Commissioner Lin and the Opium Merchants: An Edict

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Lin, High Imperial Commissioner of the Celestial Court . . . issues his commands to the foreigners of every, nation, requiring of all full acquaintance with the tenor thereof.

It is known that the foreign vessels, which come for a reciprocal trade to Kwangtung [Canton], have derived from that trade very large profits. . . Let them but ask themselves, whether between heaven and earth, any place affording so advantageous a commercial mart is elsewhere to be found? It is because our Great Emperors, in their universal benevolence, have granted you commercial privileges, that you have been favored with these advantages. Let our ports once be closed against you, and for wha t profits can your several nations any longer look? Yet more,--our tea and our rhubarb [!]-seeing that, should you foreigners be deprived of them, you therein lose the means of preserving life . . . Favors never have been greater!

Are you grateful for these favors? You must then fear the laws, and in seeking profit for yourselves, must not do hurt to others. Why do you bring to our land the opium, which in your lands is not made use of, by it defrauding men of their proper ty, and causing injury to their lives? I find that with this thing you have seduced and deluded the people of China for tens of years past: and countless are the unjust hoards that you have thus acquired. Such conduct rouses indignation in every human hea rt, and it is utterly inexcusable in the eye of celestial reason.

The prohibitions formerly enacted by the Celestial Court against opium, were comparatively lax ; and it was yet possible to smuggle the drug into the various ports. Of this the Great Emperor having now heard, his wrath has been fearfully arouse d, nor will it rest till the evil be utterly extirpated. Whoever among the people of this inner land deals in opium, or establish houses for the smoking of it, shall be instantly visited with the extreme penalties of the laws; and it is in contemplation to render capital also the crime of smoking the drug.

Having come into the territory of the Celestial Court, you should pay obedience to its laws and statutes, equally with the natives of the land. I, the High Commissioner, having my home in the maritime province of Fukien,[adjoining Canton], and, consequently, having early had intimate acquaintance with all the arts and shifts of the outer foreigners [i.e., British and other merchants], for this reason have been honored by the Great Emperor with the full powers and privileges of "a High Imperial Commissioner, who, having frequently performed meritorious services, is sent to settle affairs of the outer frontier".

Should I search closely into the offences of these foreigners, in forcing for a number of years the sale of opium, they would be found already beyond the bounds of indulgence. But, reflecting that they are men from distant lands, and that they have no t before been aware that the prohibition of opium is so severe, I cannot bear, in the present plain enforcement of the laws and restrictions, to cut them off without instructive monition.

I find that on board the warehousing vessels, which you now have lying at anchor in the Lintin and other offings [i.e., off-loading places in the Canton harbor], there are, stored up several times ten thousand chests of opium, which it is your purpose and desire illicitly to dispose of, by sale. You do not consider, however, the present severity of the measures in operation for seizure of it at the ports. Where will you again find any that will dare to give it escort? And similar measures for the seizure of it, are in operation also in every province. . . . At the present time, the dealings in opium are brought utterly to a stand, and all men are convinced that it is a nauseous poison. Why will you be at the pains then of layi ng it up on board your foreign store-ships, and of keeping them long anchored on the face of the open sea . . .

I proceed to issue my commands. When these commands reach the said foreign merchants, let them with all haste pay obedience thereto; let them deliver up to the Government every particle of the opium on board their store-ships. . . . Let these particula rs be brought together in a clear tabular form, and be presented to the Government . . that it may be burnt and destroyed, and that thus the evil may be entirely extirpated. There must not be the smallest atom concealed or withheld.

At the same time, let these foreigners give a bond, written jointly in the foreign and Chinese languages, making a declaration to this effect:-" That their vessels, which shall hereafter resort hither, will never again dare to bring opium with them ; an d that should any be brought, as soon as discovery shall be made of it, the goods shall be forfeited to the Government, and the parties shall suffer the extreme penalties of the law . . .

I have heard that you foreigners are used to attach great importance to the words "good faith." If then you will really do as I, the High Commissioner, have commanded,--will deliver up every particle of the opium that is already here, and will stay al together its future introduction,--as this will prove also, that you are capable of feeling contrition for your offences, and of entertaining salutary dread of punishment, the past may yet be left unnoticed. I . . will, in that case, in conjunction with the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, address the throne, imploring the Great Emperor to vouchsafe extraordinary favor, and not alone to remit the punishment of your past errors, but also, as we will further request, to devise some mode of bestowing on yo u his imperial rewards, as an encouragement of the spirit of contrition and wholesome dread thus manifested by you. After this, you will continue to enjoy the advantages of commercial intercourse and, as you will not lose the character of being "good fo reigners," and will be enabled to acquire profits and gain wealth by an honest trade, will you not, indeed, stand in a most honorable position?

If, however, you obstinately adhere to your folly, and refuse to awake; if you think to make up a tale covering over your illicit dealings, or to set up as a pretext, that the opium is brought by foreign seamen, and the foreign merchants have nothing to do with it; or to pretend craftily that you will carry it back to your countries, or will throw it into the sea ; or to take occasion to go to other provinces in search of a door of consumption ; or to stifle inquiry by delivering up only one or two-tent hs of the whole quantity: in any of these cases, it will be evident that you retain a spirit of contumacy and disobedience, that you uphold vice and will not reform. Then, although it is the maxim of the Celestial Court to treat with tenderness and great mildness men from afar, yet, as it cannot suffer them to indulge in scornful and contemptuous trifling with it, it will become requisite to comprehend you also in the severe course of punishment prescribed by the new law.

On this occasion, I, . . having come from the Capital, have personally received the sacred commands, that wherever a law exists it is to be fully enforced. And as I have brought these full powers and privileges, enabling me to perform whatever seems to me right,--powers with which those ordinarily given, for inquiring and acting in regard to other matters, are by no means comparable,--so long as the opium traffic remains unexterminated, so long will I delay my return. I swear that I will progress wit h this matter from its beginning to its ending, and that not a thought of stopping half way shall for a moment be indulged.

Furthermore, observing the present condition of the popular mind, I find so universal a spirit of indignation aroused, that, should you foreigners remain dead to a sense of contrition and amendment, and continue to make gain your sole object, there wi ll not only be arrayed against you the martial terrors and powerful energies of our naval and military forces ; it will be but necessary to call on the able-bodied of the people . . and these alone will be more than adequate to the placing all your live s within my power. Besides, either by the temporary stoppage of your trade or by the permanent closing of the ports against you, what difficulty can there be in effectually cutting off your intercourse? Our central empire, comprising a territory of man y thousands of miles, and possessing in rich abundance all the products of the ground, has no benefit to derive from the purchase of your foreign commodities; and you may therefore well fear, that from the moment such measures are taken, the livelihood of your several nations must come to an end. You, who have traveled so far to conduct your commercial business, how is it that you are not yet alive to the great difference between the condition of vigorous exertion and that of easy repose,--the wide dista nce between the power of the few, and the power of the many?

As to those crafty foreigners, who, residing in the foreign factories, have been in the habit of dealing in opium, I, the High Commissioner, have early been provided with a list of them by name. At the same time, those good foreigners who have not sold opium, must also not fail to be distinguished. Such of them as will point out their depraved fellow-foreigners, will compel them to deliver up their opium, and will step forth among the foremost to give the required bonds, these shall be regarded as the good foreigners. And I . . will at once, for their encouragement, reward them liberally. It rests with yourselves alone to choose, whether you will have weal or woe, honor or disgrace.

I am now about to command the Hong merchants [i.e., local Chinese merchant guild]to proceed to your factories, to instruct and admonish you. A term of three days is prescribed for an address to be sent in reply to me. And, a t the same time, let your duly attested and faithful bonds be given, waiting for me, in conjunction with the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor, to appoint a time for the opium to be delivered up. Do not indulge in idle expectations, or seek to postpone matters, deferring to repent until its lateness render it ineffectual. A special Edict.

(March 18, 1839.)

[Ref.: British Parliamentary Papers, 1840, Vol. XXXVI, (223), pp. 350-52]