from China, their combined value does not begin to equal the expenditure for this single article of luxury, or rather of destruction, which brings no equivalent whatever in return. And all this drain of specie occurs, too, in a land where there is no national bank, or system of credit to enable the government or people to get along with a substitute for the precious metals. Some recent writers on China represent its finances to have been in an embarrassed state for several years past, which were attributed in part to a diminution of its revenue, but mainly to the vast quantity of silver that left the territory to pay for opium. But this continued and immense drain of specie constitutes only a small part of the evils which this poison inflicts upon that great empire. Loss of health and time, human suffering, mental imbecility, moral depreciation, and destruction of life, are evils which cannot be reckoned in dollars and cents.
One of the results of this traffic is, that it now constitutes the most powerful obstacle in the way of trading in other articles with China. The Canton Circular for 1846, a commercial paper, speaking of the state and prospects of trade generally in China, remarks that “with respect to the opium trade, as at present conducted, it is certainly a great evil, and indirectly injures the sale of other merchandise.” This evil prejudices the Chinese against all commercial intercourse with foreigners, and destroys all desire or ambition on their part to improve their circumstances, or cultivate habits of industry, besides stripping them of all their resources. Had the influence of this drug never been felt in China, we have good evidence to believe that it would have proved the best market in the world for the sale of European and American manufactures. It is a fact that in proportion as the opium traffic has increased, that of British manufactures has decreased. It has been said that the Chinese were adverse to commercial intercourse with foreign nations; but what is the evidence in proof of this statement? Lord Napier, whose testimony is entitled to the greatest respect, wrote in the year 1834 that “the Chinese are most anxious to trade with us,” and again, “it is a perfect axiom that the Chinese people are most anxious for our trade from the great wall to the southern extremity of the empire.” Sir George Robinson also states that in 1835, “the people are intensely desirous to engage in traffic.” Mr. Gutzlaff affirms that the “English woolens are in great demand, yet we have still to look for that time when the spirit of British enterprise shall be roused; for in regard to China it is almost dormant.” Lord Napier, indeed, said that the “Tartar government was anti-commercial.” It may be so. But why is not commerce carried to the fullest extent of the privileges which are possessed? Simply, as Capt. Elliot stated, because the opium traffic is “intensely mischievous to every branch of the trade.” Mr. Dunn, who spent many years among the Chinese, says, “they possess a strong predilection for commerce, and a great taste for foreign manufactures. The principal barrier to the rapid increase in the consumption of British goods is, I conceive, the opium trade. Stop this, and you will have their warmest friendship—a friendship that will so facilitate and increase the consumption of your manufactures that a few years only would show them to be your best customers.” Mr. Martin inquired of one of the chief officers at Shanghai, how trade could be best promoted; he immediately, and with great sternness, answered, cease sending us millions worth of opium, and our people will have more money to purchase your manufactures.”
Another feature of this trade deserves particular notice, namely: its smuggling character. All enlightened, and even civilized nations, have ever regarded it as a fundamental principle in trade, that a nation may enact whatever laws of commerce its interests may be supposed to require. It has a right* to permit or restrict, to encourage or prohibit, any articles of merchandise it may deem necessary. Any known or intended infringement or violation of this right by another nation, is, and should be considered, one of the greatest national crimes. And to take advantage of the peculiar circumstances of a nation, and force it to yield partially or wholly this right, to its great detriment, is, to say the least, highly dishonorable. How has this established right been respected by the English government in its intercourse with China in the sale of opium? At first, and so long as it was employed for medicinal purposes only, its importation with a small duty was allowed. But when it began to be used somewhat extensively for its intoxicating qualities, followed by the most pernicious effects, not only in draining the country of its legal currency, and thereby deranging trade generally, but in the loss of time, health, property, mental and physical capacity for labor, and greatly increasing theft, fraud, licentiousness, violence and premature death, the Chinese government, to prevent these dreadful evils, and save their country from ruin, utterly prohibited its importation, thus making it a contraband article.
Their light to do this has never been called in question, as there was no violation of treaty stipulation, and the interests of the country being jeopardized, required such a measure. But it was entirely disregarded. The drug has been smuggled into that country in rapidly increasing quantities for more than fifty years, in face of wholesome laws, earnest remonstrance, and severe threatenings, and the direful effects on the inhabitants of China, all of which were well known to the parties concerned.
A system of smuggling on a greater scale, and with greater profits, followed at the same time with more disastrous results, the world has never witnessed. It is true the English are not the only party engaged in the opium trade. Some eight or ten vessels, devoted exclusively to this traffic are owned by American merchants, and sail under the American flag. The same censures which are applied to the English, should also be meted out to all Americans enlisted in a business so odious in its character, and so destructive in its influence. It is no better than the African slave trade, and should be exposed and condemned by every enlightened and Christian nation.
The missionaries of the American Board, in their last communication from China, (Missionary Herald, June, 1850,) describe the effects of the drug, and the present state of things in reference to this evil, as follows :“The contraband trade in opium induces a disregard of all law, and leads to smuggling in other articles; it raises up and encourages a set of miscreants and pirates along the coast; it gives rise to constant strife between the revenue officers and the smugglers, the former of whom keep a vigilant oversight of every entrance; not so much to prevent its coming, as to collect their fees for allowing it to pass, it tends to destroy all moral rectitude, and strengthens habits of vice both among the people and the government officers. Its use, as well as its abuse, destroys property, health, intellect, and life. Its introduction constantly sets against us the best portion of the Chinese people, who associate foreigners of every name and occupation with this pernicious traffic. The importation during the past year has probably equaled eight millions of pounds, and this year it will, perhaps, exceed that amount. The Chinese government has given up its efforts to retard its use, winks at the cultivation of the poppy, is obliged to connive at the bribery of its revenue officers, and many persons think that the trade will be legalized, on the coming of a new emperor to the throne. In a national and commercial point of view, such a step would be desirable.” We can see no other alternative, but that the Chinese government will be compelled to resort to this course, in self-defense, and preservation of their empire.
What is to be the probable result of this traffic upon China, is a question of momentous interest. How long is it to continue to drain the country of its specie—embarrass its finances—corrupt its officers—impoverish and ruin its inhabitants? Are the difficulties attending this contraband trade still to be the occasion of frequent broils, and interruptions of commercial intercourse, as in years past, between the Chinese and foreigners? Must there be another opium war? Is this ancient and extensive country to be ruined commercially, politically, and morally? Will the Chinese suffer the devastations of this evil to go on till the great Celestial Empire, with her three hundred and fifty millions of inhabitants, loses, like some neighboring provinces, her own independence, and become tributary to a foreign power? Or, to escape such a melancholy fate, will her government either resort to the extensive cultivation of the poppy within her own borders, or else legalize the importation of the drug from abroad? Are there any rational prospects that China will ever extricate herself from these dreadful evils? We are constrained to reply that neither the light of experience, nor the prospects of the future, afford us any well-grounded hope of such a desirable result.
Who is responsible, then, for the continuance of these evils? And who has power, and to whom does the duty belong to put an end to this traffic? the merchant engaged in carrying it on? or the East India Company, whose treasury is so much enriched by its profits? or the English government, that confers upon this company such chartered privileges? Formerly, the whole trade, not only in India, but the transportation to, and the sale of the drug in China, was a complete monopoly of the government; but now that monopoly is confined to India, whence all the supplies come, and where the government has the entire control of its cultivation, manufacture, and sale, which it can at any time either abandon or prohibit. Notwithstanding, the Friend of India of November 8th, 1849, says “the opium revenue has now become so important an element in our financial system that it is difficult to imagine how the machine of government could be carried on without it.” And the Bombay Gazette of November 20th, 1849, states that “British India now really seems to be supported by the cultivation of a poisonous drug, and selling it or smuggling it into China.”
We have no reason whatever to expect that the merchants will voluntarily relinquish a traffic so lucrative, nor that the East India Company, (an incorporated body, in common parlance, without a soul,) will totally change its revenue laws, which have been constantly increasing its resources for more than fifty years. We must then look to the English government as primarily and chiefly responsible for this traffic, and to Parliament in particular. Clarkson and Wilberforce, by their devoted and unwearied labors to abolish slavery in the British possessions, won immortal fame; but here is an evil of far greater magnitude, enslaving the souls as well as bodies of many millions, fostered, too, for more than half a century by government itself. As the East India Company is shortly to petition Parliament for a renewal of its charter, who will cheerfully come forward, like Clarkson and Wilberforce to examine into this evil, expose its terrible effects, and call for their removal?
How can the Chinese regard the English in any other light than wholesale smugglers and wholesale dealers in poison? The latter can expend annually over two millions of dollars on the coast of Great Britain to protect its own revenue laws, but, at the same time, set at bold defiance similar laws of protection enacted by the former. The English are constantly supplying the Chinese a deadly poison, with which thousands yearly put an end to their existence. In England, even the druggists are expressly forbidden to sell arsenic, laudanum, or other poison, if they have the least suspicion that their customer intends to commit suicide. But in China every facility is afforded, and material supplied under the British flag, and sanctioned by Parliament itself, for wholesale slaughter. How long will an enlightened and Christian nation continue to farm and grow a means of vice, with the proceeds of which, even when in her possession, a benighted and pagan nation disdains to replenish her treasury, being drawn from the ruin and misery of her people? Where is the consistency or humanity of a nation supporting armed vessels on the coast of Africa to intercept and rescue a few hundred of her sons from a foreign bondage, when, at the same time, she is forging chains to hold millions on the coast of China in a far more hopeless bondage? And what must the world think of the religion of a nation that consecrates churches, ordains ministers of the gospel, and sends abroad missionaries of the cross, while, in the mean time, it encourages ‘and upholds a vice which is daily inflicting misery and death upon more than four millions of heathen? And what must be the verdict of future generations as they peruse the history of – these wrongs and outrages? Will not the page of history, which now records £20,000,000 as consecrated on the altar of humanity to emancipate 800,000 slaves, lose all its splendor, and become positively odious, when it shall be known that this very money was obtained from the proceeds of a contraband traffic on the shores of a weak and defenseless heathen empire, that the sacrifice, too, of millions upon millions of lives?
Are you sufficiently bummed? I think I need to post something fluffy and with lots of colorful fashion before moving to The London Adviser and Guide again.