In the 19th century China presented a sorry spectacle. The western powers especially the Great Britain made a colonial influence on China. China was exploited and wooed by the western powers. The Great Britain traded with China and much profit was being taken from there. The Britishers were collecting opium from the different countries and selling in China at a higher rate. This is called opium trade.
This opium trade was doing much harm to the population of China. So, in order to curb the opium trade, many attempts were made by China but failed. At last, an honest officer named Lin Zexu took a hard stand against the English traders. He argued that China was providing Britain with valuable commodities such as tea, porcelain, spices, and silk. But Britain was sending only poison in return. He accused the foreign traders of making a profit and lacking morality. He requested the queen of England to have a decent feeling and support his efforts. He wrote –
“We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. The purpose of your ships in coming to China is to realize a large profit. Since the profit is realized in China and is in fact taken away from the Chinese people, how can foreigners return injury for the benefit they have received by sending this poison to harm their benefactors.
They may not intend to harm others on purpose, but the fact remains that they are so obsessed with material gain that they have no concern whatever for the harm they can cause to others. Have they no conscience? I have heard that you strictly provide opium in your own country, indicating unmistakably that you know how harmful opium is. You do not wish opium to harm your own country, but you choose to bring that harm to the other countries such as China. Why?
The products that originate from China are all useful items. They are good for food and other purposes and easy to sell. Has China produced one item that is harmful to foreign countries? For instance, tea and rhubarb are so important to foreigner’s livelihood that they have to consume them every day. Were China to concern herself only with her own advantage with out showing any regard for other people’s welfare, how could foreigners continue to live?
I have heard that the areas under your direct jurisdiction such as London, Scotland and Ireland do not produce opium; it is produced instead in your Indian possessions such as Bengal, Madras, Bombay, Patna and Malwa. In these possessions the English people not only plant opium poppies that stretch from one mountain to another but also open factories to manufacture this terrible drug.
As months accumulate and years passed by, the poison they have produced increases in its wicked intensity, and its repugnant odor reaches as high as the sky. Heaven is furious with anger, and all the Gods are moaning with pain! It is hereby suggested that you destroy and plow under all of these opium plants and grow food crops instead, while issuing an order to punish severely any one who dares to plant opium poppies again.
A murder of one person is subject to death sentence; just imagine how many people opium has killed! This is the rationale behind the new law which says that any foreigner who brings opium to China will be sentence to death by hanging or beheading. Our purpose is to eliminate this poison once and for all and to the benefit of all mankind.”
– Lin Zexu.
This letter did not get any reply. Some say that it was lost in transit but it was later reprinted in the London Times as a direct appeal to the British public.
In March 1839, Lin Zexu started to take measures to eliminate the opium trade. He was a custom commissioner of high integrity and competence with high moral standards. He made changes within some months. He arrested more than seventeen hundred Chinese opium dealers and confiscated over seventy thousand opium pipes. He initially was trying to convince the foreign companies to forfeit their opium stores in exchange for tea. But this attempt failed. Then Lin started using force against the foreigners. He raided western merchants’ enclave.
After a month the merchants surrendered 1.2 million kg of opium. This amount of opium after mixing with lime and salt was thrown into the sea outside of Humen Town. Even Lin Zexuapologized before the Gods for polluting the sea. This drastic measure against the English led to war between China and England. This is called the opium war. This indicates that how dutiful was Lin Zexu and how integrated he was as an officer as well as a responsible citizen of his country.
The present generation of officers all over the world should learn something from Lin Zexu. He was not only an honest officer; he did not care for his life also. Such an officer is rare in the world. Jawahar Lal Nehru has written in his book ‘Glimpses of world history’ about Lin Zexu in great detail and praising him like anything. Lin was the second person to be praised by Nehru. The first one was Mustafa Kemal Pasha of Turkey who was a progressive man and honest administrator like Lin Zexu. The present bureaucracy needs such officers. But none is in sight.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]