First Opium War, 1839

British and Chinese merchants alike had long benefited from the lucrative opium trade through Canton, but by the late 1830s the social and financial costs of the trade had become too high for the Chinese government to bear. Trade deficits related to the growing production of tea in India and other British colonies, combined with reversal in the flow of silver into the country made the opium trade a less financially appealing option than it once was. In addition, the social costs of the drug quickly came to outweigh any financial benefits the trade might offer. The transition from eating to smoking the drug around the turn of the 19th century transformed opium from primarily medicinal in its usage into an addiction epidemic that was becoming a serious drain on Chinese society; even the emperor’s own son died from overdose. In 1839, the emperor sent Lin Tse-Hsu to take over as governor of Canton, the center of all foreign trade, with the aim of slowing and ultimately ending the opium trade in China. Although the British merchants initially agreed to turn their opium stock over to the Chinese officials under the promise of eventual compensation from the British government, tensions increased in the summer of 1839 when it became clear that the British would not reimburse the merchants for their losses and the Chinese would not relent on their total ban of the opium trade. The Chinese trusted that their numerical superiority over the British would be enough to drive them from Canton, but they ultimately found that British weaponry would win the war. By 1842, the Chinese were forced to concede to British demands to reinstate the opium trade, opening the way for increased foreign trade and missionary activity into China. Tensions over British imperial expansion would lead to a second opium war in 1856.




Lin Tse-Hsu’s Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria, 1839 Top

Source: Ssu-Yu Teng and John Fairbank. 1954. China’s Response to the West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

A communication: magnificently our great Emperor soothes and pacifies China and the foreign countries, regarding all with the same kindness. If there is profit, then he shares it with the peoples of the world; if there is harm, then he removes it on behalf of the world. This is because he takes the mind of heaven and earth as his mind.

The kings of your honorable country by a tradition handed down from generation to generation have always been noted for their politeness and submissiveness. We have read your successive tributary memorials saying, “In general our countrymen who go to trade in China have always received His Majesty the Emperor’s gracious treatment and equal justice.” and so on. Privately we are delighted with the way in which the honorable rulers of your countip deeply understand the grand principles and are grateful for the Celestial grace. For this reason the Celestial Court in soothing those from afar has redoubled its polite and kind treatment. The profit from trade has been enjoyed by them continuously for two hundred years. This is the source from which your country has become known for its wealth.

But after a long period of commercial intercourse, there appear among the crowd of barbarians both good persons and bad, unevenly. Consequently there are those who smuggle opium to seduce the Chinese people and so cause the spread of the poison to all provinces. Such persons who only care to profit themselves, and disregard their harm to others, are not tolerated by the laws of heaven and are unanimoly hated by human beings. His Majesty the Emperor, upon hearing of this, is in a towering rage. He has especially sent me, his commissioner, to come to Kwangtung, and together with the governor-general and governor jointly to investigate and settle this matter.

All those people in China who sell opium or smoke opium should receive the death penalty. We trace the crime of those barbarians who through the years have been selling opium, then the deep harm they have wrought and the great profit they have usurped should fundamentally justify their execution according to law. We take into to consideration, however, the fact that the various barbarians have still known how to repent their crimes and return to their allegiance to us by taking the 20,183 chests of opium from their storeships and petitioning us, through their consular officer [superintendent of trade], Elliot, to receive it. It has been entirely destroyed and this has been faithfully reported to the Throne in several memorials by this commissioner and his colleagues.

Fortunately we have received a specially extended favor Born His Majesty the Emperor, who considers that for those who voluntarily surrender there are still some circumstances to palliate their crime, and so for the time being he has magnanimously excused them from punishment. But as for those who again violate the opium prohibition, it is difficult for the law to pardon them repeatedly. Having established new regulations, we presume that the ruler of your honorable country, who takes delight in our culture and whose disposition is inclined towards us, must be able to instruct the various barbarians to observe the law with care. It is only necessary to explain to them the advantages and advantages and then they will know that the legal code of the Celestial Court must be absolutely obeyed with awe.

We find your country is sixty or seventy thousand li [three li make one mile, ordinarily] from China Yet there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience? I have heard that the smoking of opium is very strictly forbidden by your country; that is because the harm caused by opium is clearly understood. Since it is not permitted to do harm to your own country, then even less should you let it be passed on to the harm of other countries — how much less to China! Of all that China exports to foreign countries, there is not a single thing which is not beneficial to people: they are of benefit when eaten, or of benefit when used, or of benefit when resold: all are beneficial. Is there a single article from China which has done any harm to foreign countries? Take tea and rhubarb, for example; the foreign countries cannot get along for a single day without them. If China cuts off these benefits with no sympathy for those who are to suffer, then what can the barbarians rely upon to keep themselves alive? Moreover the woolens, camlets, and longells [i.e., textiles] of foreign countries cannot be woven unless they obtain Chinese silk. If China, again, cuts off this beneficial export, what profit can the barbarians expect to make? As for other foodstuffs, beginning with candy, ginger, cinnamon, and so forth, and articles for use, beginning with silk, satin, chinaware, and so on, all the things that must be had by foreign countries are innumerable. On the other hand, articles coming from the outside to China can only be used as toys. We can take them or get along without them. Since they are not needed by China, what difficulty would there be if we closed our the frontier and stopped the trade? Nevertheless, our Celestial Court lets tea, silk, and other goods be shipped without limit and circulated everywhere without begrudging it in the slightest. This is for no other reason but to share the benefit with the people of the whole world. The goods from China carried away by your country not only supply your own consumption and use, but also can be divided up and sold to other countries, producing a triple profit. Even if you do not sell opium, you still have this threefold profit. How can you bear to go further, selling products injurious to others in order to fulfill your insatiable desire?

Suppose there were people from another country who carried opium for sale to England and seduced your people into buying and smoking it; certainly your honorable ruler would deeply hate it and be bitterly aroused. We have heard heretofore that your honorable ruler is kind and benevolent. Naturally you would not wish to give unto others what you yourself do not want. We have also heard that the ships coming to Canton have all had regulations promulgated and given to them in which it is stated that it is not permitted to carry contraband goods. This indicates that the administrative orders of your honorable rule have been originally strict and clear. Only because the trading ships are numerous, heretofore perhaps they have not been examined with care. Now after this communication has been dispatched and you have clearly understood the strictness of the prohibitory laws of the Celestial Court, certainly you will not let your subjects dare again to violate the law.

We have further learned that in London, the capital of your honorable rule, and in Scotland, Ireland, and other places, originally no opium has been produced. Only in several places of India under your control such as Bengal, Madras, Bombay, Patna, Benares, and Malwa has opium been planted from hill to hill, and ponds have been opened for its manufacture. For months and years work is continued in order to accumulate the poison. The obnoxious odor ascends, irritating heaven and frightening the spirits. Indeed you, O King, can eradicate the opium plant in these places, hoe over the fields entirely, and sow in its stead the five grains [millet, barley, wheat, etc.]. Anyone who dares again attempt to plant and manufacture opium should be severely punished. This will really be a great, benevolent government policy that will increase the common weal and get rid of evil. For this, Heaven must support you and the spirits must bring you good fortune, prolonging your old age and extending your descendants. All will depend on this act.

As for the barbarian merchants who come to China, their food and drink and habitation, all received by the gracious favor of our Celestial Court. Their accumulated wealth is all benefit given with pleasure by our Celestial Court. They spend rather few days in their own country but more time in Canton. To digest clearly the legal penalties as an aid to instruction has been a valid principle in all ages. Suppose a man of another country comes to England to trade, he still has to obey the English laws; how much more should he obey in China the laws of the Celestial Dynasty?

Now we have set up regulations governing the Chinese people. He who sells opium shall receive the death penalty and he who smokes it also the death penalty. Now consider this: if the barbarians do not bring opium, then how can the Chinese people resell it, and how can they smoke it? The fact is that the wicked barbarians beguile the Chinese people into a death trap. How then can we grant life only to these barbarians? He who takes the life of even one person still has to atone for it with his own life; yet is the harm done by opium limited to the taking of one life only? Therefore in the new regulations, in regard to those barbarians who bring opium to China, the penalty is fixed at decapitation or strangulation. This is what is called getting rid a harmful thing on behalf of mankind.

Moreover we have found that in the middle of the second month of this year [April 9] Consul [Superintendent] Elliot of your nation, because the opium prohibition law was very stern and severe, petitioned for an extension of the time limit. He requested an extension of five months for India and its adjacent harbours and related territories, and ten months for England proper, after which they would act in conformity with the new regulations. Now we, the commissioner and.others, have memorialized and have received the extraordinary Celestial grace of His Majesty the Emperor, who has redoubled his consideration and compassion. All those who from the period of the coming one year (from England) or six months (from India) bring opium to China by mistake, but who voluntarily confess and completely surrender their opium, shall be exempt from their punishment. After this limit of time, if there are still those who bring opium to China then they will plainly have committed a willful violation and shall at once be executed according to law, with absolutely no clemency or pardon. This may be called the height of kindness and the perfection of justice.

Our Celestial Dynasty rules over and supervises the myriad states, and surely possesses unfathomable spiritual dignity. Yet the Emperor cannot bear to execute people without having first tried to reform them by instruction. Therefore he especially promulgates these fixed regulations. The barbarian merchants of your country, if they wish to do business for a prolonged period, are required to obey our statues respectfully and to cut off permanently the source of opium. They must by no means try to test the effectiveness of the law with their lives. May you, O King, check your wicked and sift your wicked people before they come to China, in order to guarantee the peace of your nation, to show further the sincerity of your politeness and submissiveness, and to let the two countries enjoy together the blessings of peace How fortunate, how fortunate indeed! After receiving this dispatch will you immediately give us a prompt reply regarding the details and circumstances of your cutting off the opium sure not to put this off. The above is what has to be communicated.

Proclamation of Admiral Kwan, 23 September 1839 Top

Source: H. Hamilton Lindsay. 1840. Is the War With China a Just One? London: James Ridgway, Piccadilly.

Kwan, admiral of the Canton station, and leader of the forces (maritime) of the province, hereby issues the following proclamation, that all may know and understand: –

Whereas I have just received a communication from their Excellencies the High Commissioner, Lin, and the Viceroy of Canton, Taug, to the following effect: –

The English superintendent, Elliot, after having delivered the opium, petitioned us, begging for permission to load his ships off Macao, to which petition we at the time gave our flat denial. The conduct of the said Superintendent from that time has been outrageous and unreasonable in the extreme; he has not caused the empty opium ships to get under weigh; he has not caused the depraved foreigners, expelled by imperial authority, to return to their country; some of his people having beat to death one of our native people, he obstinately refuses to give up the foreign murderer; the merchant vessels lately arrived he has so arranged that he will not permit them to enter the port, but allows them to sell the new drug in our seas as before; and our edicts, which have been from time to time transmitted him, he has stubbornly refused to receive; he has even gone such lengths as in his own person to lead on foreign ships against our cruisers, specially placed for the defence of Kowlung, raising thereby disturbances, and taking advantage of our absence to fire off his guns, thus wounding our mandarins and soldiers! Our valiant troops however returned their fire with a noise like a thunderbolt, upon which the foreigners, routed and dispersed, returned again to Tseem-shatsuy, where they cast anchor. And although on the 7th day of the 8th moon (Sept. 14, 1839), he (Elliot) went himself to Macao, and begged of the Portuguese governor to present a note from him to the Tung-che, Keun-min-foo (or mandarin of Cazabranca), in which he said that ‘all he desired was peace and quietness,’ yet we find that he merely commissioned him to deliver so many unmeaning words, and that there is not the slightest proof of his sincerity or submission. On the 9th day of the said month, he departed from Macao and returned again to Hong-Kong, and on the 10th day came a foreign vessel stealthily standing in for Kowlung, prying and spying about her, by which we can sufficiently see that he still cherishes foolish and presumptuous thoughts, and has no sense of fear or repentance at his heart. Now our mandarins and troops for sea and land service being all assembled ready for action at the Bocca Tigris, I therefore address this communication to you, the admiral, that you draw up your feely and army, and appoint a day when you will attack and subdue them. You must not permit them to loiter about at Tseem-shatsuy, forcing off their opium and deluging the central flowery land with their poison!” – and other words to that effect.

Thus having been duly received, I find that I, the admiral, rule over the whole of these seas, and my especial duty is to sweep them clean of the depraved and reprobate. Since then I have received a button of a leader of the army. I ought forthwith to appoint a day for the great gather of my troops, but I, the said admiral, and descended from a family that dates as far back as the Han dynasty (2000 years ago): the line of my forefathers sprang from Hotung. My ancestor was the deified emperor Kwan-foot-tze (commonly called the Mars of China). Splendid and luminous was his fame! bright and dazzling the place of the imperial abode! The god-like warrior’s ardent wish was to practise benevolence and virtue! his mind was grand and powerful as the winds and clouds! his heart genial and refulgent as the sun by day, or the moon by night! Now I, the said admiral, fly like an arrow to recompense the goodness of my country, and tremblingly receive the admonitions of my great ancestor. I deal not in deceits and frauds, nor do I covet the bloody laurels of the butcher. Remembering that Elliot alone is the head and front of offence (or ringleader in crime), and that probably the bulk of the foreigners have been intimidated or urged by him, were I suddenly to bring my forces to commence the slaughter, I really fear that the gem and the common stone would be burnt up together. Therefore it is that I again issue this proclamation, which proceeds from my heart and bowels, that it may be promulgated everywhere. O, ye foreigners, if you belong to those opium ships which have already delivered up their opium, or if you are among the number of those who have been banished the country by imperial command, ye must instantly proceed to the wide ocean, and, spreading your sails, get ye far hence! As regards the newly arrived merchantmen, which are lying anchored here in clusters like bees, in swarms like ants, do ye try and reflect for a little, at a time like this, and under circumstances such as these, how can you continue to carry on your clandestine trade, aiming after unlawful gains, by forcing into consumption your forbidden drug. As for you, who are honorable merchants, and follow after a lawful calling, still more ought ye not to go near to or herd with the others, lest that ye along with them encounter the same blazing torch; but yet ought instantly to shun such company and behold. This may yet preserve your lives. I, the admiral, entertain for you a mother’s heart. The words I speak are as true as if spoken by the lips of Bhud himself. If, indeed, Elliot can yet repent and awake to a sense of the error of his ways, let him not object to come before me, confess his sins, and beg for mercy, in which case I myself will intercede for him! But if he still persist in remaining obstinately doltish as before, indulging in foolish expectation and perverse opposition, then, considering the good fortune and grandeur of our Celestial Empire, united with, or depending upon all the gods of heaven, just as in the case of the robber Listing, when the lightning struck him at dead of night, or in the case of the rebel Chang-kith-urh (the Prince Jehangir), when the banners waved and earth was covered with iron weapons, so, still supported by the special protection of my holy ancestor, will in your case a terrible display of our majesty be made! We have often enjoyed his divine patronage! Thus, then, the very gods and spirits cannot interfere in your behalf! Oh, ye foreigners, do ye all of you lend an attentive ear to these my words! A special proclamation!

Lin’s Policy of Caution and His Estimate of the Military Strength of Great Britain, 24 September, 1839 Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

Since we began to manage the barbarian affairs, it has been our object that opium must be completely suppressed, while risks should be avoided which might give rise to hostilities on the frontier. Therefore, we have given equal attention to both of these factors. As we carefully examine the conditions of the barbarians from time to time, we are convinced that whether there be hostilities on the frontier all depends on whether the two expedients of leniency and rigor were applied with due wisdom. It is true that a lenient policy may prevent hostilities. Yet where leniency transgresses into total relaxation, it is like feeding a malignant boil. A rigorous policy seems conducive to troubles. But when awe is thereby inspired of our power, a little penalty will have the effect of severe punishment. How to handle this has been the primary condition in an insight into the pivotal points.

Now here is the reason why people are dazzled by the name of England. Because her vessels are sturdy and her cannons fierce, they call her powerful. Because she is extravagant and squanders lavishly, they call her wealthy. Yet they do not know that the warships of the said barbarians are very heavy, taking water to the depth of tens of feet. These vessels are successful only on the outer seas; it is their specialty to break the waves and sail under great winds. if we refrained from fighting with them on the sea, they would find no opportunity to take advantage of this skill. Once within the harbor, their vessels become unwieldy. They can scarcely move in shallow waters or near sand bars. Hence, when their merchant vessels enter the port, they must employ natives as pilots, paying them great sums of money. How much more this applies to the warships!

Lord Napier once ventured to enter the Bogue. Soon he was struck with fear and returned to Macao to die there. This is a clear proof of what I wrote above. Furthermore, besides guns, the barbarian soldiers do not know how to use fists or swords. Also their legs are firmly bound with cloth, and consequently it is extremely inconvenient for them to stretch. Should they come on land, it is apparent that they can do still less. Therefore, what is called their power can be controlled without difficulty.

An Imperial Order for the Unconditional Stoppage of British Trade, Imperial edict to the Privy Council, 13 December 1839. Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

The dark schemes cherished by the said barbarians are now quite manifest. Even though they consent to give the bond now, it can hardly be said for certain that there would not be any breach of faith in the future. If they have thus defied our authority repeatedly and are still allowed to come to trade, that is the utmost impropriety! As to the negligible sum of custom duties, it is not worth our consideration!

In the pacification of the outer barbarians, the Celestial Empire manifests bountiful favor. Yet the said barbarians know not to be grateful, but, on the contrary, they defy our authority. It must therefore be apparent to both the foreigners and our people that they are wrong and we are right; and that to those who persist to stay outside the pale of civilization, pity is not due.

Lin Tse-hsu and others are hereby enjoined to consider the present situation, and to stop the trade of the English nation. All the ships belonging to that country should be driven out from the port. Do not require them to give the bond any more. Nor is it worth while to ask them to surrender the offender in the murder of a native [Lin Wei-hi]. It is not necessary to locate the Royal Saxon. Proclamations listing the misdemeanors of the British merchants should be published to the various nationalities, making it manifest to them that the English barbarians come to an end of trade with the Celestial Empire on account of their own bad conduct, and that the present measures have nothing to do with you various nationalities. You various nations must obey our law and will be allowed to trade as usual. Should you dare to shield the English barbarians and secretly bring them into the port, severe penalties will be inflicted upon you once the fraud is discovered.

Speech of Sir George Staunton to the House of Commons on the China Trade, 7 April, 1840 Top

Source: Sir George Staunton. 1840. Corrected Report of the Speech of Sir George Staunton, on Sir James Graham’s Motion on the China Trade, in the House of Commons, April 7, 1840. London: Edmund Lloyd, Harley Street.

Sir, — I can assure the House that I do not rise with any intention of answering the legal arguments of the Honourable and learned Member, {Bir W. Follet), who has just sat down; I am conscious that this task will be far more ably performed by others. But the very peculiar relation in which I stand to the subject of this night’s debate, from having resided many years in China, and having held Diplomatic and Commercial offices in that country, make me feel it to be a duty from which I ought not to slu-ink, to endeavour to take an early opportunity of submitting the view I take of the whole question, to the consideration of the House. I am besides, particularly called upon to do so, by the very flattering allusion which the Right Honourable Baronet who has opened the debate, has been kind enough to make to certain resolutions, which I proposed in the House some years ago. All I feel called upon at present to say respecting those resolutions is, that after the fullest consideration, I still entirely adhere to the opinions I then expressed, and in fact to every word they contain. (Hear.) I am very sensible that I rise upon this occasion under many disadvantages. The complexity and difficulty of this subject might well embarrass a much more practised debater: but I feel confident, that I shall receive from the House on this occasion that indulgence, and liberal allowance, which it is always disposed to show to Members, who rise under circumstances similar to those in which I am placed.

Before I enter into the general subject, however, I must request permission to allude to something like a personal allegation against myself, which I find in page 340 of the volume of papers on China, now in the hands of Members. It is there particularly noticed by Her Majesty’s Super-intendant, that the progress of a certain Bill, entitled the China Courts Bill, which had been brought into the House by my Noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, had been mainly arrested by my objections; and that a Chinese named Howqua, to whom he had endeavoured to explain my amendment, was unable even to comprehend it. I must observe in the first place, that any person who may take the trouble to trace the history of this person, from the papers before the House, will find that although a highly respectable Hong Merchant, he has ever been, from his position, unavoidably the passive instrument of the oppressive acts of the Government of China towards foreigners. His testimony therefore in favour of this Bill, is of itself a suspicious circumstance, and almost a presumptive condemnation of it. I did not however, oppose the Bill, I only desired that the establishment of a British Court of Justice within the Chinese territories, should be made contingent on the consent of the Chinese Government to guarantee to it the free exercise of its powers. I felt it my duty to protest against exposing the sacred forms of British justice to the danger of being perverted into a submissive instrument for the execution of the oppressive and unjust edicts of the Chinese authorities. I could not consent to the establishment of a Court with powers to harrass and condemn, but none to protect or acquit.

In now proceeding to consider the specific motion of the Right Honourable Baronet, I must say that the most remarkable feature in it appears to me to be its extraordinary omissions. It entirely omits all notice of that great question which at this moment so much interests and agitates the country; namely, ” Is the contest in which we appear to be on the eve of embarking with the Emperor of China, a just and necessary war, or an act of cruel and iniquitous aggression” [Hear, hear.) I certainly cannot confine myself to the narrow view of this subject, to which this specific motion is limited.

It was announced to the House by the Noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies, more than three weeks ago, that the large armament which is now notoriously fitting out in India against China, was for the purpose of obtaining firom that Government reparation for the injuries and insults sustained by British subjects, and indemnity for their losses ; and also for the purpose of re-establishing our trade in China on a satisfactory and secure footing. I confess, therefore, I cannot but feel the greatest surprise, now that a sort of field day is appointed for the discussion of our relations with China, that this most important part of the subject should be wholly overlooked. (Hear, hear). I must say however, that I feel rejoiced at this omission, — forwhen I see the public journals which are supposed to coincide in political opinion with the Honourable Gentlemen opposite, teeming day by day with language of the most violent nature, denouncing the war about to be undertaken against China, as most atrocious, unjust, and dishonourable to their country, and described by every epithet that is disgraceful, I must say that I rejoice to find that there is no party or even individual in this House prepared to rise and sanction such opinions. (Hear, hear). Having come to the conclusion, although with the greatest reluctance, that the contest in which we are about to engage with China is perfectly just, and, under the circumstances, not less politic, I do say, that I rejoice to see that it has received this night the tacit approbation, at least, of the House. (Hear, hear). At the same time I must say that I do not share in the sanguine expectations of many persons respecting the immediate accomplishment of the object of our expedition against China. I am fully prepared for the occurrence of many difficulties — for it proving a serious and protracted struggle ; and I am therefore the more strongly impressed with the opinion, that it is the bounden duty of those members of this House who consider the war in which we are about to engage, unjust and impolitic, to interpose their protest against it, which is still in time to prevent it being carried into effect, as a fast sailing vessel might yet stop the war and prevent its consequences. (Hear, hear). I must here guard myself from it being supposed that I am advocating measures which I had myself suggested. On the contrary, I am not at all in the confidence of Her Majesty’s Government on China politics. (Hear), I know nothing, absolutely nothing, of the course intended to be pursued, beyond what has been publicly announced to the House, or reported in the newspapers — my approbation is therefore limited to the general principles laid down, and I reserve to myself freely to express my judgment upon the details, whenever they come before the public. It is with great reluctance that I can bring myself to assent to any war, and certainly not less so, when it is a war against a people amongst whom I have long resided, and for whose fate I really feel a strong interest.

In all the negotiations in which I have officially been engaged with the Chinese authorities, I always acted upon the principle, that whatever opinions we might form of the vexatious or embarrassing character of the laws of that country, we had no right directly to impugn or oppose them. (Hear). In my public character, I felt it my duty to remonstrate against all such restrictions and regulations as were found vexatious and injurious to British interests and commerce, and to represent them, (what they really were,) prejudicial to the real interests of both countries ; but no expression of intimidation was ever resorted to except this, — that if such oppressive regulations were persisted in, the trade must be abandoned. Then, with respect to the unfortunate issue of Lord Napier’s mission. A very strong feeling existed in the British community in China, and with many persons in this country, that hostile steps should have been then taken, to vindicate British honour and interests; but I felt it a duty to enter my decided protest against any war being entered into on that account. Although I most sincerely sympathized in the lamented fate of that noble and gallant officer, I felt that the unfortunate omission to take any previous steps in order to secure his Lordship’s recognition by the Chinese authorities, and the fatal error he committed himself, in violating, by his very first act, the well-known Chinese law, that passports are required by all foreigners proceeding from Macao to Canton, placed us so entirely in the wrong, that no case could fairly be made out ; and that the wisest course was, to bury the errors that had been committed on both sides in oblivion.

The result fully confirmed the wisdom of this policy ; for under the able administration of this noble Lord’s distinguished and talented successor, Mr. Davis, the trade was soon restored to its ordinary state of prosperity ; and this state continued uninterrupted (as fully shown in the papers before the House) for about two years (hear). Captain Elliot then succeeded as Superintendent, — and certainly at a very unfortunate period ; for it was just the time when the Chinese government began to take more decisive and vigilant measures than they had ever adopted before, for the suppression of the opium trade. The conduct of British subjects in respect to that traffic, has, by many excellent and amiable persons, been considered such a provocation to the Chinese Government, as to deprive us, as a nation, of any right to resent any subsequent proceedings of the Chinese authorities, however unjust and atrocious. With respect to the immorality and impolicy of this opium traffic, I believe I may say I yield to no Member of the House in detestation of it, and in anxiety for the adoption of measures for effectually putting it down altogether. In accordance with this opinion and desire, I have offered to second the proposed motion on the subject, of my Noble Friend the Member for Liverpool, whenever he brings it forward. But, although I feel very strongly on this subject, — although I entirely disapprove of the resolution of the Select Committee of 1832, that it was “inexpedient to relinquish the revenue arising from the cultivation of opium in India, for the supply of the market of China,” — although I trace from that resolution all the evils and enormities which have occurred in the prosecution of the opium traffic, down to the present crisis of the total interruption of all trade and intercourse between Great Britain and China, — I feel it would be the height of injustice if I were rashly to condemn Her Majesty’s Ministers for not adopting my principles, and for not at once setting at defiance a recorded resolution of the Select Committee of 1832, sanctioned by Parliament, and confirmed by the tacit approbation of the country ! Be it remembered also, that this resolution was not come to in ignorance ; but deliberately, and with substantially the same information on evidence respecting the character and probable consequences of the opium traffic, that we now possess. Captain Sheppard informed the Committee of the probability of its leading to extreme measures on the part of the Chinese ; and that they might very naturally say, ” If you persist in poisoning our people with your opium, you shall have no more tea,” Not only did the House and the country lend a deaf ear to that evidence in 1832, — but now, in 1840, with the fulfilment of all the prophecies of the evils arising from the opium trade, in glaring relief before our eyes, my Noble Friend the Member for Liverpool has found it expedient to postpone his motion on the subject of the Opium trade, from a doubt whether the House is even yet fully prepared to receive it, and do it justice !

But it must be obvious to every one, that the question between us and the Chinese, in a national point of view, has nothing to do with the immorality or the impolicy of the trade ; but simply depends on the question how far a breach has been committed of international rights and international law. Though the Chinese are no parties to the specific usages of international law amongst European nations, they cannot but be bound by that law of nations, which is founded on the law of nature and of common-sense. At first, when the laws against the importation of opium into China were in a state, as it were, of abeyance, — when the Viceroy of Canton issued an edict prohibiting it one day, and then the next lent the use of his own boats, carrying his own flag, for the purpose of conveying opium to Canton, — I presume few persons will blame the importer of opium very severely for not respecting laws which were so little respected by the Chinese authorities themselves. Bat most undoubtedly the Government of China had a fall right to discontinue this coarse of connivance, and to insist on their laws being really executed. It is only necessary to inquire what those laws actually were. The law, as applicable to the case of foreigners, was this : — “they were to suffer death in cases of murder, and in all other cases they were to be sent away for punishment in their own country. This was a necessary consequence of the native tribunals being, according to Chinese policy, inaccessible to foreigners. It was so obviously unjust to try foreigners at tribunals, to which they had no access, and where they could not be heard in their defence, that even the Chinese, except in the extreme case of homicide, did not propose it. In all other cases, both the law and the usage, from the earliest time, down to the arrival of the Imperial Commissioner Lin, decided that all offences, or supposed offences of foreigners, should, in the first instance, be visited on the Hong Merchants, who had undertaken to become their sureties ; and, secondly, on the foreigners generally, by the suspension of their trade ; and the ultima ratio was, to expel altogether from China those to whom offence was imputed. With respect to property, the laws respecting smuggling, which subjected it to confiscation, applied at first only to property on shore ; but by a new law, I think in 1837, it was extended to ships which had entered the port : but there was absolutely no law authorizing the confiscation of goods, under any circumstances, outside the port. The opium lying in the receiving ships at Lintin, was no more liable to confiscation by any existing fiscal law of the Chinese, that if it had been lying in the river Thames. This, then, was the state of the law when the Imperial Commissioner Lin arrived at Canton, bringing with him a new law of a most severe and sanguinary nature, denouncing death against any foreigner belonging to any ship in which opium was found, and confiscating such opium under all circumstances ; and a bond was even to be required from the foreign merchant, that he willingly subjected himself to a law of such extraordinary severity. It might well be doubted whether any trade at all, legitimate or otherwise, could be safely or honourably carried on under the terrors of such a law, administered without the possibility of a fair trial or defence. But I cannot bring myself to believe that there can be two opinions upon the flagrant injustice, the extreme atrocity, of the attempt to punish, under this new and extraordinary law, those who had arrived in China, and had entrusted their persons or property within the grasp and power of the Chinese, in consequence of placing faith in the old laws of the country. There was no law previous to the arrival of Commissioner Liu by which the hair of the head of any foreigner could have been touched for smuggling, however clearly proved: expulsion from China was the only remedy which the Chinese laws had provided. Instead of which, the Imperial Commissioner Lin, to use the emphatic and significant words of Mr. King, the American merchant, proceeded against the British community, consisting of 200 persons, out of which sixteen only had been actually denounced as engaged in the Opium trade, in the same way as he would ” reduce a refractory village ‘.” I can only add to this, that I presume if the opium had not been surrendered, and the crisis had terminated with a general massacre, Mr. King might, perhaps, have described the result with equal coolness, and have said that the Commissioner only treated the British factory, as the Chinese are accustomed to do a refractory fortress — that he had only put the garrison to the sword!

I need, I think, say no more in confirmation of the necessity of our demanding reparation for the outrages that have been committed, and for resorting to hostilities in case that reparation is refused. Let it finally be recollected that our high position throughout the whole eastern world is mainly founded on the moral force of public opinion. If we submit to such outrage and commercial degradation in China, without any attempt at vindication, the day is not far distant when the consequences will be visited on our great empire in India, and our political ascendancy there will be fatally undermined, (Hear, hear, hear).

The course which I hope and believe Her Majesty’s Government are about to take, is to make rational proposals to China — such proposals as China may accept without national dishonour or disgrace. But considering the character of its government, and all the events that have already taken place, no man can doubt the necessity of accompanying and supporting such propositions with a competent physical force (hear). The armament destined for this service has been condemned on account of its being supposed to be intended to support the trade in opium. On the contrary, I call on all those who would wish to see that detestable traffic really and effectually put down, to support a measure by which alone, I am convinced, such a wished-for consummation can ever be accomplished. Without a national treaty between the Governments of England and China, such as this armament may be hoped to lead to, and which it would be hopeless to expect otherwise, providing a plan of cordial co-operation between them for this end, it is but too certain that this detestable opium traffic must, in spite of every effort, not only flourish, but become every day more and more piratical and buccaneering in its character.

To come, however, more immediately to the specific terms of the motion of the Right Hon. Baronet, its object seems to be to show that some policy different from that of her Majesty’s Government ought to have been adopted with respect to China ; but I confess myself absolutely unable to guess, from the terms of the motion, what that policy ought to have been. (Hear, hear.) If the motion had in distinct terms stated that the opium trade ought to have been put down at all hazards, I should have understood its meaning. Even then, it might have been retorted that it is easy to make this discovery now. It is easy to be ” wise after the event;” but the Right Hon. Baronet is not even wise after the event, he is not even now prepared to tell the Government what they ought to have done. (Hear.) For my part, I have no hesitation in saying, I have an opinion, a decided opinion, as to what ought to have been done. I think the cultivation of opium in India for the supply of the Chinese market ought gradually to have been discontinued, and the trade proportionately discouraged. I think a better system might have been introduced gradually ; that the best lands in India might be safely devoted to produce beneficial to man, instead of that which exercises the most baneful influence, and tempts him to his destruction. I quite agree in the opinion expressed by Captain Elliot, even before the late crisis, that “It cannot be good that the conduct of a great trade should be so dependent upon the steady continuance of a vast prohibited traffic in an article of vicious luxury, high in price, and liable to frequent and prodigious fluctuation.”

I think with him that, “The fact, that such an article should have grown to be by far the most important part of our import trade, is of itself a source of painful reflection.” And I think, lastly, that ” There are many cogent reasons for regretting the extent to which the Indian income is dependent on such a source of revenue.” But the question it must be confessed is surrounded with difficulties. It would be an act of the utmost injustice to visit upon Her Majesty’s present Ministers the consequences of a system which Parliament has long sanctioned, and which, even now, it is by no means sure, that it is prepared to abandon. I therefore cannot in any manner ascribe to the orders, or the omission to give orders, of my noble friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, the unhappy events that have lately taken place in China. He would not have been justified, under present circumstances, in having recourse upon his own authority, or that of the Government, to the only sure remedy, the putting down by the strong hand of power, or at least attempting to do so, three-fifths of the actual China trade. It by no means follows also that these measures would have been safe and practicable in 1837, however safe and politic at an earlier stage of the trade in 1832. Besides which, the more immediate cause of the rupture, the measures of the Imperial Commissioner Lin, were totally unprecedented in the history of our Chinese commerce during the two hundred years that it had existed, — so contrary to the ordinary prudence of the Chinese,— that not only my noble friend, but even persons the longest resident and best versed in Chinese affairs, might well be excused for not anticipating them. The memorandum of the Duke of Wellington has been alluded to, and there is undoubtedly much in it which confirms the high character and reputation for sagacity of the illustrious Duke. (Hear, hear.) But what were his orders to Lord Napier? — why, that he should pay more attention than he had done to the orders which he had already received from my Noble Friend. So far as the orders of the Duke of Wellington were concerned, they were a confirmation of the general purport of those which had been previously issued by his predecessor. Much had been said respecting the want of powers in the Superintendant. It is rather singular that when Captain Elliot, in his dispatch of the 6th of April deliberately examines the question whether he ought or ought not to have interfered to send away the opium ships from Lintiu, he assigns five reasons why he did not think it expedient to do so, but never insinuates (which would have been the most conclusive reason for not interfering) that he had not the power to do so. I certainly said in this House some days ago, that if he had adopted this step in January, instead of waiting till September, the late catastrophe would, for a time at least, have been averted, and I say so again ; but, speaking as I now do, (after the event, I assume no merit at all for this discovery, nor do I hastily condemn Captain Elliot for not having made it.

I regret to see that in a pamphlet just published, and which I see in the hands of Members, I am described as in some measure the accuser of Captain Elliot. On the contrary, it is impossible for me, who have so often been engaged in transactions and negotiations similar in many respects to his own, not cordially to sympathise with him under the extraordinary difficulties and embarrassments of the position in which he was placed. In my opinion he displayed great gallantry, and a uniform anxiety to do his best for the honour and interests of his country. (Hear.) Many of his acts, which have been charged with vacillation, may have arisen from his extreme anxiety to meet opposite exigencies. I have been asked by this writer what I would have said if I had been in the hands of Mr. Commissioner Lin, and directed to ” tremble and obey.” I must beg to tell him and the House what I did do when I was in Pekin with Lord Amherst, and under somewhat similar circumstances. When threatened in a similar manner liy the Commissioner’s Imperial Master himself, because I refused to advise my noble colleague to perform the Chinese ceremony, I neither trembled nor obeyed; and all the world knows that that embassy was not only allowed to return with perfect safety, but traversed the whole Chinese Empire afterwards with greater convenience and equal honours to the preceding embassy of Lord Macartney. Entertaining these feelings respecting Captain Elliot, I have no hesitation in saying, that without pledging myself to approve all his acts, were a motion made for his recall, I should decidedly oppose it.

In conclusion, I beg to repeat, that approving of the general policy of the proposed expedition to China; believing that the opium trade could not under existing circumstances have been put down by any instructions from the Government; and convinced that the actual rupture of our relations with China is in no degree owing to want of precaution or foresight in Her Majesty’s present Ministers, I shall give my decided negative to the motion of the Right Hon. Baronet. (Hear, hear.)

The Motives of the British in the Occupation of Tinghai, Memorial of Teng Ting-chen, Governor-General of Min-Cheh, 9 August 1840 Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

Just at the time when I am writing this memorial, I receive a report form Wuerkunge, Governor of Chekiang, and Li Shao-fang, Intendant of Nin-Shao. Therein it is shown that with the fall of the city of Tinghai on the eighth day of the sixth month [July 6, 1840] the district magistrate Yao Wei-hsiang drowned himself in water and the Police-Master Chuanfu was killed because he refused to surrender, etc.

The knavish mass of the English barbarians, daring to perpetrate such outrage and to capture our city and kill our officials, really arouse the wrath of the deities as well as men. It is impossible to suffer their violence to grow. They must be quickly extirpated, in order to make clear the laws and statutes of our empire.

At this juncture, it happens that certain natives of Ch’uan-chow, who extend their commerce to Ningpo and Chenhai, have received some private letters from their clerks. According to these letters, soon after the said barbarians entered the city of Tinghai, they put forth placards in public inviting merchants to come from outside the town. It promised that business in the town would begin on the sixteenth day of the sixth month [July 14, 1840]. But, according to the letter, the merchants in the vicinity dared not proceed thither.

It is thus apparent that the said barbarians, having lost their trade at Canton, hope to occupy a port in Chekiang to be converted into the basis for selling their opium. Their mischievous schemes are clearly discernible. At present the honest merchants certainly will not have intercourse with them. But if they were suffered to occupy the place for a long time, we can hardly say that there would not be lawless merchants secretly contriving with them. Considering his point, it is particularly urgent to drive them out.

We understand that when the barbarians quit their ships and proceed to land, it is like the beasts leaving their nest, whereof it is indeed very easy to extirpate them all with the a regiment of soldiers. But Tinghai, originally known as Chusan Island, is surrounded with water on the four sides. Even though the rebellious barbarians have landed, yet with the twenty odd barbarian ships stationed in the harbors, they occupy a strategic position which is well-nigh impregnable. The usual war junks can hardly cope with them. It is necessary that we should build several large and sturdy ships and take on a large number of soldiers and vast stores of munitions, so as to enable us to proceed by some obscure route and overcome them by a sudden attack. It is particularly important that, for the purpose of efficient direction, the force should be commanded by one who is experienced and noted for both tact and bravery.

The Emperor Outlines the Policy to be Held Toward the English at Tinghai, Imperial edict to the Privy Council, 20 August 1840. Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

A communication of the English barbarians to Kishen and other replies to the orders of the same governor were transmitted to Peking yesterday. I have perused them carefully. The grievances for which the barbarians ask redress will of course be considered at every point and so truthfully as to have perfect justice done to them. Upon the receipt of my edict regarding the matter, the said governor should carefully study the situation and elucidate to them clearly, so as to make them understand the the celestial Empire is fair to all and strict without any concessions. Only by so doing can we stop them from further alleging grievances and maliciously seeking to commit outrages.

If the said barbarians should persist in demanding the cession of islands to be the basis of their trade, the said governor should inform them that in consenting to trade with the several nations, the Celestial Empire was doing them a favor. In case they remained obedient, none would be barred from the intercourse. But, in the present instance, we have been severely prohibiting opium, and the said nation refused to give a bond of good conduct. Therefore we proclaimed an order of excommunication. Now they declare that they intend to prosecute the legitimate trade. Then they should proceed to Canton to request the privilege there. How can they send a fleet to Tinghai and occupy the city?

Further, the sailings of ships are all confined to the port of Canton. Assuredly we cannot open a new place, and thus break the established rules. As to the question of the debts of the bankrupt Hongs, the said governor should tell them that the intercourse between the foreigners and the natives grew out of their own volition. It follows that any indebtedness should be settled right among themselves. What has the government to do with it?

If they ask us to pay for the opium lost, the said governor should acquaint them with the fact that the opium confiscated was contraband goods, and that it had been destroyed long ago under the personal witness of all. As they had surrendered it to us, they should not ask us to pay for it.

As to the request that an Imperial Commissioner be sent to their ship to negotiate with them direct, there never was a precedent for this practice, and consequently it is utterly impossible. The above items are simply general outlines of policy. As to how to fit them to the occasions and how to apply them carefully, it all depends upon the management of the said governor. He should also report by speedy post what is the reply of the barbarians to our edict this time.

The Emperor Orders a War of Extirpation Against the Barbarians, Imperial edict to the Privy Council, 25 January 1841. Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

Kishen’s memorial received here yesterday contains a report of the present conditions of the English barbarians. The violence of these rebellious barbarians in increasing every day. It is incumbent upon us to extirpate them drastically. As instructed by previous edicts, Kishen must have assembled all the troops of his own province. Those of Hunan and other provinces will also arrive in the first month. It is hereby ordered that such forces should exert all their energy to extirpate the barbarians.

Another memorial from Kishen received here today states that without waiting for our reply, the barbarians directly attacked the Bogue. According to the report, the rebellious barbarians started on their way on the morning of the fifteenth day [January 7, 1841], and divided their forces to attack the two forts at Taikok and Shakok. Meantime, four steamboats assaulted our fleet, whereupon our forces returned to a spirited attack; and it resulted in no victory on either side.

The barbarians having failed to obtain what they demanded, I predicted long ago that a war of extirpation was inevitable. In the present instance, the hostilities are begun by them, which fact would make it impossible for them to allege any pretexts. As to what was reported in the memorial regarding the defense of the Bogue, the resistance at Wuyun, the reinforcements to protect the river forts, etc., the governor may carry on these measures with care and propriety. And in regard to the coastal provinces, orders for defense have already been sent out today by express post.

Another memorial from the said Commissioner detailed the difficulties in the negotiation. But as the situation stands at present, the only alternative is to extirpate them. Should the difficulties present themselves to our management, the Commissioner should devise means to overcome them so as to subjugate the rebellious barbarians at an early date, and to raise our valor, and to accomplish unusual feats. If the barbarians should hereafter become desperate and ask for our munificence, no favor is to be granted any more, nor should the said Commissioner present their requests for them. What is the approximate number of the loss of the said barbarians? Were there any soldiers or officers lost on our part? The commissioner should make an accurate inquiry thereof, and report to the throne.

The Emperor Review the Conduct of the English, Imperial edict to the Grand Secretariat, 27 January 1841. Top

Source: P.C. Kuo. 1973. A Critical Study of the First Anglo-Chinese War with Documents. Wesport, CT: Hyperion Press, Inc.

The Celestial Empire treats the outer barbarians with favor and compassion. If the foreign nations were obedient, we never omitted to show them friendliness and good will, for we strive for universal peace. Years ago, when the barbarians from the West brought opium and spread its evil China, we proclaimed laws of prohibition in order to check the baneful influence. But England, relying upon her boldness, refused to give the bond. Therefore, edicts were issued, ordering a stoppage of her trade.

The English barbarians, however, knew not to repent, but they daily increased their violence. In the sixth month of last year, they suddenly sent a fleet of tens of barbarian ships to invade Tinghai, there taking our city. Also they sailed back and forth along the coast of Fukien, Chekiang, Kiangsu, Shantung, Chihli, Mukden, and other provinces, causing much disturbance. Such conduct of the rebellious barbarians was indeed outrageous in the extreme. It would not have been difficult for us to call forth our troops to annihilate them completely. But we gave consideration to the fact that the said barbarians presented addresses in which they asked for redress of certain grievances. Since we deemed it necessary to make a careful inquiry relating to these grievances in order to insure fairness to all, we specially delegated Grand Secretary Kishen to proceed to Canton, and there to examine the matter carefully.

If the said barbarians were sensible at all, all of them ought to leave for Canton to await the solution of the question. Yet, only one half of them left for Canton, while the other half still remained in Tinghai. Such mischievousness was already enough to arouse our bitterest anger. In addition, it was reproted that in the several months they depraved women, robbed th eproperties of the people, built forts, opened canals, and, furthermore, established their own officials who called upon the people to pay taxes. What wrong had the people committed that they should meet such a fate? When I am reviewing this, it makes me unable to sleep or eat with ease.

Later, Kishen arrived in Canton, and explained everything clearly to them. They still dared to make excessive demands. They asked for indemnity of the opium, and, besides, the opening of new ports. I had predicted long ago that they are fickle in their temperament, that they are certainly not amenable to reason. Therefore, just prior to the New Year, we instructed the best troops of Szechwan, Kweichow, Hunan, and Kiangsi to hasten to Kwangtung, and smiliarly ordered the best troops of Hupeh, Hunan, and Anhwei to hasten to Chekiang for the purpose of extirpating them.

According to the memorial of Kishen just received here, the said barbarians, on the fifteenth day of the twelfth month last year [January 7, 1841] made a direct attack upon the Bogue forts with a large number of boats and in alliance with Chinese traitors. They opened fire and killed our officers and soldiers. They capture the fort at Taikok and occupied that at Shakok. It is thus apparent that their rebellious conduct is equal to the behavior of the beasts, which humanity can hardly tolerate, and at which both the gods and men are indignant. The only way is to extirpate them and thus raise the awe of our empire and console the minds of the people.

By this time, the troops dispatched from the various provinces ought to have arrived at their respective destinations. Ilipu is hereby enjoined to advance his troops to recover Tinghai, thereby giving relief to the torture of our people. Kishen is also enjoined to enourage his troops to fight with bravery. The rebel leaders should be subdued and brought to Peking to be punished. And it is particularly important that the most lawless among the barbarians and the Chinese traitors be arrested and put to death.

As regards the coast provinces, I have issued repeated edicts to strengthen their defenses. The governors and generals of these provinces should patrol with particular attention and attack whenever the enemy shall come into their sight. They should also inculcate upon the minds of the people a general spirit to fight the enemy. Be it that the said governors will be able to make early memorials reporting victory and thereby attain great rewards. I place immense hope in them! Let this edict be proclaimed both within our empire and abroad.


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