In the mid-1880s the forces of drug and alcohol prohibition were gathering strength. The global anti-slavery movement had just experienced two great successes with the American Emancipation and the British Empire’s decree of an end to slavery. While the core of the anti-slavery movement was sincere in its abhorrence of slavery, the anti-slavery movement also attracted a strange collection of bedfellows with diverse agendas, including thousands of people, egged on by churches and politicians, who would stop at nothing until reaching their goal of a society where drugs and alcohol were completely prohibited, and where possession or dealing in either was cause for lengthy imprisonment – at a minimum.
In the US this led directly to Prohibition in the 1920s – and we know how that turned out, with the reverberations continuing down to this day.
But here in America we know almost nothing of what was going on in Britain at the same time, and yet the impact of the moralizing prohibitionists was – if anything – even more destructive than in the US, and unlike the American focus on alcohol the British movement was focused on ancient civilizations on the other side of the world – India and China.
Now, I thought I knew enough history to accept the broad idea that the British Empire had fought two wars to impose opium on the Chinese masses, addicting them in a creepy but highly profitable little export business which brought Indian-produced opium to China on British (and American, and Japanese, and Russian, and Arab) merchant ships. Boy was I wrong. Turns out that I had unknowingly bought into the myth created by the British opium prohibitionists to advance their dirty little agenda.
That all began to change as I dug more deeply into the real history of Britain, China, and Opium. Upon a close read of some original source materials from the early days of the British anti-Opium movement I came to realize that this movement was strongly and effectively opposed by prominent people with personal life-long knowledge of China, and that one of the things these people did was to reveal that the “Pushing Opium On Poor Helpless Chinese” myth was deliberately invented by the Anti-Opium movement and spread through an army of zealous ex-missionaries on horror-filled speaking tours of the British Isles – paid for of course by the prohibitionist movement.
All this and much more is a great read in a little 1885 book I am presently digitizing to share on this blog entitled “All About Opium”. (Click here to go to a downloadable pdf of the entire book). This book contains hundreds of pages of original source materials from the passionate Anti-Opium movement as well as the equally vehement Anti-Prohibition movement. This book embodies the truth of that old saw – the more things change, the more things remain the same. The same constipated morality pushers who want to send people to prison for a joint, who want to prevent gay people from marrying, and who want to prevent women from having control of their bodies are exactly the same people who over 150 years ago were agitating to ban opium sales to China on the premise that doing so would advance the mission of Christianizing those little yellow heathens.
I wanted to share two letters from the book with you. These two letters serve to illustrate both the depths to which the anti-opium movement sank in pursuit of their objectives, and the fact that many strong and fearless voices were raised quite effectively against these little Jesus weasels.The first was written by Sir George Birdwood, a prominent establishment British politician and statesman, and this is only his first letter on the topic of the inadvisability – to say the least – of prohibiting Opium sale throughout the British Empire. The second was written by Sir Rutherford Alcock, a man with decades of experience in China who casts a dubious eye on the disingenuous claims by Christian missionaries that it is only the presence of Opium that has prevented them from Christianizing the entire country.
Any reader who is familiar with the early and lengthy prohibition and then the gradual evolution of the Medical Marijuana movement will see that the moralistic fervor behind the federal and state Marijuana prohibition laws was nothing new at all and that this fight has gone on for a very long time. The combined forces of mad-dog morality, conniving politicians, and more-than-willing “law enforcers” have been using drugs as an excuse for their attempts to gain control of the levers of social power for centuries. This is one of many things that makes the success of the Medical Marijuana movement so gratifying – these pathetic pompous little drudges who have caused so much suffering and harm to so many for centuries with their twisted souls may finally have had their hateful crusade stopped in its tracks.
SIR GEORGE BIRDWOOD’S FIRST LETTER TO “THE TIMES.” December 26, 1881.
In view of the undiscriminating agitation which is being manufactured all over the country against the Indian opium revenue (amounting to from £7,000,000 to £9,000,000 sterling a year) on the ground of its imputed immorality, I wish to place on .record the opinions which I have been led, by years of intimate study and observation in Bombay, to form of the effects of the habitual use of opium on the people of the East. I do not propose to enter into the economical question of the Indian opium revenue, or into the political question of our alleged forcing the importation of the drug on the Chinese. I shall confine myself as much as possible to my personal experience of the general effects of smoking, eating and drinking opium, on the Chinese, Mussulmans, and Hindoos of Western India.
As regards opium smoking, I can from experience testify that it is, of itself, absolutely harmless. I should like those who have been led to believe, on the unscientific observations of others, that it is harmful, to simply try it experimentally for themselves, under proper precautions, of course, against the risk of using imperfectly prepared chandoo, or “smokeable extract” of opium. I feel satisfied that the more thoroughly they test it, the more strongly will they be convinced with me that the smoking of opium is, of itself, a perfectly innocuous indulgence. I have known cases of desperate suffering, resulting apparently from excess in opium-smoking, such as unscientific observers hold up in terror before the British public. But these cases were always of moral imbeciles, who were addicted to other forms of depravity, and the opium pipe was merely the last straw laid on their inherently enervated and overstrained backs.
Opium has been smoked for generations in China, even within the precincts of the Imperial Palace at Pekin. As far back as 1796 edicts were issued against the practice, but in vain, so deeply were the people already devoted to it at that date. The determined, obstinate instinct of the Chinese people in its favour paralyzed even the despotic endeavours of the Chinese Government to suppress it; and long before we became entangled in the quarrel between the Chinese and their Government on the subject, the Financial Board at Pekin had advised the recognition of the national habit by the imposition of a tax on opium, on the ground that the increased rigour of the laws enforced against its use since the beginning of the century had only tended to increase the bribes offered to officials for their connivance in it. The Chinese Government rejected this judicial proposal with a great flourish of moral indignation, and the crusade against opium-smoking was carried on with renewed severity.
All the same, the popular custom proved irresistible, and its victory in the end was of incalculable benefit to the Chinese, as it served gradually, wherever opium-smoking prevailed, to completely entice them away from the use of their native ardent spirits. This historical fact should never be overlooked by those who have been led by their blind philanthropy to believe that opium-smoking is necessarily injurious to the Chinese, and that, therefore, the Indian opium revenue is immoral.
No one will deny that, at all events in tropical countries, the effects of excess in ardent spirits are worse than those of opium, and it would be unfortunate indeed if, as a consequence of the abolition of the Government manufacture of opium in India, the Chinese were led back to the use of the ardent spirits of their own baneful distillation. It would be the undoing of probably the greatest temperance triumph of any age or country; for I repeat that, of itself, opium-smoking is almost as harmless an indulgence as twiddling the thumbs and other silly-looking methods for concentrating the jaded mind in momentary nirvana. The mind often seeks quiescence without vacuity and finds it in any of these strangely infectious ways, opium-smoking among the rest. But, it may be asked, what of the opinion of the Chinese Government as to the morality of opium-smoking?
It is, I believe, partly due, as with other worthy people, to their not distinguishing between the accidental concomitants of a debauched life and the antecedent inducements to it; but chiefly to the fact of official Chinese ideas of morality being founded on an artificial religious system, and not on the national habits of the masses of Chinamen. The scholastic official ideas of morality in China are utterly at variance, as is obvious in regard to opium-smoking at least, with the universal practice of the people. Be that as it may, all I insist on is the downright innocence, in itself, of opium-smoking; and that, therefore, so far as we are concerned in its morality, whether judged by a standard based on a deduction from preconceived religious ideas or an induction from national practices, we are as free to introduce opium into China and to raise a revenue from it in India, as to export our cotton, wool, and iron manufactures to France.
The habitual eating and drinking of opium are altogether different things from smoking it as a gentle incentive to restorative repose of mind. Opium taken internally is a powerful and dangerous narcotic stimulant; but even so it is no worse in the effects produced by excessive use than alcohol. It is and has been immemorially used throughout vast regions of the East. It satisfies a natural human craving for some paregoric stuff or other, “banishing sorrow, wrath allaying, and causing oblivion of all cares,” while its consumption has been further fostered by the religious ban imposed in Asiatic countries on the use of alcohol.
Alcohol acts with doubly destructive force in tropical climates, and with awful rapidity, and its victims are a constant danger to others; whereas the sufferers from the abuse of opium are seldom dangerous to others, and are a nuisance only from lingering so long in a state of harmless dullness on the hands of their relations, Nothing, moreover, is so offensive to respectable Asiatics as the violent excitement caused by wine and ardent spirits, and opium enables these dignified persons, who dare not break the ecclesiastical law against alcoholic drinks, nor outrage the social feeling against noisy intoxication, to safely satiate their natural craving for something at once stimulating and soothing. The ill effects of the habitual use of opium in excess are developed almost exclusively among those, who by some weakness or injury of brain, or by chronic disease, or by the unhappy circumstances of their lives, are predisposed to over-indulgence. The habit of destructive excess among them is, in fact, usually to be traced to chronic diarrhoea, chronic cough, chronic fever, and to the long religious fasts, alike of the Buddhists, Hindoos, and Mussulmans, in which opium is used to allay the pangs of protracted hunger.
Besides these unfortunates, the weak-brained dissipated rich, and the hopelessly poverty-stricken are the only sufferers. Sound, hale people, in comfortable worldly circumstance, who lead healthy lives, seldom or never suffer from the habitual use of opium, even in quantities that seem to be excessive. There are few finer people in the world than those of Goojerat, Kattywar, Cutch, and Central India, and they are all addicted to the habitual use of opium. In Rajpootana, high and low, rich and poor indulge in it, in the most alarming excess, measured by the quantity they take, but, as regards the mass of the population, with impunity. These Rajpoots are splendid men, well formed, handsome, and of the most chivalrous and romantic temperament. Their custom is to drink the opium in the form of an emulsion called kusoomba. It is prepared and served round in a bowl, like an enormous pap-bowl, from which it is poured into the joined palms of every visitor to drink of it, and the Rajpoots are always taking these paregoric draughts from morning to night. But they are robust and active, constantly in the open air, and, as a rule, suffer no more from their immoderate potations of kusoomba than healthy country-folk in England from sound ale, or Tartars from koumis, certainly not so much as “Glasgow bodies” from whisky, or Londoners from gin. The women in Rajpootana prepare the kusoomba and it will be remembered that in the Odyssey it is Helen who prepares the famous “nepenthic drug”.
Meanwhile, with genial joy to warm the soul, Bright Helen mixed a myth-inspiring bowl. In 1809 Rajpootana was thrown into disorder by the contest of the princes for the hand of Krishna Kumari, the beautiful daughter of the Rana of Oodeypore. To stay the fratricidal strife the heroic maiden mixed a bowl of kusoomba, and exclaiming, “These are the nuptials foredoomed for me,” drank it off at a draught, and sank down where she stood, and died, so restoring peace to the distracted land.
I have a strong suspicion that the free use of opium in Rajpootana acts as a preventive of malarious fevers. It is evident, in short, that there are two aides to the question of the morality of the use of even opium itself, and all the facts regarding it» real effects should be fully placed in evidence before the public, when the relations of the Government of India with its manufacture and exportation are being made the butt of ignorant and prejudiced opposition. Even the eating and drinking of opium appeared to me so little harmful, and the instances of any consequent evil so rare, that all the time I was in India I was an advocate of all stimulants in moderation; and it was only when I returned to England, and saw on all sides of me, and every day, the evil effects of the abuse of alcohol, that I was gradually led to sympathize with those who urge voluntary abstinence from every form of stimulant.
There is the fact, however, of the universal craving of man for some kind of stimulant, and of their being everywhere, from Kamtschatka to South Africa, and from Canada to Polynesia, provided for his use. We are always being called upon to appreciate the divine bounty in the wide distribution of cereal and pulse grains, to strengthen man’s heart; and are we to take no heed of narcotic stimulants, which are to be found in almost every natural order of plants, and in every climate of the globe, to make glad the heart of man?
Then also, may not some significance be attached to the narrative of the marriage in Canaan, at which water was turned into wine – not wine into water? I know it has been urged by some commentators that this particular miracle is without a moral end. I suppose they thought its end immoral. But it was worked in the presence of the disciples of John the Baptist, and every one who has lived in the East will recognize that the moral of the miracle is the rebuke it administers to that sanctimonious affectation of an impracticable asceticism, which is, perhaps, the most offensive trait of the Asiatic character. The miracle was palpably meant to impress the followers of the Baptist – one of the three only a Nazarite for life, the other two being Samson and Samuel, mentioned in Scripture – that not objectless mortification of self, any more than licentiousness, but rational enjoyment was the right rule of life.
Man could not possibly avoid the discovery of wine, and the thought of the famous sentence of St. Augustine, “Ipse fecit vinum in nuptus, qui omni anno facit in vitibus,” is as just and true as it is poetical. If, however, it is impossible to object altogether to stimulants, we can no more object altogether to opium. Its use is merely a question of geography and race, and not of morality in the least. A fortiori there is nothing to be said on moral grounds against opium-smoking. If any one will test its effects, he will find that half its soothing and pleasure is derived chiefly from the opportunity it affords for abandoning oneself for a few moments to idleness, with the pretence of occupation, – in preparing the dainty apparatus used by well-to-do connoisseurs in the operation, – the elegant lamp, the exquisitely damascened, or brilliantly enameled, pipe, and quaintly chased silver pins, and cleaning and putting them all back again into the drawer of the low japanned table, which is the respectable opium-smoker’s fire altar and altar of incense in one, from which the smoke goeth up continually.
Those who are fond of rolling up their own cigarettes – probably not always composed of tobacco – will understand this. Then, for the rest, there is the supreme satisfaction felt by man of every colour, creed, and race, in passing any mild smoke, especially if it be in any sort fragrant, in and out of the mucous passages of his head, a pleasure quite independent of the positive physiological action that the smoke stuff itself may possess; while for any narcotic property there may be in the smoke of thoroughly combusted chandoo – that is, in the ashes of smokeable extract of opium – the subtlest chemical analysis would probably fail to find it out.
Blowing bubbles itself can indeed scarcely be a more ethereal enjoyment than sucking chandoo smoke into the throat, and blowing it out again through the nose, and sometimes, by finished performers, through the inner comer of the eyes.
I am not approving the use of stimulants – I have long ceased to do so. I am only protesting that there is no more harm in smoking opium than in smoking tobacco, in the form of the mildest cigarettes, and that its narcotic effect can be but infinitesimal, if, indeed, anything measurable; and I feel bound to publicly express these convictions (which can easily be put to the test of experiment) at a moment when all the stupendous machinery available in this country of crotchet-mongers, and ignorant, if well meaning, agitators, is being set in motion against the Indian opium revenue on the express ground of its falsely imputed immorality.”
THE OPIUM TRADE. By Sir Rutherford Alcock, K.C.B.
Great efforts are being made at the present time, under the auspices of a Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade, to bring the pressure of public opinion to bear upon her Majesty’s Government, and compel them to take decisive action for that object. Two meetings have already taken place, one at the Mansion House in October, under the presidency of the Lord Mayor, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Manning were the chief speakers and supporters of the resolutions; and another subsequently at Sheffield, with the Archbishop of York in the chair. An influential deputation to the Prime Minister, and an organized agitation to back it, are further calculated to excite considerable interest, and to rouse public attention to a subject of national importance.
I wish to speak with all respect of the high dignitaries, civil and clerical, who have given their names in aid of this movement. They are great authorities in their own spheres, and, as no one doubts their good faith or good intentions, there is a natural reluctance to question the wisdom of their acts. Nevertheless, in such a discussion as they have actively promoted, concerning the opium trade, its history, conditions, and influences, it is scarcely a disparagement to say that they cannot be supposed to have any great knowledge of the subject. It is one which cannot be mastered by a few hours’ study, and when they give circulation, in their speeches, to exaggerations of the most mischievous and misleading character, it must be assumed that they speak from the briefs furnished them by others. But they cannot on that account be entirely acquitted of responsibility for the truth of the statements to which they lend their names.
And I may say here, that although most of the staple arguments and misleading opinions on opium and its disastrous effects come from the missionaries in China, whose good faith I do not question, – there is no stronger protest against exaggerated and sensational statements on record, than has been supplied by one of their number, the late Dr. Medhurst, of whom it has been truly said he was “one of the most able, experienced, and zealous missionaries in China.”
Opposed in principle to the opium trade in all its aspects, his statements will be readily accepted as unimpeachable evidence. The following remark occurs in an official paper forwarded to the Chief Superintendent of Trade at Hong Kong in 1855. Alluding to a speech of an American missionary, who had visited England, and was reported to have told the British public “that the smokers of the contraband article have increased from eight to fifteen millions, yielding an annual death harvest of more than a million,” and further characterizing the traffic as “staining the British name in China with the deepest disgrace,” Dr. Medhurst observes: “Such statements do great harm; they produce a fictitious and groundless excitement in the mind of the religious and philanthropic public at home, while they steel, against all reasonable and moderate representations, the minds of the political and mercantile body abroad. The estimate given has not even the semblance of truth; it is an outrageous exaggeration.”
We have been told quite recently, in regard to opium, that we should not consider what we Englishmen think about opium, but what the Chinese think about it. Would the Society in whose name this is urged, like this rule to be applied to opinions about Christianity and the Missionary in China? Can it be forgotten that the parting words of Prince Kung to the British Minister at Peking, twelve years ago coupled two objects together, missionaries and opium, in his desire that China might be relieved of both? It is obvious that missionaries, of all other people, should be careful how they strain this argument of force as an objection to the policy which alone permits them, against the will of the Chinese Government, the authorities, and the people to carry out their pious mission. It will not be disputed that we have imposed our missionaries upon the nation by treaty, as we have not imposed opium, and upheld them in the exercise of their functions against the will of the Rulers, and the unceasing and bitter hostility of officials, literati and gentry, even at the cost of a war in the ease of the French and of armed intervention and the risk of war, on many occasions, on our own side.
Yes, it is quite true there has been a Missionary war, as well as what is commonly, but not very truly, designated an “opium” war.” When the French forces joined the British in the war of, 1868, it was to avenge the execution of M. Chadelaine a French missionary who was executed in 1856, at Silin, near the borders of Yun-nan in the province of Kwang-si, by the mandarin in authority, after the most brutal treatment and long-protracted torture. The French Government, immediately on receipt of the official accounts, announced ltd intention of obtaining ample reparation, by an expedition if necessary.
We have heard much of the hostile influences traceable to opium and the opium trade, and especially the obstacles and prejudices it has created against their labour for the conversion of the people. But I can say truly, in my own experience, that during a quarter of a century spent in the far East – the heaviest responsibility I ever accepted, and one of the greatest perils encountered, was in defence of a missionary party, nearly murdered by some Shantung jink-men at Tsing-poo, a town situated at some distance from Shanghai. In the course of my proceedings, I had to maintain for nearly a month a blockade of an Imperial fleet of Rice junks, whilst living myself, with my family, in the heart of a Chinese city, surrounded, beyond all chance of rescue or escape, by hostile authorities and a populace entirely under their control. And I may add generally, that no small part of the Work entailed upon the Foreign Legations at Peking, the Consuls at the ports, and her Majesty’s ships in the China seas, arises from missionary questions and the duty of exacting reparation for injuries inflicted upon them by the populace or the authorities, wherever these operations for the conversion of the people extend. I don’t think any better evidence can be required to show in how hostile in spirit they are. Of this I am well assured, that if the Chinese Government and people were left to the free exercise of their own will, without any fear of consequences from the force which is known to uphold the treaties, that they would speedily, and by general consent, make a clean sweep of all foreigners –of ministers and consuls perhaps, but of missionaries assuredly, missionaries of all denominations and nationalities, and the merchants last, even the traders in opium.
Viewed, therefore, in whatever aspect we please – as a cause of political enmity, or an obstruction to missionary success – the opium trade must occupy a very subordinate place in any true estimate of the influences in operation, during the last forty years, to prejudice the minds of the Chinese, and keep up the spirit of opposition and hostility to the foreigner and all his works – hostility which has never been absent in all their intercourse with the European race from the beginning, now more than two centuries ago to the present time. And if we may judge of the real cause and object of this enmity by the most authentic declarations of the people themselves, and the educated classes known as the “literati and gentry,” and the officials, as well as the long series of outrages, murders, and massacres, all directed against the missionaries and their work, without discriminating between Romanist and Protestant, the enmity created by the foreign importation of opium sinks into insignificance, and will not bear comparison with the hatred felt and openly expressed for missionaries of every denomination and their doctrines.
That I may not be charged with exaggeration, I will cite one or two of the most striking of these written expressions of feeling, perpetually recurring in placards posted up in the streets for, as to the long list of cruel attacks on the person and property of the various missions in nearly every part of China where they have penetrated, these are too well-known to require much further evidence.
I hold in my hand the translation of a Chinese book, with the sinister title of a “A Death Blow to Corrupt Doctrines” which in the title page is called “a plain statement of facts published by the gentry and people.” The translators, missionaries themselves I believe, tell us in the preface that the book in the original came into the hands of the missionaries in Teng-chow, in the province of Shantung, in 1870, and that it was regarded- very justly, I think – as of too much importance to be withheld from the foreign public, believing, as we do, that it is a remarkably truthful representation of the animus of the ruling and literary classes of China towards foreigners. We believe also, they proceeded to say, that it has been largely instrumental in giving rise to the vile and slanderous stories concerning foreign residents (missionaries) and native Christians which have recently spread through China; and that it sheds important light on the means by which the recent massacre at Tientsin was brought about. No mere description, however full, could possibly convey any adequate idea of its vileness and deadly animosity.
They further add, “It may be said that the book is directed against the Roman Catholics, and that Protestant missionaries need not concern themselves wit it.” “It is a sufficient reply,” the translators say, “that although its phraseology applies primarily to Roman Catholics, it has, in point of fact, been used and quoted against Protestant missionaries; not only so, but in the body of the book itself, Roman Catholics and Protestants are expressly declared to be the same; and it is explicitly stated that the distinction made between them, in the recent treaties, is a mere pretence or subterfuge devised for the purpose of avoiding the obloquy which the previous history of that religion has brought upon itself. It is furthermore notoriously the fact that the masses of the people know no distinction. They class all Europeans together, and their religion they regard as one.
Practically, then, and in the intent of the author, the book is an attack on Christianity and Christian nations at large. It is, for the most part, a compilation from other works, and a portion of it was written against the Jesuits as long ago as the seventeenth century. “The author,” we are further assured, “with great pains and no little research, has collected every false and slanderous charge within his reach, which would suit his purpose, and, without intimating that they have been disproved, reproduces and reiterates them in the ears of the present generation, with all the confidence of truth, and makes them the occasion of a fresh appeal to the people to rise against foreigners and exterminate them.” Now this is a very remarkable fact, that in the year 1870, nearly thirty years after the Treaty was signed, and contact established with foreigners of all nations and their missionaries at five Treaty ports, amidst great populations, such a book should be published professedly by the “Gentry and People.” And whatever may be the history of its authorship, we are told that it has undoubtedly been written by some one of first-class education and literary abilities, with extensive facilities for consulting public documents, and ransacking all that has ever been written in China against foreigners or Christianity. And the author, or parties interested in its publication and circulation, must hold no mean position, seeing that they can secure its distribution throughout the country by the “hands of the mandarins and their underlings.”
The book is generally attributed in China to Reng-yu-hien, an official in high office, and lately spoken of as a probable successor to a Viceroy at Nanking. But whoever may have been the author, the translators state their conviction that it shows, in a vivid light, the real animus of the people, who have arrayed themselves against missionaries and foreigners alike, and seek to manufacture a public sentiment ready for any deeds of violence and blood.
The book begins with an extract from the “Sacred Edict,” suppressing, as the author asserts, “strange religions, for the purpose of exalting orthodox doctrine.” This “Sacred Edict,” we are told, in a note of the translator, “so called because written by two of the canonised emperors of the present dynasty, is a kind of paternal address from the throne to the people, and is held in the greatest reverence by the Chinese.”
The first part was published by the Emperor Kanghi in 1676; and his son Yung-chen published, in 1724, an amplification: the two productions constitute what is called the Sacred Edict. The artful design of the author of the pamphlet is evidently to convince his readers that, to drive out foreigners and their religion, would be but carrying out the views of the most renowned emperors of the present dynasty, if not of Chinese history, and certainly many passages in the introductory chapter go far to bear out this conclusion, that the religions of the West are not to be regarded as “Orthodox,” or as teaching authorized doctrines ; and, as for “unauthorized doctrines, which deceive the people, Chinese laws cannot tolerate them; and for false and corrupt teachers, the Government has fixed punishments.”
Chinese subjects are accordingly enjoined, with submissive reverence to the Imperial will, and in obedience to it, to “reject and oppose corrupt doctrines as you would robbers, conflagration, and flood. Indeed, the injury inflicted by flood, conflagration, and robbers extends only to the body, while that of corrupt doctrines extends to the mind.”
Then follows what the author of the pamphlet calls a collection of facts respecting the false religion of Tien-chu, by a “man of Jao-chow, above all others distressed in heart.” The religion of Tien-chu, as he explains, originated with Jesus, and is universally adopted by all Western nations, and Jesus he describes as an impostor, who his adherents falsely assert was endowed with divine gifts. I am not going to shock my hearers by quoting any of the ribald, obscene, and atrocious calumnies with which this writer has filled his book, collated, he says, from “authorities consulted,” of which he ostentatiously quotes a long list at the commencement. One of the mildest of the iniquities attributed to Christians is obtaining the eyes, brains, heart, and livers of children for some magical and occult purposes, and the performance of incantations to bewitch their victim for nefarious ends, by which means those who follow their instruction become their abject slaves.
When such vile calumnies as this book contains can be circulated among a whole people, with the connivance, if not the direct intervention, of the educated and ruling classes, we cannot be surprised at such a butchery as took place a little later at Tientsin, of which I have already spoken, as a true index to a prevailing tone of mind and opinion among the Chinese. This massacre of a whole mission, together with the French Consul, secretary, and other foreigners, is, in fact, a typical example of the outcome. It was the most daring and atrocious of all the series of outrages of which missionaries had been the victims since the Treaty of 1842, which stipulated for the free exercise of their religion, and tolerance for their converts. It was not a sudden outbreak of the populace, but a deliberate and planned attack. Some days before June 21, 1870, the British Consul wrote to the Charge d’ Affaires at Peking, Mr. Wade, to report a very unsatisfactory state of things at the port; and that for some time previously there had been threats from the Chinese that they would kill the foreigner, or drive him away from the port.
“The last few days,” he says, “the excitement has increased; the Chinese have declared their intention to burn the Roman Catholic cathedral and the French consulate, and to kill all the foreigners.” There was no ship of war of any nationality at the port, and the Consul expressed a well-founded anxiety – as the event only too plainly proved – for the safety of all in the Foreign Settlement. The authorities were appealed to, and, as usual, with no effect; and later in the day, the Consul had to report to Peking that “his worst fears had proved only too true,” and that the Cathedral, French Consulate, and Sisters’ Hospital were burned to the ground, that the French Consul had perished with a Russian lady and her husband, and several of the sisters. When the details came to be known, however, the calamity was found to be much greater than at first reported. The deliberate and premeditated violence of the mob exceeded anything the imagination could have pictured in ferocity and brutality. Some days elapsed before what had taken place could with any accuracy be ascertained. It was not until the 24th, three days after the destruction of the cathedral, hospital, and consulate, that the floating bodies of the victims in the river revealed the full extent of the horrors perpetrated. On the 23rd, Mr. Lay, the acting consul, on information, went to the river-bank, where he found the remains of a Russian lady, just married to one of the Russian residents, and a few minutes later that of her husband, and close by another, a Chinese, one of the coolies, who was killed while carrying them through the city. The lady had her chemise tied round her head and was otherwise quite naked – her left arm was broken, and her body covered with wounds. Later, a third Russian was taken out of the river, and shortly after this, the body of the French Consul, although Chung Hon had assured Mr. Lay and his colleagues that Fontaines, the French Consul, was killed by his side, and that his body was in the Yamen. His body was fearfully mutilated, and he was naked except his feet. Still later in the day the officials sent to say that they had picked up five bodies -French – which were sent to the consulate, and the Consul says, a more fearful spectacle he never saw, as may well be imagined. The first coffin contained a Mr. Thompson, who was on his way to Peking with his wife when the attack took place – he had been cruelly maltreated – and the second coffin contained his wife, having been killed, apparently by a fearful gash at the back of the head. The next -was the body of M. Simon, the French Secretary, and was so cut about that it was difficult to recognize the features. M. Chevries, the head of the Lazarist Mission, and the body of one of the Christian ordained priests, it is supposed, but utterly unrecognizable, close the dismal list, but not the death-roll. M. and Mdme. Chalmassoir, a French merchant and his wife, had also been killed, the first oncoming out of his own door. His wife escaped down a small Chinese street, and was taken into a -small house and concealed by women; but at night she dressed herself as a Chinese girl, and went back to her own house. Finding it deserted, she tried to return; but having forgotten the house, and knocked at the wrong door, and called out to open, the people heard her, knew she was foreign from her accent, and killed her.
But the most painful part of this tragic story still remains to be told. Nine Sisters of Charity, who had devoted their lives to works of mercy at the hospital for sick and destitute children found none from their assailants. They were all sacrificed under circumstances the most revolting. They were stripped and exposed to the brutal gaze of the rabble, and then stabbed, and their bodies flung into the fire blazing around them. I have given these hideous details, because it is only by such knowledge that the ferocity of a Chinese populace and the intensity of their hatred can be realised – and the cruel duplicity and supineness of all the authorities and Chinese officials, if not their active complicity, as in this case there was only too much reason to suspect. The cry raised to excite the mob was a repetition of the atrocious calumnies of the book just described – of kidnapping men and children to take out their eyes for occult practices. It may seem incredible that such charges should find acceptance, but yet the scenes described at Warsaw, in a Christian country, on last Christmas Day, when the Jews were butchered quite as ruthlessly by a furious mob without any provocation, and on very similar charges and pretexts is an exact counterpart. And as if to make the parallel more complete, the authorities showed the same disgraceful supineness, and allowed the Jews to be murdered and their homes to be wrecked, just as the homes of the Christians at Tientsiu were, and in each case any honest effort on the part of the authorities and police would have effectually prevented or put a stop to such outrages. In Tientsin, the magistrate, a few days before, when information was given of the impending danger, had actually under pretence of calming the excitement of the people and disabusing their minds of unfounded suspicions against the mission, instilled into them by the evil-disposed – issued a proclamation confirming these suspicions, and treating the charges of kidnapping as having some real foundation, and evidently giving credence to the malevolent reports against the sisters. It is this duplicity of the authorities and officials generally in all matters affecting the foreigners, their lives and interests, which has been a constant element in all our relations and dealings with them. Proclamations with high sounding phrases enjoining respect for the laws, which to the people accustomed to such formal prohibitions meant nothing, or, rather read between the lines, were interpreted to mean full license. It was in this case as in all other instances, of which a hundred might be cited, even after the three disastrous wars must have proved to them the danger attending such bad faith. The same double-dealing and insincerity has marked all their dealings with the opium trade, and with the natural result of encouraging an illicit trade with the foreigner, and simultaneously an extensive native culture of the poppy in the teeth of a perennial flood of denunciations and prohibitive edicts from the Emperor and the local authorities.
Sir John Bowring was perfectly justified, therefore, in replying to and refuting the monstrous allegations contained in Lord Shaftesbury’s memorial to her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and in alluding to the depravity of the public morals among the higher classes of the Chinese, not infrequently referred to even in documents which appeared in the Peking Gazette – of the large consumption of opium in. the Imperial Palace, and at that time of the licentious habits of the reigning sovereign which had been the subject of official censure. Sir John says:
“I mention this (the above facts) because, contrary to all evidence, the moral sense in China, in high places, has been represented to be exceedingly sensitive with reference to a national vice which permeates through every grade of society, and, unhappily, is not checked by a healthy state of public opinion; and while, in many of the provinces- where the power of the Government is absolute, the growth of the. poppy is permitted, and the manufacture of opium encouraged, the vehement language of some official documents may certainly be interpreted rather as a manifestation of ill-will against foreigners, and a repugnance to intercourse with “barbarian nations,” than as evidence of a desire to preserve public virtue from taint, or the public health from injury. And it may well be doubted whether a declaration, on. the part of the East India Company, that they were willing to stop the growth and the export of opium, would influence, in the slightest degree, the repulsive policy of China.”
And as to the religious bearings of the opium, and the paralyzation of missionary efforts consequent upon the trade, we shall all agree with Sir John when he says, in the same dispatch:
“When, however, it is said that the principal cause of the non- success of missionaries in China is the introduction of opium by professing Christians, and that the use of the drug greatly augments the difficulties which missionaries meet with in the circulation and reception of Christian doctrine, it might be reasonably asked whether the greater proportionate number of native professing Christians are not really to be found in the districts where opium is most consumed? I venture to express an opinion that the small success of missionary efforts in China is traceable to other causes than the existence of the opium trade; but this is not the place for justifying such an opinion.
“It is true that, as in Great Britain, there are numbers of most excellent and religious men who would, by the most stringent and active legislation, prohibit the manufacture and sale of all fermented and intoxicating liquors, whose fatal effects, if honestly portrayed, would present pictures infinitely more alarming and appalling than the use of opium exhibits in China; it is true that China is honoured by the appeals of eminent and eloquent individuals, who have earnestly declaimed and protested against the introduction, sale, and smoking of opium; but I must doubt the existence of that high moral sentiment against the use of opium which is represented as actuating the great functionaries or the people in general.”
It is a fact beyond question that the British Government have never claimed a right to introduce opium prior to 1859, exercised any force to protect the foreign traders in opium transactions, or disputed the right of the Chinese Government to make what laws they pleased to prohibit its importation. But I repeat that, in view of the past history of all our relations with China, too much has been made of the use of force in placing our intercourse on a more stable and equitable basis. In no other way, and by no other means, could that end have been attained. Whether one nation is justified in forcing itself on another – their intercourse, their trade, and their religion, or any one of these – is a question of too large a scope to be discussed here. But assuming that such a right exists, and has in all ages and in every part of the world been enforced when there was the power to do so, then all past history shows that between the European and Asiatic races no treaty or conditions of permanent intercourse has ever been entered into save by force. No Eastern potentate or people have ever welcomed the intrusion of strangers into their domains with pretensions of an international character. China has only followed the invariable rule of rejecting and resisting, to the extent of its power, the efforts of Great Britain to establish such relations. And after the rapid survey I have taken of the progress of trade and treaty obligations, and how these latter have been disregarded by the Chinese authorities and people, I think it will be evident to all -that we may well congratulate ourselves that we have “enforced” on a civilized basis, and that there is known to be such a force as to uphold them in their integrity, that not even an empire, with its vast resources, can with impunity violate the big condition of international relations. What part opium may in truth be supposed to play in this unpleasant and hostile spirit is not clear – there is little evidence to show that it has any. But of one thing I am entirely convinced, that none of these brutal and ferocious outrages and onslaughts, of which missionaries or still more helpless women have been the chief victims, have ever been perpetrated under its influence. The opium smoker is both passive and harmless while under its spell; those who commit deeds of violence are not of their number, though drinkers of samschoo may be, and usually are, leaders of tumult, brawlers, and habitual disturbers of the peace wherever they are found.
Turning now to the vital question on which, as regards opium, the morality of its consumption mainly turns, we have to ascertain whether there is anything in the chemical composition and physiological action of opium so exceptional in its nature, in the destructiveness of its allurements, the strength of its grip, or the enervating and demoralizing power it exercises over its habitual consumers that it cannot be classed with any other of the large and universally distributed products of the earth, possessed of stimulant and narcotic properties, in common use in different countries. Because this is what is asserted of it; and this is how it is regarded by those who declare a nation to be covered with infamy who take any part in its production or sale. Unless it can be shown that it has this entirely exceptional character – is a poison pure and simple, the administration. of which can be no benefit to man, and must be fatal as no other narcotic or stimulant in common use among all the nations of the earth – Christian and heathen, civilized and savage – those who advocate its total suppression as a national duty, and would apply a stigma on any nation producing it, must be content to let it be weighed in the balance with all the others.
Of the testimony of the missionaries, I may say at once that their graphic descriptions of the deplorable and irremediable effects of opium, as these have come under their notice, are no doubt accurate and trustworthy. But it is true, as any description of the frightful condition to which habitual dram and beer drinkers are reduced in every day’s experience would be true, when delirium tremens is a constant liability, and imbecility with softening of the brain closes a longer or shorter life of intemperance. But unless all who habitually consume wine or malt and spirituous liquors were drunkards, and victims of an inevitable tendency to that end, which we who live among them know is not the case, it would not be true, as applied to the great mass of non-abstainers in the population. And although it must be admitted there is a very general consensus of opinion among the missionaries, even this is to be taken with many qualifications. Some among their number, and others working with them, medical practitioners in populous Chinese cities, in every way fitted by professional training and knowledge to arrive at a right conclusion, have not less emphatically recorded their dissent from the adverse conclusions of the missionaries, as applied to the great body of opium smokers; and this is the contention of the second class of observers, who have no motive for misrepresentation, are above suspicion of any willful perversion of facts, and are unusually exempt, by their position and vocation, from class prejudices or foregone conclusions. The evidence of the merchants may be supposed to be liable to bias, but cannot be overlooked. Some of the oldest residents, and members of the great firms, have borne witness to the perfect efficiency of their compradores, and others, to whom, in a long series of years, large sums of money and important business transactions were daily entrusted although their habits of opium smoking, were well known. We will take the missionaries first, selecting as their representatives those who as medical officers, are most competent to speak professionally. Dr. Hobson, long and honourably known m connection with “The London Missionary Society” and zealously engaged in missionary work as the medical officer in charge of the hospital at Canton, in giving his opinion, says:
“I must first premise that I place alcohol (the bane of Great Britain} and opium (the bane of China) in the same category, and on the same level, as to the general injurious influence upon society; what may be said against the latter may be said with equal truth against the former. I shall have opportunities, as I proceed with my letter, to remark the analogies and differences that subsist between them. It has been my painful experience to have been brought in contact with individuals indulging in both these unnatural stimulants. You will see from these observations that I do not, and’ cannot regard the use of opium by the Chinese as a matter of little consequence. I must pronounce it a great- and- growing evil; the alleviation or removal of which every true philanthropist must desire and rejoice to see. But as an act of justice to my country, to the East India Company, and British merchants, who have been soundly abused at different times by the public press, both in England and America, I do not hesitate to affirm that many things said against the opium trade are not facts,’ and merely assertions and problematical theory. It is very common to hear Chinese acknowledge that they have smoked opium ten, twenty, or even thirty years. I have seen a few who have taken it forty years; and I have heard of one (probably an extreme case) who began taking opium when he was nineteen and took regularly for fifty-one years. He died lately at the advanced age of seventy years.
Opium is probably more seductive and tenacious in its grip than alcohol; and I should certainly affirm that it was not so frequently fatal to life, nor so fruitful of disease and crime, as is the case with intoxicating drinks in Great Britain. Dr. Eatwell says: “Proofs are still wanting to show that the moderate use of opium produces more pernicious effects than the moderate use of spirituous liquors; while it is certain that the consequences of the abuse of the former are less appalling in their effects upon the victims and less disastrous to society, than the Consequences of the abuse of the latter.”
The Colonial Surgeon of Hong Kong in 1855, gave in evidence as the result of his experience, that more disease and greater mortality takes place from excess in drinking spiritous liquors, among the 600 foreign residents in Hong Kong than results from the use of the latter among 60,000 Chinese of the native population.
Dr. Myers, in the Medical Unit of the Inspectorate of Chinese Customs, for 1880, just issued, gives at considerable length, the results of his experience, during ten years, while in charge of a hospital establishment for the Chinese, in Formosa, where 20,000 patients have been treated. During this period, he has closely investigated the effects of opium, under circumstances peculiarly favourable for observation, and putting aside the moral aspect of the question, he confines himself simply to the professional bearing of the subject, and claims to rank among those who can speak from an entirely impartial and disinterested point of view. The conclusion he comes to from his experience in Formosa, where a great proportion of the Chinese are opium smokers, and in Chehkiang, where he practiced before coming to Formosa, and the opium pipe is also in general requisition – is that the smokers generally, over China, may be divided into two classes. 1st. The minority, who, being either officials or well-to-do persons, can afford to give way to their passion, and indulge to excess. 2nd. The majority, consisting of persons who are obliged to work hard for a living, and among whom moderation is the rule. Here, as elsewhere, the grand prompter to excess is the co-existence of idleness; arid those who, having no occupation, seek among the vices for relief from otherwise unbearable ennui. In other circumstances, case after case will be met, of men who have smoked regularly from 10 up to 20, or even 30 years, and who, as far as he can discover, show little or no signs of mental or physical degeneration. The average amount consumed by these is from one to two mace per diem. In Southern Formosa, there is a class of men, including the coolies, chair-bearers, and couriers, who daily do an amount of physical work that is remarkable in its extent. These men for years been in the habit of taking a certain quantity of opium during the day, seldom or ever varying it, and they assert that by so doing they at least attain a greater degree of comfort in carrying on their labours, and, with but very rare exceptions, I must admit that I have failed to obtain evidence which would justify my in attributing any marked harm to their habit.
Of course, among every class of men there are those to whom moderation is impossible, arid who, in the gratification of their desires; will drag themselves and those dependent on them to the lowest misery. This we find as one of the greatest evils connected with alcoholic intemperance; but I must say that my experience, both here and in other parts of China, would go to support the statement that the use of opium through the medium of a pipe does not, at least up to a certain point, so irresistibly and inherently tend to provoke excess as undoubtedly is very often the case with the stimulants commonly indulged in by foreigners.
Were the Reductive powers of opium so great and cumulatively overwhelming as has sometimes been asserted, I cannot but think that, among the class of which I am now speaking, dependent as most of them are for a livelihood based on their exertions, we should have a very much greater number of instances of its disastrous effects on purse and person; but I ‘do most conscientiously state that although I have met with instances in which the effects were most marked and deplorable, still, when considered in numerical relation to the numbers who smoke opium, I have been struck with their paucity, and my pre-conceived prejudices with reference to the universally baneful effects of the drug have been severely shaken.
As contrasted with the drunkard, the opium sot decidedly has the advantage – that is, as far as his bearing to his fellow-beings goes, for whereas one, under the influence of liquor, is noisy, quarrelsome, and often -dangerous, the druggard (if I may for convenience coin a word) is at least quiet and orderly. That abuse of alcohol is a marked factor in the production of crime of the most heinous nature, all will admit; while, as far as I can learn, opium comparatively seldom leads to crime, and even then, this rarely, if ever, attains to higher dignity than petty theft.
Dr. Tanner, again, in his standard work on “Practice of Medicine,” suggests, in the case of confirmed dipsomaniacs, the substitution of opium eating for wine bibbing as the lesser of the two evils. Dr. Jamieson, in his Hankou Report, refers to the presence in opium of another active principle and alkaloid besides morphia – which is not narcotic – and is termed, not very happily, by chemists, narcotine, for it has nothing narcotic in it. It is a bitter, like quinine, nearly in equal proportions with the morphia, and found to have many of the qualities of quinine in the treatment of intermittent fevers. When in India in 1870, I was informed it was coming into large consumption in such cases, administered medicinally. It was to this principle I alluded in my evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons in 1871, as indicating a possible sanative power to the opium smoker inhabiting the low swampy deltas of the great Chinese rivers, and working under a tropical sun on a nearly vegetable diet, with a little fish or semi-putrescent cabbage – made so to increase the flavour. I also mentioned that when at Patna I was told another fact by the medical superintendent, of great significance.
During the prevalence of cholera in India, it was found that none of the workers – men, women, and children, to the number of several hundreds – employed in the Government factory, in the preparation of opium for the market, seemed subject to attacks from this fell disease. And as they never left the factory without being subjected to the most rigorous and minute search, to see that they took none of the drug away with them concealed on their person, the prophylactic influence must have been exerted in their systems by the fumes, or more subtle emanations, from the poppy juice in its inspissated state.
This fact, taken in connection with others, led me to believe that a similar preventive and sanitary effect may attend the use of opium in China, where dysentery and kindred diseases are very common, as well as malarious fevers. I will only mention one other circumstance which has recently come to my knowledge, that in Cambridgeshire, where the people are also subject to fen fevers, a common use is made of opium as a remedy or preventive. And a Government Inspector of Schools, who had lately come into the district from one of the northern counties, was struck by the fact how much more peaceable and sober the working classes were than those he had lately been familiar with in the north, whore no opium was consumed, but a very large quantity of alcoholic and fermented liquors.
I think I have said enough to show the importance of testing opium by some comparative standard, and letting its merits and demerits be tried by results and experience, in comparison with the rest of the large family of stimulants and narcotics, and abandoning for the purpose the moral ground, before we decide how far it may be held a sin to deal with any one of them, either as a producer or consumer? The history of narcotics and stimulants is one of the deepest interest, but to do it the barest justice a whole evening, and not the small remnant at my disposal, would be required.
When I was a child I moved around the world with my military family, always traveling by ship in the days before aircraft could cross oceans. I would spend hours on deck writing messages, sealing them with candle wax in bottles I snagged from somewhere on board, and then consigning them to the sea knowing in my heart that they were on their way to someone, somewhere who would read them. Sometime replies arrived at my grandparents’ house years later, and they would forward them to me wherever I was living. From these contacts I developed pen-pals who I stayed in touch with for many years. I was fortunate to develop, very early in my life, a sense of the network that invisibly but seamlessly connects us all. Thank you for picking up this message in a bottle, dear reader. We are here together.