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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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Dirk Puehl's profile photoJennifer Bailey's profile photoJohn Hopper's profile photoMiguela Arana's profile photo
9 comments
 
My knowledge of Eastern history is abysmal.  I really need to remedy this.

Excellent post!
 
Thank you, Jennifer. Glad you liked it.
 
A shameful period in British history, one of many shameful episodes in which the British dismiss, or exclude entirely from their memory in a spectactularly cavalier fashion.
 
very good post, but the image in the light box is too small. Best to post with the streaming window as google takes automarically the best fitting size
 
+Miguela Arana - thank you, glad you like it - but help a fellow out - how do I post "with the streaming window" exactly?

+John Hopper - Well, thank god modern corporations are usually one or two steps away from owning their own armies and navies and no, HEIC was not even remotely a fair trade company and whenever they really got into politics, it sooner or later ended in a total disaster. But I do think the story here has more than one aspect, greedy John Company on the one side and a victimised Qing empire on the other.
 
It is very much in the interests of contemporary China to portray Britain, as well as other European nation states, as colonial and trading leeches, and as you say, the story id]s probably not as clear cut as that. However, it should not be for the British and Europeans in general to mitigate their dubious past relationship with China, as well as their present one, by calling on the gods of fudging.
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