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"We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet 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?" - Lin Zexu in an open letter to Queen Victoria.

Today, 173 years ago, the Imperial commissioner Lin Zexu brought his plan to end the Honourable East India Company's trade of opium into China to action. 1.200 tons of opium, confiscated from the Europeans previously, went up in flames.
At the beginning of the 19th century foreign trade, channeled  through Canton and the Twelve Hongs (factories) as the sole legal points of commerce, made "great profit" for the Chinese officials. The exchange of luxury goods such as tea and silk was allowed for silver only, a deficitary business for John Company in the long run, since silver had to be purchased on foreign markets as well. When tea became available for the Company elsewhere from her vast possessions in India and the Cape and someone had the bright idea to export opium from Bengal instead of silver, matters changed rapidly "great profit"-wise. The Honourable East India Company had become the world greatest drug cartel ever, while the Chinese  Qing Dynasty began to feel the ebbing of the silver stream they had grown to depend upon. When Lin Zexu tried to reverse matters in 1839, for moral as well as business reasons, the Company was sure to react and they did. Open hostilities between their army and navy and the Qing Dynasty begann in the autumn of 1839, the First Opium War had started.

More on 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Opium_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lin_Tse-hs%C3%BC
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