Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Opium peddlers - British East India company and Chinese

Opium routes between British-controlled India and China.ocw.mit.edu

Opium  smokers  produced by BEI company.www.nuttyhistory.com
The East India company, in its early stages of inception was a small one founded on a very low budget, comprising mainly  subscriptions, trifling sums  of a few private individuals. Initially known as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London, it was making money in spice trades in the East Indies. The company, over a period of time,  knocked off the monopoly of Spanish and Portuguese traders after the destruction of the Spanish Armada  in 1588. In 1612 the British defeated the Portuguese in India, succeeded in getting trade concessions from the Mogul rulers of Delhi and finally settled down to a few lines of trading - cotton and silk goods, indigo,  saltpeter, and spices from South India.  After the Amboyna Massacre in 1623, in which English, Japanese, and Portuguese traders were executed by Dutch authorities  in what is now Maluku Island (previously Ambon), Indonesia, the English traders paid more attention to India. As the business flourished it became a major force to reckon with and  grew like a  giant Tsunami tidal wave  engulfing many Asian nations especially India. Better known as British East India company, it  became a commercial body with vast resources and slowly assumed  the form of a sovereign power. During their operations in the Indian subcontinent, not only did it cause harm to the welfare of Indians but also  to other people in the neighboring countries like China. The company created its own military and administrative  divisions  to counter tough competition from other European nations, thereby becoming an imperial power in its own right. In order to check the growing power of the company in  Asian countries, the British Parliament created a government- controlled policy-making body with the Regulating Act of 1773. The British government took away the East India Company's monopoly in 1813, and after 1834 BEI  worked as the government's agency in the defacto British colonies until 1857.  During this period the British  ruled vast territories far larger than the United Kingdom itself and created colonies such as Singapore.
opium export to China from India, BEI.www.veteranstoday.com
Since there was enormous profit in export market, the British concentrated on exporting opium from India to China. They needed more money to maintain the colonies and also to expand them. The opium came from the Princely States or the plantations of the British East India Company. In 1770s  the British brought many ares in India under opium cultivation and got a large sum by way of tax on one hand and generated enormous profits by exporting it to destinations like China. In mid 1830s the BEI was exporting opium worth 15 million dollars annually.  Previously the Chinese consumed opium on a small scale supplied mainly by the Arab and other traders. It was widely used as a medicine in the seventh or eighth century.

Thanks to the  Portuguese who introduced a new form of smoke-able opium to China in the early 1700’s. The opium was mixed with tobacco and became a new habit in China and it was popular among the rich and the young and wealthy Chinese considered it as a status symbol. Opium trade was originally dominated by the Dutch, but was soon taken over by the British due to British rule in India. The British started to trade opium for silver in southern China, and from there the opium trade exploded.

The export of  opium to China assured the British of  a large steady   flow of silver into India which helped them consolidate  their hold on the subcontinent, in particular, Bengal which  became its financial base. For this reason the BEI pushed more export of opium to China, unmindful of a big chunk of population becoming  slaves to opium smoking. In 1834-35 alone, the B. E. I. Co. exported 10,107 chests of opium from Calcutta to China, chiefly to the port of Canton.

In 1834 overall trade profits dipped from Rs.9,413,091 Rupees to Rs.6,827,628 (despite a sharp increase in shipments to China) on account of decline in price from  $2,075 (average for 1821-22) to just $955. During the period 1848-49 the profits shot up to Rs.24,103,775 rupees because of demand. It means there was ever increasing addicts in China.

The more the Chinese addicts on the streets of China in every nook and corner, the more profits for the British company, the better the security of the British society. One  culturally rich Asian country was slowly perishing on one hand, England was prospering on the other hand.   


The first anti-opium edict was issued by Emperor Yung Ching in 1729 and  imports  of opium into China stood at 200 chests annually. In 1799 more restrictions were added to curtail opium import. Despite the threat of severe penalties, strict customs rules, severe trade restrictions on  foreigners, the Chinese rulers could not stop the illegal import of opium from India which gradually rose from 5,000 chests in 1820, 16,000 chests in 1830 and  to whooping 40,000 chests in 1838 before the First Opium War.

After the Treaty of Nanking (1842), Britain got Hong Kong, reduced the opium tariff, regularized the import of opium.  In 1858 annual imports had risen to 70,000 chests (4,480 long tons). Second opium war between the British and China  in 1856 opened up more ports for the British and trade access to Britain and other foreign countries.

Emperor Dao Guang (1821-1850) of the Qing Dynasty, having come to know that the opium was destroying a large section of the population and the Chinese culture,  he stopped opium imports into China through any means. But the British supplied opium through a big network of sea- pirates to the Chinese market. In the wake of more illegal imports in Guangdong and Fujian provinces, nine out of ten were addicts. Thanks to the British ingenuity and business acumen.

As many foreign countries condemned opium smoking and  with international efforts, it slowly declined, and thousands of Chinese were saved from near death. Opium addiction in China came down drastically over a period of time. The Chinese will never forgive the  Britain for their role in turning a large section of the population into  Zombies. Nothing gave the aristocratic British Bobs  more joy than their fast-filling coffers with silver " from opium trade".

Tit-Bits:
Opium is a poison  and its undesirable and violent effects will undermine the morality and capability of a well- cultured society. The younger generation will be degenerating and become hooked to it. If addicted, the person will go to any length to please him in a state of extreme excitement, unmindful of harms he is doing to himself as well as to others.  Before rehabilitation, he may face death.The British traders in India under the East India company were unscrupulously spinning large amount of money for them at the expense of gullible Chinese.

Ref:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_opium_in_China

http://www.britannica.com/topic/opium-trade