Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"China Should Legalize Opium", Said The Great Britain

Updated February 6, 2015

Henry Pottinger, on his departure for China on May 31, 1841, was given the following instructions by Henry John Temple (3rd Viscount Palmerston), Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with regard to opium.

Palmerston's Instructions to Henry Pottinger

"It is of great importance, with a view to the maintenance of a permanent good understanding between the two countries, that the Chinese government should place the opium trade upon some regular and legalized footing. Experience has shown that it is entirely beyond the power of the Chinese Government to prevent the introduction of opium into China; and many reasons render it impossible that the British Government can give the Chinese Government any effectual aid towards the accomplishment of that purpose. But while the opium trade is forbidden by law it must inevitably be carried on by fraud and violence; and hence must arise frequent conflicts and collisions between the Chinese preventive service and the parties who are engaged in carrying on the opium trade. These parties are generally British subjects; and it is impossible to suppose that this private war can be carried on between British opium smugglers and the Chinese authorities, without events happening which must tend to put in jeopardy the good understanding between the Chinese and British Governments. H.M. Government makes no demand in this matter; for they have no right to do so. The Chinese Government is fully entitled to prohibit the importation of opium, if it pleases; and British subjects who engage in a contraband trade must take the consequences of doing so. But it is desirable that you should avail yourself of every favorable opportunity to strongly impress upon the Chinese Plenipotentiary, and through him the Chinese Government, how much it would be for the interest of the Chinese Government itself to alter the law of China on this matter, and to legalize, by a regular duty, a trade which they cannot prevent."
Source: Final Report Royal Commission on Opium, Vol. 6, 1895, p.402.

Memorandum respecting Opium, Communicated by Sir H. Pottinger to Commissioners Keying and Elepoo, and Governor- General Neuikeen.

It was my intention to have drawn up some lengthened observations on the subject of opium, in the hope that they might be respectfully laid before the the Emperor, but on referring to the instructions which were written under date the 26th of February, 1841, to Her Majesty's joint Plenipotentiaries (Admiral Elliot and Captain Elliot) by Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and also to those from' the same high officer which were furnished to me on the 31st of May, 1841, on my departure for China, I have found the said instructions to be so candid, so explicit, and so clear on the subject of opium, that I think I cannot pursue a better course than to have these instructions translated into Chinese, and to accompany them with such additional observations as occur to me to be likely to further elucidate the matter. I should hope that the instructions from the Principal Secretary of State cannot fail to impress on the Chinese Government the absolute impossibility of the British Government preventing the cultivation of opium in its own territories in India. Admit for a moment that it issued such an order, what would be the consequence ? Why the people who now earn their subsistence by cultivating opium in the territories of the British Government would migrate into native States, and there continue the same labor, by which an equal, or even, possibly, greater, quantity of opium would be produced. Besides this fact, many other countries, in no way subject to the Government or influence of England, produce opium, and, so long as there is a demand for it in China, it is certain to be brought. If China can prevent her subjects from buying and consuming opium, the trade in it would cease at once of itself, because no persons will bring any article for sale to a market where there are no buyers ; but as long experience has shown that the Government of China has not the power of putting down the use of opium, and is equally unable to prevent its being smuggled into the Empire, it follows that there is but one mode of disposing of this troublesome point, and that is, for the Emperor to legalize the sale by barter, and to fix a duty on it. This duty should be considerably higher than what is charged on any other kind of merchandise, but if it is made exorbitant it will be evaded by the native smugglers, in spite of all the efforts of China to the contrary. In this affair of smuggling the Empire of China is not singular. England, and all the other great nations of Europe, have long seen the hopelessness of utterly preventing the importation of various articles, and have bent to circumstances, and permitted them to be brought in on paying duties. I have observed what has been advanced in one of the High Commissioner's letters, that opium is not an esculent root, and therefore not necessary for the support of man. This is very true, but the same may be remarked of many things, and Providence has allotted most countries something that they may exchange with other countries for their produce. Wine is not produced in England, but vast quantities are brought into it from other kingdoms. Tea, and the berry called coffee, from which a decoction is made, were unknown in Europe till within a comparatively late period, and yet they are now in universal use, and of the coffee, in particular, the consumption is so great that the produce cannot keep pace with the demand. The excessive use of ardent spirits ("samshoo") is looked on with great horror and regret by the Government and people of England, and many plans have been proposed to check it. Some of them have been partially successful, but its evils are quite equal to those of opium, and yet it is not felt to be possible to prevent it altogether.

To conclude; it is my solemn and unbiased opinion, from all I have myself seen since I came to China, that to legalize the sale of opium by barter is the only remedy for the trade, unless China can stop it altogether, and that I consider to be utterly impracticable.

(Signed) Henry Pottinger
"Queen," off Nankin, August 27, 1842.
Source: Papers Relating to the Opium Trade in China, 1842-1856, Presented to the House of Common by Command of Her Majesty, London: 1857, pp.1-3.

In response, Keying, etc., sent this muting effect communication, knowing too well such an agenda could never form a part of any treaty negotiation, nor could Pottinger pursue this with his military might, not even with armed steamers and horse-drawn artillery. I was unable to find the Chinese original of the communication. Keying probably did not even report it to Peking.

Reply by the Imperial Commissioners to Memorandum on Opium.

On the withdrawal of the prohibition against opium it is not expedient at this time hastily to make any representations to the Throne. But the officers of China shall certainly be enjoined to confine their jurisdiction in that respect to the soldiery and people of the country, not allowing them to make use of it. Whether the merchant vessels of the various countries bring opium or not, China will not need to inquire or take any proceedings with regard thereto. (translator unknown)
Source: Papers Relating to the Opium Trade in China, 1842-1856, Presented to the House of Common by Command of Her Majesty, London: 1857, p.3.



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