THE HISTORY OF THE OPIUM TRAFFIC, 1882
THE HISTORY OF THE OPIUM TRAFFIC
The subject of the opium traffic between India and China is attracting so much attention both in the East and at home, where it bas been frequently represented in the light of a national scandal, that the enumeration of the simple facts connected with its origin and development may be useful for the removal or correction of popular error and misconception. The task has become the more necessary because statements have lately been put forward to the effect that the Chinese authorities meditate taking diplomatic action in the matter. Whether these rest on any solid foundation or not, the mere rumour has sufficed to rouse the energy of those who have long devoted a laudable, if, perhaps, a somewhat mistaken zeal to the cause of the abolition of the use of opium, and we have already witnessed several and are on the eve of witnessing more meetings brought together for the purpose of denouncing the opium traffic by those who are rightly looked upon in this country as the champions of this propaganda. The remarkable letter which appeared some weeks ago from the Chinese statesman Li Hung Chang furnished those who had enlisted in the cause of the Anti-Opium Society with a fresh inducement to persevere in an undertaking which, if statistics are to be accepted - as the test, is not more agreeable to the people who consume opium than to the Governments whose revenues prott by its consumption. For that letter showed, at least, that there was a feeling prevalent among Chinese statesmen generally in favour of measures to control and circumscribe the actual consumption of opium as the enemies of the drug have long sustained. The argument has been consistently advanced by them until it has become a cardinal article of their faith that we should not only hold out the hand of friendship and brotherhood to the Chinese in their praisewrorthy endeavours to put down the use of opium, but that we should set them a great example of Cliristian virtue and aid their gropings in the darkby ourselves cutting the Gordian knot for them. For, as it bas been somewhat naively stated, the probibition of the export of opium from India would, of course, solve the difficulty at once and strike the evil at the root; but those who suggest so extreme and violent a remedy can have but little idea of the disturbing consequences that would ensue both to the prosperity of a large number of the people of India and also to the buoyancy of its revenue, without, perhaps, attaining the very object they had in view. In face of these circumstances, it may not be uninteresting to sketch the history and growth of opium and to explain the present conditions of its manufacture in India and of its exportation to China, where, it must be remembered, the native-grown opium is as much an article in common use as the iner Indian growth is one of luxury.
The subject promised once to engage and could alone have been done justice to by the pen of De Quincey: but, although he left posterity the "Confessions" as a source of delight, the fates were not auspicious for his plan of enriching our literature with a standard history of a drug whose medical properties have from the earliest ages proved most beneficial for mankind, but which he wished to exalt to a still higher pinnacle as an infallible - consolation for melancholy humanity. In the absence of that classic, we may, without presumption, proceed to trace the origin and development of the poppy-seed, whence is taken the opium of commerce. Originally the poppy, which was cultivated with the greatest success in Asiatic Turkey and Persia, was used exclusively as an article of medicine, and several allusions to its excellent qualities are to be found in the works of the great medical writers of the Eastern Empire. But it is probable that the practice of opium eating had been introduced into the palaces of the great in Persia at a comparatively earlier period than elsewhere although the custom was restricted to a numerically small and select class. The example set by the Persian magnates was imitated at a later period by the Hindoo princes of Rajputana, and also there is some ground for believing, by a few of the later Emperors of the Ming dynasty in China. But these exceptions were instances rather of individual willingness and self-indulgence than of general depravity or of a confirmed national taste. The total production of opium throughout the East was extremely small and consisted almost exclusively of that grown in Persia and parts of Asiatic Turkey. The Former was conveyed into Eastern Asia, either as merchandise or, more frequently, as part of the gifts accompanying the Embassies which, during the 15th and 16th centuries, often proceeded from Persia to China, while the latter supplied the markets of Europe with an invaluable medicine. Turkish opium was till quite recently admitted to be the finest in quality in the world and was in general use for medical purposes among ourselves, while Persian opium, after suffering from the depression which has beset everything connected with that country for many years, has recently developed fresh energy and is now exported in considerable and increasing quantities to Ohina.
With the exception of that brought into the country from Persia, the supply of opium in China was very small until within a comparatively recent period. A small quantity appears to have been always cultivated in the southern parts of Yunnan, but this barely sufficed for the medicinal requirements of the country. As it was of an inferior quality also, it probably did not present the temptations for smoking or consumption that were possessed by the finer growths of foreign countries. Be that as it may, the Yunnan opium was either used only locally or sent out of the province for the purpose of being employed medicinally. The Portuguese were the first to introduce Indian opium into China, which they did in small quantities through their possessions of Goa and Macao. The amount imported by their means probably varied, but, up to the year 1767, the average has been considered upon good authority not to have exceeded 200 chests annually. To what use this imported opium was turned is not known, nor can we say with any degree of certainty whether it was employed medicinally or whether it formed an article of luxury for the private indulgence ot the mandarins of Cauton. We know, however, that the Portuguese paid heavily for its admnission, both, by their rent at Macao, and by custom dues at Canton. We shall not be drawing a false conclusion from these facts when we trace to this source the origin of that taste for opium which began to reveal itself in a marked manner among official classes in China towards the end of the last century. After the year 1767, the Portuguese trade in this article developed to a considerable extent for whereas before that year the amount had long remained stationary at 200 chests, it suddenly increased after that year to 1,000 chests, which may be taken as a strong proof of the growth in thie interim of a national taste for this article. After this remarkable development in the traffic, the Portuguese did not long enjoy the monopoly which they had hitherto possessed, for the subject had naturally attracted the attention of the representatives of our East India Company, and it was, of course, resolved, with the promptitude that characterized all the measures of that great association, to enter into competition with the Portuguese and to itecure for their nation some of the advantages of this branch of the external trade of India. The motives which underlay the first venture made by Englishmen of exporting opium frorn India to China were, therefore, most natural and, indeed, honourable. The pernicious effects of overindulgence in the use of the drug were not visible, if they were even so much as conjectured, and the simple, practical fact that there existed at Canton a demand for an article which India could supply, afforded a sufficient and only reason for the East India Company to take up a commercial venture which its Portuguese rivals appeared to find profitable. The Portuguese trade in opium with China was not a matter that could be kept long concealed from their English rivals, and in 1773 the East India Company, under the auspices of Vice-Presidlent Wheeler sent their first venture of opium to China, from Calcoutta. The experiment was made on a small scale but its success was so considerable that three years later it was repeated. Two vessels were left at anchor in Larks Bay, south of Macao, to serve as depots for the traffic, which, it must be not be forgotten, was contraband, - and maintained in defiance of Imperial edicts. In connexion with this the second shipment by Englishmen of opium to China, we are told that the drug which costs at Calcutta 500 rupees a chest, was sold to the Chinese at the rate of 500 dollars, or at a profit of about 100 percent. After this successful beginning the trade Went on steadily increasing, and it appeared to consist equally of private ventures by British shippers, and of expeditions fitted out by the East India Coinpany, into whose coffers the profits were paid. To note the progress of this triffic it may be useful to record that, in 1794, when the importation of Indian opium through English agents had risen to nearly 1,500 chests, a large vessel, which was stationed at Whampoa, near Canton, for the purpose of serving as an opium depot, was allowed to remnain there unmolested for a period of more than 12 months. News travels slowly in China, and time has to elapse before the fixed lines of Chinose policy can be moved from their torpor to meet the exigencies of some new political or social danger; and so it was in the case of the opium traffic. A single generation had sufficed to create among the oficial and wealthier classes of Southern China a taste for opium smoking, which presented a favourable opportunity to the mercantile community in India not likely to be overlooked or left unutilized. But it was not until the practice had made considerable progress and firmly established its ground that the Pekin Government awoke to what it considared the serious nature of the evil; then its action was marked, however, by considerable vigour.
In the year 1800, Rea King, who had not long succeeded his ilastriouK grandfather, Keen 'Lung, issued a formal proclamation not only forbidding the importation of opium, but absolutely prohibiting its cultivation in Yunnan-a step which hsd never before been taken, and whicb, if it bad been literaUy carried out, would have been attended by considerable inconvenience and evil consequences. So far as the Imperial commnands went they were emphatic, and the punishments ordained against those who broke the newv law were of the severest kind. The Governor of Yunnan, in particular, was enjoined to employ some stronger argument than " the use of empty words," but the powerful mandarins at Canton, who controlled one of the most convenient Pnutces of the Imperial revenue, wereleft to pursue their mnalpratices with im- punity. Despite flea King's- good intentions and the frequent issue of edicts of marked severity against all those who either cultivated, imported, or consumed opium, the traffic in this article of contr.aband steadily increased. The trade. of which we have seen the small comnmencenient, amounted in 1827 to nearly 10,000 chests, and ten years later it had risen to four times that quantity, or more than 40,000 chests per annum. The further progress of the trade may here be briefly intii.ated. In 186-7, the import of opium into Ohina reached the sum of 70,000 chests, and at the resent time it may be computed at 90,000 chests. &be trade made much of this progress undet all the disadvantages arising from its being contraband. The task of landing opium on the Ohinese coast was not unaccompanied by danger as well as by in- convenience; and, until the lirst of our v ars with China, there were frequently collisions between our armed merchantmen and the revenue cruisers sent from Pekin and the north to control in some small dogree the movements of the local mandarins. In 1842, however, the 'l'reaty of Nankin placed our trade relations on a more satisfactory basis, and the later Treaty of Pekin gave opiom a place amoDgthe legal imports into Chtma and removed thislast obstacle tothe development of thetrade, which forthwith attained its present large dimensions.
Although the proclamations of the Pekin Go- vernment were sutlciently clear in their terms, and notwithstanding that there is every reason to believe that, so far as the matter was a question of' domestic policy, both the Emperor and his advisers were acting from the most laudable motives and with the full intention of carrving out their deter- miin Ltion to suppress the cultivation and the use of opium, very little was practically done towards the attainment of their nbjects. In Yunuian the cultivation of the poppy seed continued, and it gradually extended into the neighbouring province of Szechuen, while the Canton estuary presented the ready meains for the introduction of the foreign growth into the cuuntry. The provincial officials were too little uncer the control of the central authorities to fear the punishments nominally in force against those who meddled with the opium I traffic, and so long as they felt able to send bribes to the capital and to contribute their quota of revenue to the exchequer they well knew t'hat they had little to apprehend from the moral indipna- tion of those literati who presented their petitions as to the degenerate practices of the age, and who received thanks for their patriotism and regard for Confucian precepts. _The:,4psipess pf 1the official machinery of Chinam atched-the impot`ence of the central authority, and heither the d*vity of the evil nor the earnestness of the fow reformers rho deplored the pernicious consequences which they partly saw in fact, but which they more frequently conjured up in their imaginations, Lavailed to arrest the development and progress of a traffic which was based on the universal law of demand and supply. Internal disturbances, which had revealed themselves before that date, broke, out on a large scale in different 'parts of the Eimpire after the close of our fist Chinese war. and rendered the task of abolishing the use of opium still more difficult, if not absolutely impossible.
But, so far as the policy of the Imperial Cabinet is tobe judged in this mnatter, it must be pro- nounced to have been consistent enough up to this point; and even the realization of China's weakness in comparison with Europe's strenoth did not for many years produce any corresponding change or modification in the established policy of the Chinese. The old edicts remained in force, and it was still death to have any dealings in opium, which was denounced in the official document as " the flowing poison." Two years after the Treaty of Nankin the Emperor, among whose advisers the opinion was beginning to epread that.the consiumption of opium night be turned to good account for purposes of revenue, declared that he -would be no party to any scheme for profiting out of a national weakness and vice. His reply may be ftly quoted here as expressive of the views pre- vailing among the more national or extreme party of Chinese statesmen :-" It is true that I cannot prevent the introduction of the flowing poison- gain-seeking and corrupt men will, for profit and sensuality, defeat my wishes; but nothing will. induce me to derive a revenue from the vice and misery of my people." The praisewortby and admirable sentiment contained in this sentence long guided the opium policy of the Government; but its numerous necessities, produced by a series of unparalleled misfortunes, gave practical signi- ficance to the arguments of those who strenuously maintained that the opium consumption supplied the State with a great source of revenue. The close of the second foreign 'war, which terminated with the Treaties of Tientsin and Pekin, found the views of this new and, it may be added, prac- tical school gaining the ascendant; and when the new tariff was issued opium figured in it as a legal import, subject to certain provisions and to an import tax at the rate of 30 taels per picul-i.e., of about ?10 per chest. In addition to this direct tax, transit dues or " lekin " were leviable after the opium had been removed from the port; so that by our last treaty the Chinese Government were vested with the right to share in the revenue derivable from the large Chinese consumption of opium. There can be no question that they found this new source of wealth very useful, and we must attribute to the large sumz draWD from this source during the last 20 years, quite as much as to auy other cause, the remarkable progress made in that period towards the complete reunion and pacification of the country. Before pursuing this portion of the subject further we may appropri- ately say a fewr words about the manufacture of opi'nn in lndia and concerning the revenue raised trom that article.
We learn from Dr. Hunter's admirable "Imperial Gazetteer" that opium is grown and manufactured in two special tracts, " the valley of the Ganges round Patna and Benares, and a fertile tableland in Central India corresponding to the old kingdom of Malwa, for the most part still under the rule of native chiefs, among whom Scindia and Holkar rank first." The former is ex- clusively in territory directly under British rule, whereas the latter lies for the most part within the borders of the two principal Mahratta chief- tains. In Malwa the cultivation of the poppy is free, but a large duty (?65 per chest) is raised on it as it passes through British territory. In Bengal, on the other hand, the cultivation is a Government monopoly. With the exception of Rajpootana and of a few places in the Punjab and the Central Provinces, the cultivation of the poppy is Drohibited elsewhere in India. The manufac- tuie of the juice extracted from the white poppy (the unripe capsules of the papaver somniferum) into the opium of commerce is performed at Patna and Ghazijur for that grown in British territory; and at Indore' and Gwalior for that aultivated in ! Malwa. In1878-9. tho total.out-turnwas01,200 chests. of which the export value amounted to ?12,993,985, and it was officially computed that the net profit to the State ontilis transaction amounted to nearly ?8,000,000. Rather more than half this total is derivable from the Bengal monopoly, but about ?1,000,000 worth of this opium is destined for Burmah and the Malay settlements. The Cbinese ,urcbase the remainder for nearly ?11,000,000. she operations of cultivating the poppy and then manufacturing it into good opium are marked with considerable difficulty, and require great patience and delicate treatment. As has been truly said, the success of an opium cro depends entirely on the care which is bestowe' upon it, and some 30 years ago a me.lical gentle- man demonstrated the accuracy of this statement by raising a very successful crop of opium under arduous climatic conditioxns near Edinburgh. This industry forms, since the decay of indigo-planting, one of the most remunerative branches of agri- culture throughout a large part of India, and were the demaLd to be much reduced or sum- marily arreated, very great loss and suffering would inevitably ensue to a thrifty population unless some equally profitable ubstitute could be found for it.
The important share which the opium taxes contribute to the revenue of India is well known, and the task of adjusting the fiuances of that country without them would he more difficult than to carry on the administration of England without an excise. Yet practically that is the dilemma to which precipitate and rash action in this matter would bring us. The plausible argument is also brought forward that it is not only unworthy of a 'great Government to interfere in commercial -matters by exercising the fBengal monopoly, but that it is to its discredit to make profit in this direct manner out of a traffic wbich isovOe to grave moral objections. The argulment is in- geious, and might carry more weight if it were directed against the sole anomaly connected with *our administration of India. But when the State took over the affairs of the East India Company, it had to accept many of the conditions of govern- ment which bad alone enabled a few thousand Englishmen to establish their authority over the millions of India; and among the anomalies which still exist is the opium monopoly of Bengal. The iconoclast or reckless reformer will not be deterred from demanding its removal because of the simple explanation of its origin ; but prudent men will ponder, before acting, over the opinion expressed on this point by Sir Richard Temple, an Anglo-Indian statesman of proved ability and caution. Referring to the Bengal system, he says:-
"These operations are, however, undertaken by the Government only as a means of securing the revenue. It would be possible to substitute for them the system which prevails on the western side, and which would be free from this particular form of objection. But, as the Bengal system has been lobig established and is thoroughly understood by tha numerous persons concerned in it, the authorities have hesitated to make any cbange lest some loss should thereby accrue to the revenue."
In these liner may be seen the cautious views which guide the policy of the Indian Government in this matter. The wlthdrawal from the monopoly would derange all the machinery at present in work ; but, although it might entail a loss to the revenue, it would hardly decrease in smy appre- ciable degree the total export of opium from lndia. Monopoly or DO monlopoly, the object put forward by those vho clamour against the opium trafflc would still be as far from attainment as ever.
We have already seen that the Chinese Government derives a good round sum in the shape of customs from opium, and it is not unnatural to suppose that, as the present condition of Obina, both as regards, political power, population, and material wellbeing, affords no reason to appre- hend that opium-smoking has produced any worse effect on the national tempEer and character than spirit-drinking has among ourselves, this enn- venient revenue, which has proved of such in- calculable value to the public coffers, has to a great extent reconciled their minds to the actual condition of this question. Of course there are those among the older Ministers at Pekin who would favour a return to the original policy of the empire, and who make the most copital tbey can out of the petitions presented to the Throne by enthusiastic literati or by youthful aspirants to official rank. But facts are not to be overcome either by rhetoric or by reference to a period,of Arcadian simplicity, and the necessities of the Chinese Government are just as real as those of the Indian Administration, and admit as little of rash experiments being made. The actiou of the Pekin Cabinet, whenever it comes to the resolu- tion to take action, will, therefore, probably be in the direction of obtaining an increase in the amount of the customs raised on opiums, and the recent visit to Simla of a secretary of the Minister Li Hung-Ohang may be considered as a first step in this direction. Both the Chinese and onurselves will then have anxiously to consider whether the consumption of Indian opium, which is already a costly luxury beyond the reach of all save the wealthy, vvill adrmit of any further burden being placed upon it without entailing a diminution in the quantity purchased. Of. course, so far as can be practically arranged, this result should not be deplored, as opium certainly comes under the category of those articles from which we should hope to derive " the ma.rimum of revenue with the minimum of consumption ;" but there is risk here as in other things of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
The action of the Chinese Government is further hampored by the remarkable increase that has lately taken place in the cultivation of the opium poppy in the south-western province of Yunnan and in the adjoining provmco of Szechuen. Captain Gill, Mr. Baker, and several other travellers in this quarter bear testimony to the fact of the great increase that has taken place in the cultivation of the opium poppy; and of the prevalent nature of the fashion of opium-smoking in this part of China, where Indian opium is simply unknown, there can be no question. It is a common saying with the people there that "while you find an opium-pipe in every house in Eweichow you find one in every room in Yunnan. " There can also be no doubt that the practice is spreading among the people, and that the area under cultivation to meet the demand is annnally growing larger and larger. Despite official pro- testations that the Government is desirous and resolved to put down by every means in its power the use of opium within its borders, the plain fact remains that within the last ten years the cultiva- tion of native opium has gone on rapidly increas- ing; and tho Pekin authorities bave been either unable or unwilling to suppress this increased home production of a drug which they have denounced as a " flowing poison," and as coming under the ban of all honourable men. Their diplo- matic action must necessarily be seriously ham- pered by these facts,and when we consider that the Chinese taste for opium, confirmed by the lapse of time, can without difficulty be satisfied both from native growths and from Persia should the supply of the Indian opium be stopped or withdrawn, it will be admitted that even the somewhat exag- gerated moral arguments or indncements brought f orward against the ImaintenanCe of our trade in this article lose the little force they possessed and fall to the ground. The probability is that, if tho Chinese Government take any steps at all in the matter, they will be in the direction of a revision of the tariff. Beyond the trade ports oDium is now under the complete control of the Cuhinese, and tbey can pass what internal regulations and laws as to its transit they like. It brings at preseut into their coffers a useful sum of ne iy one million pounds sterling per annum.
Източник: The Times, January 4, 1882, p. 4