British Governments involvement in the Opium trade.
The Opium War
Britain’s creation of the First international Drug cartel.With the collusion and agreement of the British government, Sir Rutherford Alcock, Sir Lord Palmerston, the Rt. Hon John Palmerston, Sir Henry Pottinger Her Majesty’s ministers, MP’s, and the East India Company EIC.
Early in the 19th century, Britain‘s continuing consumption or “enormous quantities” of Chinese tea was adversely affecting its balance of payments. Tea was China’s second largest export after silk, and the Chinese wanted nothing in return except silver bullion. The Chinese Emperor, Ch’ien Lung, said, “The celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its borders.”
This placed Britain and its East India Company (EIC) at a trading disadvantage. The deficit with China was so alarming that Parliament [ the English legislature ] threatened the Company with loss of charter.
It took little mental effort for the British to realize which commodity could turn the situation around. The EIC controlled Opium production over the entire Indian subcontinent….. a virtual world monopoly. The product was sold at auction in Calcutta, and British merchant ships, flying flags of convenience, were already smuggling the Opium into China. Since opium was contraband, they paid No duties.
The British simply employed Chinese opium buyers to bribe Chinese officials with “tea money” or “squeeze”…which is still “ a common euphemism for a kickback in Hong Kong.”
EIC directors in London vociferously condemned the opium trade…but they continued production and worked through proxy traders instead of their own vessels. By 1830, opium output reached 30,000 chests per annum, fetching 981,000 sterling. That same year, the British government granted the EIC permission to extend and expand poppy cultivation in India, “with a view to a large increase in supply of opium.
A government report in 1832 said, ”It does not appear advisable to abandon so important a source of revenue. “London was Europe’s main center for opium trading and that a cartel of importers controlled the business.”
Jardine Matheson was the largest drug-smuggling agency in London. William Jardine claimed that the opium trade was the “safest and most gentleman-like speculation I am aware of. His partner, James Matheson, responding once to an English clergyman who had denounced the fact that millions of Chinese were being brutalized by the drug, said,” We have every respect for persons entertaining religious principals, but we fear [that] the very godly people are not suited for the drug trade.”
Opium brokers seldom worked under a 50% profit margin, which could rise to 100% - Both Jardine and Matheson became wealthy Members of Parliament.
By the mid 1830’s, it was estimated that 1% of the Chinese population was addicted …roughly 4 million persons. And in the coastal provinces, where smuggling occurred, 90% of the adult population were opium addicts. Enough illegal opium was imported in 1836 to cater to 12 million addicts.
The Emperor finally responded to annulling the East India Company trading- monopoly rights. The British government realized that something had to be done to safeguard the Opium without which the economy of India would be in dire straits, ”though the trade was not admitted to or even mentioned.”
One of Britain’s superintendents of trade in china was Sir George Robinson. He observed the opium smuggling on Lintin Island and sent a report home, stating “Whenever H.M. Government directs us to prevent British vessels from engaging in the traffic, we can enforce any order to that effect, but a more certain method would be to prohibit the growth of the poppy, and manufacture of opium in Britain India.”
For his impudence, Robinson was dismissed. His successor was Captain Charles Eliot. The British Parliament and foreign secretary Lord Palmerston still refused to acknowledge openly the opium trade.
The British wanted Emperor Tao Kwong to legalize opium and collect a tariff for his own use, but he replied, “It is true I can not 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.” Three of the Emperors sons became addicts and were all killed by the drug.
Palmerston was of the opinion that the Opium trade was a Chinese problem, and that they should counteract it by controlled consumption. “Besides,“ he argued, “To stop it would bankrupt India.”
Ten years later, this same Lord Palmerston
evicted his Irish tenants en masse during ‘Black 47’ and shipped them off to Canada on some of the worst “coffin ships “ afloat. In the great hunger, Cecil Woodham - Smith described their arrival. “ Nine vessels had left Sligo carrying tenants Emigrated by Lord Palmerston from his Estates …..about 2,000 persons in total. The first vessel to arrive , the ‘Elira Liddell,’ at St. John, New Brunswick, in July 1847, raised a storm of protest …she brought only widows with young children, and aged , destitute and decrepit persons, unless to the Colony. Another vessel, the ‘Lord Ashburton,’ arrived on 30th October, dangerously late in the season, carrying 477 passengers, 174 of whom , Lord Palmerston’s
tenants, were almost naked, 87 had to be clothed by charity before they could, with decency, leave the ship. 107 persons had died on the voyage of fever and dysentery.”
The Common council of the city of St. John sent a letter to [the British government ] expressing their deep regret that one of Her Majesty’s ministers, the RT. Hon John Palmerston
, should have exposed such a number of distressed portion of his Tenantry to the severity and privations of a New Brunswick winter …. unprovided with the common means of support, with broken-down constitutions and almost in a state of nudity.”
In 1839, the Chinese Emperor appointed a special commissioner, Lin Tse-hsu, and commanded him to eradicate the opium trade. Lin submitted “an explosive proposal”
to the Emperor …all smugglers, foreign and Chinese , were to be treated the same under Chinese law. The Emperor agreed.
Lin arrived in Canton in 1838 and “ordered all opium commerce to halt forthwith, simultaneously demanding all existing stores to be surrendered within three days .” Lin blocked the opium merchants in their “factories” and cut off food supplies. Eventually, the drug dealers handed over 20,283 chests of opium, which Lin destroyed.
The same year, a group of British soldiers visited a Chinese inn, became drunk, demolished a small temple, and then killed a Chinese peasant in a brawl, Lin demanded that a British sailor, Thomas Tidder, be charged with murder under Chinese law in a Chinese court. British officials compensated the man’s family according to Chinese tradition, but Lin wanted a British life for a Chinese one. This is what the Manchu penal code laid down. Captain Eliot refused to comply, Lin issued a proclamation to the “savages of the further seas,” halting all trade, and he besieged the Canton opium factories again.
Cpt. Eliot ordered all British residents to board merchants ships, Lin forbade local villagers from provisioning the vessels and ordered that any foreigner found ashore be shot on sight. When war junks blocked the merchant ships, the British opened fire, and the Opium War began.
According to author Lawrence James in the Rise and Fall of the British Empire, (1994), “The war was a severe shock to the Chinese, who knew nothing of the technology of their adversaries. “ War operations were at first confined to the Canton River. Hong Kong island was captured and eventually “ceded in perpetuity “to Britain. A sustained demonstration of fire power followed, on the Yangtze River. Royal Navy ships that sailed up the Yangtze “were closely followed by vessels carrying Opium.”
British ships shelled Shanghai and Chinkiang, and heavily armed troops were landed. Most British losses came from sunstroke, malaria, dysentery and cholera, rather than hostile fire. The stunned Chinese government signed the treaty of Nanking, which confirmed British possession of Hong Kong and forced open Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Shanghai, and Ningpo as “Treaty ports” for British commerce in opium.
Lawrence James writes that “ the apparatus of unofficial empire is soon in place, Consulates were established, British subjects were allowed excemptions from Chinese rivers and coastal waters.”
Opium was not mentioned in any of the treaty negotiations, nor in the peace terms, because the British government had no new policy for controlling the opium trade. They preferred that China simply legalize it.
Opium imports rose rapidly after the war, because British opium traders ignored all Chinese attempts to control them. Sir Henry Pottinger, the new chief superintendent of trade, encouraged the traders. He said it was “neither desirable or [sic] necessary to exclude our opium trading ships from Hong Kong harbour.”
Jardine Matheson immediately anchored a receiving vessel in Hong Kong harbour and sold opium directly to Chinese craft. It was only a few months before Hong Kong became larger version of Lintin Island. In 1844, the new governor of Hong Kong reported, “ Almost every person possessed of capital who is not connected with the government is employed in the opium trade.”
Only six weeks after the Union jack was raised in Hong Kong, the Canton Register predicted that the island would be the rendezvous of all Chinese smugglers. “Opium dens and gambling houses will soon spread. To those haunts will flock the discontented and bad spirits of the Empire.“ Crime and vice did indeed spread in Hong Kong, and brothels opened to provide for the needs of smugglers, sailors and military personnel.
Profits soared, by 1845, ( the first year of the mass starvation in Ireland ) 80 vessels based in Hong Kong were running Opium ( 19 were owned by Jardine Matheson , Matheson was the largest drug smuggling agency in London ), selling it up the Yangtze River, and spreading the drug into the heartland of China.
By 1848, 40,000 chests of Opium were stored in Hong Kong, and 75% of India’s Opium was traded through Hong Kong at a value of six million pounds per annum.
In the second Opium War 1856-1860, the British razed the Summer Palace of the Emperor and burned twenty other imperial buildings in Peking to the ground. The most important treaty terms placed a tariff on imported opium, “which more or less legalized the trade,”
In 1871, ‘Sir’ Rutherford Alcock, a British ambassador to Peking, informed the Parliament, “We forced the Chinese government to enter into a treaty to allow their subjects to take opium.” Over the years, a few individuals raised their voices in opposition. The Earl of Shaftsbury said,”I am fully convinced that for this country to encourage this nefarious traffic is bad , perhaps worse than encouraging the slave trade.”
Dr.Thomas Arnold [headmaster of Rugby, the so-called ‘public school’ for English boys] called it so “wicked as to be a national sin of the greatest possible magnitude,” and Gladstone said, “A war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of.”But in the end, “Colonial policy was untouched and the Indian company was preserved.”
Today, the Oxford History of Britain, 1988 says that the Opium Wars were “The most disreputable of all Britain’s imperialistic exploits, because it was a considered and consistent policy, not the accidental result of a local crisis.”
And the Rise and Fall of the British Empire calls the first opium war “a shameful act of aggression contrived to promote a trade which was immoral,” but it also points out that “Contemporaries regarded the war and its successors highly praiseworthy enterprises.” To them the fault lay with the Chinese, who treated Britain and its merchants in a high- handed manner.”
The Oxford History of Britain, 1988 says, “In some areas, British attempts to trade were supported by arms – a notable example being the opium monopoly of the Indian government, and general free- trade access which was forced upon the Chinese government in a series of Opium wars .” Later, it says, “The Opium Wars were fought on behalf of free-trading merchants, rather than the fading chartered companies.”
Here it becomes necessary to point out that the opium monopoly was controlled not by the “Indian government,” but by the British , and that the “free trading “ was illegally carried out by drug smugglers, not “merchants.”
British drug traffickers spent 78 years in the illicit opium trade, “with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the British government “ and her Majesty’s military forces were placed at the service of this criminal class. These facts do not seem to be of great interest to British historians, five major reference works together can not produce three pages on the subject.
All during their prolonged trade in opium, the British government did not admit or even mention it in public. Today it can be mentioned or even admitted to, but only in a few paragraphs, with a Cambridge or Oxford professor providing exculpatory “facts.”
In 1847, Oxford history professor James Anthony Froude wrote that the Irish were “more like squalid apes than human beings,” but he published the following truth in his book English in Ireland:
“England governed Ireland for what she deemed her own interest, making her calculations on the gross balance of her trade ledgers and leaving moral obligations aside, as if right and wrong had been blotted out of the statute book of the universe.”
Cast a cold eye on Britain’s 300 years of plying the trans-Atlantic slave trade, on her callous “free-market” food export during the mass starvation in Ireland, and on her criminal conduct during the Opium Wars, and see those same trade ledgers employed and the same moral obligations cast aside.[/b]
A History of Drugs in China for those interested, http://books.google.ca/books?id=mS9vZgp ... tory+(1999
)+Martin+ CC8Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Jardine%20Matheson%20&f=false p42
Sir Henry Pottinger: first governor of Hong Kong by George Pottinger (biased) http://books.google.com/books?id=H3bbjf ... &q&f=false
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