On 24 March 1839, Commissioner Lin Ze-xu, the special envoy to Emperor Tao Kuang, blockaded the foreign merchants’ opium warehouses in Canton, and ordered the merchants to surrender over 20,000 chests of the illegal drug.
The chests of opium were duly handed over to Lin Ze-xu and he had the drug destroyed – much to the surpise of the foreign merchants, who had assumed that all the Chinese officials were corrupt.
The Chinese authorities took this ‘zero tolerance’ approach because the drug was ruining China both morally and financially.
However, the UK government was determind to keep the opium trade operating and, in the name of free trade, resolved to force China to accept the import of opium. In late August, Commissioner Lin Ze-xu expelled the British from Canton, and they moved to Hong Kong island. In November, Lin Ze-xu banned all British ships from Canton.
The UK government, led by Palmerston, responded by sending soldiers and warships to smash the blockage of of the ports. Thus started the first Opium War (aka ‘The Wars of the Poppies’), lasting from 1839 to 1842.
We’ve been reading all about the Opium Wars in the Archive, and it’s been fascinating to learn just now opposed most newspaper writers were to the government’s bullying of China.
Included below is a detailed report on the alleged blockade of the Chinese ports to the opium merchants (or ‘smugglers’, as the Chinese called them), as published in “Freeman’s Journal” in 1339.
Freeman’s Journal – Tuesday 17 December 1839
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