The West’s hundred years of humiliation of China is what the current President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping is saying will not happen again.
This was the time in the 19th Century when Western drug lords produced a system that led to the total humiliation and subjugation of China.
It ended the golden period of the Chinese civilization and Qing dynasty and put the country firmly under the total domination of the British Empire.
Today, it is the United States that has its population weakened by yet a new Opium War, as the opioid crisis, methamphetamines, crack and synthetic drugs flood in through the Mexican border. Predominantly Western nations are today weakened by the very same poisons of opium that spelt the end of China’s golden age.
“The Chinese have carefully forged a long term strategy to avoid being subjected to another hundred years of humiliation, and seem bent on not accepting accept a repeat of the Opium wars,” writes Strategos History’ editor, author Simon Vincent. (Feature photo: two poor Chinese opium smokers. Gouache painting on rice-paper. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.)
How Western Drug Lords ruled China: When the surgeon from a poor, Scottish family, William Jardine, left his post as a doctor on British trading ships for the British East India Company, and started a private business with opium poppies in China in 1817, he quickly became one of the most notorious Western drug lords in Asia.
“Having annexed Calcutta, an opium-rich region, they realized the great commercial value of the drug for both medicine and recreational use. The Portuguese had tried to sell opium into China before via Macao, but the detrimental social effects of the drug were immediately noticed and the Chinese soon banned the buying and selling of opium on Chinese soil.
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How Western Drug Lords ruled China: Instead of docking in Canton, today the city of Guangzhou, where all trade was carefully monitored by the Chinese, they anchored their opium-loaded trade ships outside the port, and then contracted Chinese smugglers to load the contraband and bring it onshore to distribute it,” writes Vincent at Strategos History.
Jardine continued the business with another Scotsman called James Matheson. They formed the Jardine-Matheson Corporation, which consisted of a sophisticated network shipping opium from the India area to China.
“The opium drug spread at lightening speed across China, and soon had almost the entire country addicted. Opium dens were opened along the entire coast, and millions were now filling up its rooms, desperate to satisfy their uncontrolled addiction. Even within the government bureaucracy there were opium addicts.
This numbed the entire country and caused catastrophic economic consequences: agricultural productivity collapsed as farmers stayed inside to enjoy their “high”, or sleep. Shops began to close, except the opium dens, of course.
The addiction was especially prevalent along the Chinese coastline – the most economically concentrated region. On top of this, the country was being drained of silver, as the metal flooded out to the Hong traders to pay for the imports. In 1839, the Qing Emperor’s very own son died of overdose,” writes Vincent.
William Jardine and James Matheson had now become the de facto drug lords – the most successful opium traders in all of China.
The authoritarian Jardine became enormously wealthy and became known as the great Tai Pan in China, the Chief Executive of the highly destructive opium trade.
How Western Drug Lords ruled China: The signing and sealing of the Treaty of Nanking. Source: Painted by Captain John Platt 1856, (Brown University)
Although there was both Chinese and British resistance to this trade, by the actions of men like China’s High Commissioner, Lin Zexu and Sir Charles Elliot, China lost what was to become known as the first war Opium War.
By 1841, at the treaty of Nanking, the Western drug lords pretty much defined the conditions by which China was to abide.
The Chinese were ordered to open many ports for the British, having to pay enormous sums of silver to compensate for British losses.
British merchants could now trade with whoever they wanted at British pre-determined tariffs and – the implementation of the Hong Kong island, at the order of William Jardine, as a special area in which the Chinese had no dominance at all. Hong Kong became the new seat of the Jardine Matheson Company, that now continued to rule the drug empire completely unopposed.
Vincent writes that in the following decades, Chinese opium imports would grow exponentially (from 1,400 tons in 1839 to 6,500 tons in 1880). Consequently, opium addiction became an epidemic in China, causing huge social unrest, infighting, civil wars and economic decline – ultimately leading to the weakening of the Qing government.
The once so proud China, ruled by the Qing dynasty since the 1600s, was now at the complete mercy of the British Empire.
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