All About Opium with Carl Zha

All About Opium with Carl Zha

Learn about the Opium trade and the opium wars

Today, we have Carl Zha from the Silk and Steel Podcast joining us to discuss the Opium wars.

Show Notes

0:00:00 - 0:03:12 - Introductions

0:03:14- 0:05:20 - Opium Beginnings

Originally, opium was ingested orally. However, ingesting it in large quantities lead to death because it stopped breathing. However, after Europeans colonized the New World, they brought back tobacco from the Americas. Particularly, the Spanish and the Portuguese, who brought it to the Philippines and Malaysia, both countries had a significant Chinese diaspora. Later, when the Dutch colonized Indonesia, they, too, brought tobacco. Now, Opium was mixed with tobacco and it could be smoked allowing for consumption in larger amounts without death.

0:05:21- 0:07:08 - Damn British and Opium

Opium, itself, is not grown in china. It is grown outside of China and had to be imported. India grew Opium. In the Late 18th century when the British Colonized India, they forced the farmers in India to grow opium. Their policy of making Indian farmers grow Opium was responsible for many famines.

The British East India Company (BEIC) would license the opium through their opium monopoly. They would sell the opium to individual traders who would carry them into China, because the British want plausible deniability. If someone every questioned them, they would say, “Oh, we are the venerable British East India company. We don't we don't actually believe in the opium trade.”

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0:07:08- 0:08:01 - Smoke and Mirrors

The BEIC ships the opium, but the individual parcels will be parceled out and sold to employees of BEIC. A famous opium smuggler is William Jardine, who started as a sergeant under the BEIC. As an employee of the BEIC, he got his own cargo space on their shops which was used to ship opium that he sold to China.

0:08:02- 0:09:48 - China’s Opium Epidemic

Opium was illegal in China and soon the Chinese government realized they had a crisis. Initially, opium was a luxury good because it was not grown in China. However, the innovation of the BEIC flooded the market with cheap opium. Now, laborers could afford it. It blossomed into a full-blown opium crisis.

0:09:49- 0:13:42 - Limits on Foreign Trade

Originally, foreign presence in China was curtailed. It was limited to a few port ciites and the British could only stay for 6 months before having to go to the island of Macau. The British weren’t happy that they could only conduct trade in the city of Canton. The British had to resort to selling opium because originally their product was not competitive.

British had developed a taste for Chinese tea, and they needed silver to trade because China had gone into the Silver standard.

0:13:43 - 0:14:48 - The Magic Formula

Soon, the British hit the magic formula of selling drugs to the Chinese to drain China of it’s silver. The British ran a trade deficit with China prior to the massive operation of opium smuggling. According to some estimates, 50% of the silver mined in the South America is from the 18th and 19th century, ended up in China. The British just decided to sell drugs to drain the silver.

0:14:48 - 0:18:28 Enter Americans

During the founding of the United States, most of the New England old money was made in the opium fortune. There was Astor who has an area in Queens named after him: Astoria. Other families who made their fortune through the Opium Trade:

  • The Forbes Family whose descendant John Forbes Kerry was Secretary of State under Obama.

  • The Delano Family - FDR’s Grandfather.

  • HSBC bank

During a famine in Guangzhau, American traders hid opium under bags of rice. All the Ivy league universities were also heavily invested in the opium trade. That’s how America was founded on: Drugs and Slaves.

0:19:24 - 0:25:47 China Fights Back

Chinese officials tried to tackle the problem by banning opium. The first few bans were ineffective because the British had paid off many officials. In the 1830s, the sends his minister Lin Tse-Hsu’, who is known to be a very honest, upright official to Guangzhou, specifically put a stop to the opium trade.

The British gave up the opium, but they were very indignant. William Jardine returns to London and buys up many newspapers and starts to agitate a media campaign against China in order to start a war. He hobnobs with UK politicians, especially Lord Palmerston, to urge for war with China. There was a lively debate in the British Parliament about morality of going to war with China over opium. But, in the end, they decide to wage war against China for Opium.

0:25:47-0:32:12 The First Opium War

The British sent their troops from India and landed in the port city of Guanzhou. The British had obtained Mysore rockets and their arsenal was significantly better than China’s. While Britain had industrialized, they did so by destroying more advanced industries in India. Britain decided to bombard the Chinese coast and went up to the mouth of the Yangzi river. they decided they're going to apply pressure by raiding other Chinese coastal towns. So the sale of the salt from the South China Sea and bombarding the Chinese coast totally. And if they go that went up to the mouth of Yangzi River near Shanghai. They took over some islands to create big their headquarter for opium smuggling.

And more importantly, they threatened to cut off the north-south traffic at the Grand Canal. At that time, most of the Chinese shipping was along the coast under the Grand Canal to sail from Nanjing to Beijing. Beijing, in 1839, had a population of more than a billion. The plains around Beijing was dry and couldn’t feed the population. The British Navy blockaded the area around Nanjing, threatened to cut off the the rice shipment from from the south to Beijing to basically to starve the population. At this point, China capitulated. They paid large indemnity for the pleasure of being invaded and also recognized Hong Kong as a port.

0:32:12 - 0:36:16 Treaty of Nanking

  • China Ceded Hong Kong in Perpetuity

  • Indemnity was paid to British ships

  • Opening up China for foreign exploitation.

  • Chinese law did not apply to British missionaries

Soon, the french began negotiating with the British to allow a little colony in these areas. The city of Shanghai, British, France and even the US got their own concessions. The British and American concession eventually merged into the international Settlement of Shanghai. The colonialism was so bad that there needed to be a Chinatown in Shanghai. The Chinese were restricted to the Chinese city, where the Chinese law would continue to apply. But for the rest of European concessions, British, French, and American laws were applied. British imported Sikh police from British India to police the Shanghai concessions.

0:36:16 -0:38:20 Modern Day Colony in Okinawa

This is eerily similar to Okinawa in modern day Japan. American soldiers can rape people in Okinawa. There is nothing that the Japanese government can do to them. The Japanese government is also a culprit because they don't want American soldiers on the Japanese mainland. So they stick them in Okinawa because, they never treated Okinawans at the same level as the Japanese citizens in Japan. Essentially Okinawa status is like it's a double colony of Japan and United States.

0:38:20 Century of Humiliation

A Chinese person at this time was a second-class citizen in your own country. A very famous scene in a Bruce Lee film illustrates this:

Some Western historians tried to disprove this as an urban myth. But, what they discovered was that there was that the sign actually said “This park is reserved for Europeans only, dogs not allowed.

0:42:00 - 0:45:16 - Second Opium War

The British were not very happy with the settlement for only $21 million. The opium was not fully legalized. So they waited for another opportunity to start another war. This opportunity came during the “Arrow Incident”. British authority had granted all the vessels registered in Hong Kong, British registration. So there was a cargo ship called Arrow. It was used by Chinese smugglers to smuggling opium again, which was captured by the Chinese authorities. The Chinese authorities arrested the crew and executed them for drug smuggling. Because the ship was flying a British flag, the British used this as an excuse to start another war.

In another incident, proselytizing was illegal. A French priest decided to ignore this regulation and went to the interior. He got in trouble with the locals who killed him. The French used this as an excuse to align with the British to form the Anglo-French consortium. Now, the French-Anglo forces used Hong Kong as a launchpad to start another attack on China.

The British just had finished fighting a war in India against the Great Sepoy Mutiny. They had shipped off mutineers to Trinidad, Guyana and other British colonies to work in bonded labor.

0:45:16 -0:49:29 Chinese Coolie Trade

Around the time slavery was formally abolished in many Latin American countries, but there was still a demand for the docile labor force. British and Dutch traders set up shop in Hong Kong. They recruited Chinese peasants They will have these the British and Dutch traders, they will set up shop in Hong Kong and they will Chinese peasants with the promise of jobs overseas. When they went abroad, there conditions were terrible and slave-like. Bruce Lee’s dutch great-grandfather was part of this.

0:50:13 - 0:59:07 The British Loot Beijing

After Britain captured Guangzhou in 1856, they decided it was not enough, so they decided to bring in more pressure. They sailed up to the port of Tianjin, just outside of Beijing where they defeated the Chinese coastal defense. They send in their last remnant force led by the Mongol Prince Sengge Rinchen because they were poorly equipped. At this time, the British decided to send an envoy to negotiate with the Chinese side. But the Mongol Prince, Sengge Rinchen, was so mad at the defeat that he had the British envoy put to death. And now the British were out for revenge. They decided to sack Beijing and the Chines emperor fled the palace.

The British commander Lord Elgin (the son of the famed Elgin marbles) decided to loot the Beijing summer palace and ordered the complete destruction of it. Today, the ruins stands. Everything within the summer palaces was shipped to Britain.

A clause was inserted so that foreign priests could go anywhere in China to proselytize anywhere in China and British ships were allowed to carry indentured Chinese servants to the USA to work.

0:59:07 - 1:05:19 - Opium and the devastation on the Population

  • Foreign missionaries said nearly 40% of the adult male population were addicted to opium.

  • One doctor said, “There is no slavery to that compared to opium”

Carl Zha tells us a personal anecdote about how opium ruined his grandfather’s family.

1:05:19 -1:14:12 KMT, Opium, CIA and the Cold War

After the communists seized power in China, the United States was sponsoring the remnant KMT troops who escape from southwestern China to northern Myanmar into this place now with nice golden triangle to start opium and heroin production over there.

When the communists took power, opium was outlawed. They burned all the crops and now food such as size could be grown.

Around this time, western pharmaceuticals started to develop more potent forms of opium to market it to the masses such as Heroin and Morphine which was treated as a cough remedy for Children.

1:14:12-1:17:21 Heroin Crisis hits home

Soldiers who were in Vietnam became addicted to opium and it was shipped back home.

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1:17:21 -1:23:20 -Getting back Hong Kong

While Hong Kong was leased in perpetuity, areas around Hong Kong was given a 100 year lease which would expire in 1997. At that time, Margaret Thatcher ran many scenarios to see if they could defend Hong Kong against Chinese forces. When she went to negotiate for Hong Kong, the Chinese government cut her off and flatly said no. They ran many scenarios and they realized they could not defend against an actual Chinese military.

In the 1980s, a lot of fear was whipped up by the capitalist class. So, to assuage them, China did One Country Two Policies

You are listening to Historic.ly: a show where we decolonize history and debunk myths taught in school and on corporate media.