Opium- When East Met West

The main thing I learned this week was just how important opium was to British traders. More depressing was just how much those traders were willing to sacrifice public health and their country’s international reputation for financial gain. The Chinese hated this emphasis on opium, which tended to cause addiction in both countries. There were questions about how the Christian missionaries (who were socially well-looked upon in the West) could try to convert any Chinese to Christianity when the Chinese hated the British for their opium. The Chinese emperor actually sent a letter to the British monarch (likely, at this time, Queen Victoria) to complain about this and to say that the Chinese could live without British trade goods (seeing as China was so superior to Britain and the British apparently only traded what he called unnecessary junk,) whereas the British really needed them and their wonderful and superior trade goods. So, he threatened to simply close China to western trade.

On the other side of the opium importation debate, there were questions about how, without the enormous profits from opium, traders could afford to ship other desired Chinese goods (like spices, silk, and dolls) all the way back to the United Kingdom without losing money. (It is made clear that traders would not bring these goods without the incentive of profit.) Also, British traders complain about both being held up while their ships were being searched for smuggled opium and, as conversely strange as it sounds, the Chinese drug-searching net being sporadic and not as great as they would wish it to be.

Although I did not read anything else to specifically make sense of these texts, I had heard briefly about the opium war in my high school history class and I happened to read a book (albeit historical fiction) this summer that featured opium addiction in Britain in this time period and I did draw on this knowledge in my responses this week.

I’d love to read a text featuring how the British government responded to these continuing opium problems and I’d love to know approximately how many people, in each country, were addicted to opium. I’m sure that many of these were Chinese sailors, but I’d like to know what other strata of society this problem encompassed. Likewise, I imagine that this problem affected mostly men. I’d be interested to know if that is definitely true. I’d also love to know if any of these addicts ever managed to beat this addiction. Other than, perhaps, JStor and Google, does anybody know where I might be able to find this information?

Image courtesy of:

google images

Information courtesy of:

Almack, William. Journal (July 1837- July 1841), MS Add.9529. Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives

Jardine Matheson: Traders of the Far East. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1999, p. 46

Lin Zexu. “Letter to the English Ruler”, in¬†Sources of Chinese Tradition: From 1600 through the Twentieth Century, Vol. 2, 202-205. Edited by Wm. Th. de Bary and R. Lufrano. Columbia Univ. Press, 2001