1839

The Burning of Opium at Humen

The Opium War Museum

Preface

  From the Tang Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty, opium had been used as medicine for over 600 years. Yet, as opium smoking became popular, opium turned out to be a drug that did great harm to human beings.

  Since the middle and late 18th century, western capitalist countries led by Britain intensified the policy of trade expansion and unexpectedly used opium as a steppingstone to enter China's market. Armed opium smuggling and dumping brought China into a world of black stream and poisonous fog. It became a huge tumor of the Qing Dynasty and tremendously endangered the Chinese nation.

  In 1839, Chinese people represented by Lin Zexu launched the first large-scale anti-opium campaign in human history. Over 1,150,000 kg of opium was destroyed publicly on the beach of Humen, Guangdong. The world was shocked. It started the first page of Chinese modern history and added a great chapter to global history of anti-opium campaigns.

I. Opium Smuggling

   Since the late 15th century, England was representative of  the Wests active pursuit of mercantile policies to explore foreign markets.  It was eager to open the door to the Chinese market. At that time, China pursued a policy to restrain commerce by restricting trade with the West,.   Early on, in trade with Britain,  China always held a surplus position. In order to reverse the trade deficit, the British colonists turned to profiteering, and armed smuggling led to the dumping of a large amount of opium in China.

Headquarters of British East India Company in London
Banner of British East India Company

Since the fifteenth century in Europe, there was  prevailing “mercantilism” to encourage foreign plunder and trade. Queen Elizabeth chartered the British East India Company to monopolize national trade east of the Cape. Before the Opium War, trade between China and Britain was mainly carried out by the East India Company.

Guangdong Customs: The Qing Dynasty implemented a policy of customs limitation. In 1757, Emperor Qianlong ordered to close Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian customs, and Guangzhou was the only city where foreign trade was allowed. From then on, Guangdong Customs became the important representative of the Qing Dynasty in foreign trade, responsible for collecting customs duties.
The Thirteen Hongs were the exclusive street of foreign trade allowed by Guangzhou government before the “Opium War” were open. The Thirteen Hongs were responsible for providing insurance for foreign merchants, paying commodity taxes of foreign merchant ships, informing foreign merchants of governmental issues, and management of foreign merchants. Most foreign merchants in Guangzhou lived by the Pearl River near the Thirteen Hongs.
A map of tea plantation and trade

In the middle of the 18th century, tea already became nationally popular in Britain. This is a handbill of an English tea shop. It includes tea caddies, coffee boxes and other products. A Chinese head portrait was usually found on the mark of an English tea shop.

English tea advertisement

In the 18th century, porcelain was the second most important product after tea among all products exported from Guangzhou. Chinese porcelain was not only popular in the west, but also easy to ship. Thus, foreign merchant ships were often loaded with porcelain on their return trips.

kwon-glazed “Thirteen Hongs” square vases
kwon-glazed badge bowl painted with sailing boats in the qing dynasty

The products imported from Britain to China were mainly cotton, woolen, watches, clocks and other metalwork. These products were impractical and expensive for many Chinese people.

Knives & forks imported from Britain
A western gold-plated bracket clock with double candlesticks in the 19th century
Due to the huge trade deficit in Britain, which resulted in a shortage of British silver, the British East India Company actively sought to buy Chinese goods, even ignoring moral principles  China's export of drugs - opium. A triangular trade in opium between China, Britain, and British India became critical .  One such key British opium trader was William Jardine, pictured in this portrait. 
鸦片贩子 颠地
 “Dragon” speed boat
Opium pontoon

II. Harm of Opium

  The evils of the opium trade caused untold suffering to the Chinese people, battered their health, and resulting in an increase in social and moral disintegration, corrupt officialdom, and had a negative impact on the nation's military and treasury.  The Chinese nation was facing a major crisis.

opium pipe
Officials & gentries were smoking opium
Ordinary opium smokers

Opium smuggling filled the country with opium everywhere. In the 1830s, almost every social class of China was addicted to opium smoking.

Opium smuggling filled the country with opium everywhere. In the 1830s, almost every social class of China was addicted to opium smoking.

 opium smoking tools
opium lamp
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.
This comic strip published on English newspaper includes 12 scenes, depicting how a young man from a rich family had his family broken up because of opium smoking.

III. Anti-Opium Campaigns

Since the 7th year of the Yongzheng Reign, the Qing Dynasty had been implementing anti-opium policies, but things went contrary to wishes. Opium problems got more and more serious. In a nationwide anti-opium debate, Emperor Daoguang showed stronger determination against opium, and people’s view of anti-opium campaign was united gradually.

Emperor Yongzheng (1678-1735) ruled the Qing Empire for thirteen years. In 1792 (the 7th year of the Yongzheng Reign), Emperor Yongzheng issued the first anti-opium decree in the world to ban opium smuggling and opium dens, but opium smoking and opium import were allowed. Consequently, anti-opium decree did not work well.
Emperor Jiaqing (1760-1820) ruled the Qing Empire for 25 years. In 1796 right after he ascended the throne, he issued an imperial decree to stop collecting opium taxes and ban opium import. In the form of legislation, the first anti-opium regulations - Regulations on Opium Suppression were issued.
Emperor Daoguang (1782-1850) ruled the Qing Empire for 30 years. He issued anti-opium decrees almost every year during his reign. He demanded that internal and external opium suppressions were both important. He formulated Regulations on Oversight in Opium Suppression and sent Lin Zexu to Guangdong to suppress opium. Obviously, the anti-opium campaign launched by Emperor Daoguang was most influential, long-lasting and rigid.
Xu Naiji (1777~1839), deputy minister of worship (Taichang Temple), was a representative insisting that opium ban should be loosened.
Huang Juezi (1793~1853), minister of worship (Honglu Temple), was a representative advocating rigid opium ban.

IV. Humen Opium Destruction

  Introductory couplet:  【部导言】“蛮烟一扫海如镜,清气长此留炎州”

 “Once the smoke was swept out, the sea was as a mirror;  The breath of pure air remained across the once  'Inflamed Region.” 

1839, Lin Zixu ordered Fu Yue to take bold and effective measures - in a blow-by-blow struggle against the British colonists. They seized more than More than two hundred kilograms of opium from Britain and other countries and, concentrated it at Humen Beach where it was publicly destroyed.

Lin Zixu (1785-1850)  called Shao Mu, was born in  Fujian Houguan (now Fuzhou).  He directed  the anti-opium campaign . He achieved remarkable results during his tenure as Viceroy, His took stringent smoking prevention measures, on the one hand, and on the other he developed effective smoking cessation treatment programs, that gave many opium addicts a new  life. 
Imperial Decree: Appoint Lin Zexu as an imperial commissioner to lead Guangdong Navy and suppress opium trade
Lin ZiXu chose to apprehend tobacconists in Guangdong, confiscated opium and pipes, prepared smoking cessation pills for drug addicts and implemented other compulsory measures.  Through these combined anti-smoking measures, he delivered a serious blow to the arrogance of opium tobacconist and the situation improved considerably in Guangdong rampant drug environment. The picture shows the largest Buddhist temple in Guangzhou, Lin Zixu confiscated opium and banned smoking. 
Since the British operations overseer George Ellliot (1784-1863) refused to turn over opium and opium traffickers and attempted to cover for those British traffickers fleeing to Guangzhou. To combat this, Lin Zixu decided to cease trade, withdraw foreign laborers hired and step-up strategic pass defense. (Pictured:  British business supervisor George Elliot). 
Memorial: Quantity of Opium Collected from Foreign Peddlers
destroying opium at humen
Photograph taken at the excavation site of the tobacco-burning lake at Humen. 
2001 photograph taken of the restored site of Lin Zixu's tobacco-burning lake and its environs at Humen,   
June 3-25, 1839, Lin Zixu in conjunction with viceroy Deng Tingzhen, Guangdong Admiral, Guangdong governor Yi Liang, Guangdong Customs supervision Yu Kun, Guangdong governor 熊常錞 Xiong Changchun and other civil and military officials led by the Humen military and civilian population destroyed 2,376,254 pounds of opium at Humen beach.

Epilogue

  June 3, 1839, an important day recorded both in Chinese history and world’s history. Humen beach witnessed the burning of opium stocks on that day. It is a brave song for Chinese people to resist foreign aggression, and the most splendid chapter in the history of drug prohibition. 

  However, we still have a heavy heart, with lots of questions churning in our brains: When western countries developed their overseas trade, why did they only sell lots of opium to China? Why was opium flooded only in the Qing Dynasty while it spread over the world? Why did the opium which could be used as a medicinal material become a narcotic causing huge social harm? Why was it so hard to prohibit opium in the Qing Dynasty even with strict anti-opium regulations? As an anti-opium hero, why was Lin Zexu still demoted and exiled by the government?

Credits: Story

总策划 — 张建雄  馆长
陈列大纲 — 丁学志  副主任
作品挑选 — 曲庆龄  副主任
作品提供 — 万娟   副主任
沟通协调 — 李亮文  主任
外联 — 郑灼明  副主任
展览编辑 — 郑灼明   盘秋红
资料编辑 — 李景常

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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