Guarding Free Trade

- a short history and analysis of the first Opium war -

The following article, originally published in People's Daily by Li
BingQing (1981), analyzes the beginning of Western colonialism
in the 19th century. Based on economic reasons, similar to those
that are nowadays nourishing the idea of a global "free market",
the Opium War offers a unique opportunity for a thoroughgoing
analysis of economic and military interdependencies. Though
the article has been written in the uncompromising language of
communist China, there is much truth in it !
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWolfgang Wiesner

The Opium War

At the beginning of contemporary China's history

by Li BingQing

The Opium War (1840-42) was the first war of aggression, launched against China by British capitalism. Its starting incident was a forced promotion of opium sales to China, from where the name of the Opium War was derived.

In the early years of the 19th century, Britain, France and the U.S.A., all of them being important capitalistic countries in the West, were just undergoing an industrial revolution after having already achieved a revolution of the capitalist class [i.e. an emancipation of the bourgeoisie in Western countries, up to then dominated by aristocracy (=> compare: French Revolution) - W.W.]. Capitalistic economy was rapidly developing, and the capitalists urgently needed to plunder overseas colonies, regarded as a market for trading goods and a supplier of raw material. A densely populated China, comprising a vast territory and abundant resources, such became the target of their eastward directed invasion. China's feudalistic society was already existing for a long time. Up to the middle of the 19th century, China's social and economic status had been dominated by a natural feudalistic economy that carefully combined, both, a small-scale agriculture and a family based manufacturing of goods. Farmers not only produced all agricultural products they needed, but most of the manufactured goods they used as well. That kind of natural economy tenaciously resisted against the invasion of Western trading goods. In the 1830s however, Britain, already being the greatest capitalistic power in the world, urgently needed to expand its markets in order to make profit. While its industrial products could not be sold on China's markets on a large scale, Britain's bourgeoisie had to transfer great amounts of silver dollars to China in order to purchase all the tea and raw silk they needed. Therefore, the British government, determined to change such an unfavourable balance of trade, finally decided to use the narcotic drug opium to knock open the big doorway to China. .......

For the Chinese version click here !

Lord Elgin,
leader of Her Majesty's
"peacekeeping forces"

the notorious commander
Hope Grant

British, Portuguese and
U.S. traffickers under
H.M.'s military shelter

a contemporary
U.S. cargo clipper

It was not before 1893 that importation of opium into China remar-
kably decreased and finally stopped, due to the fact that China's own
production of that drug
could meet the need of an increasing number
of Chinese addicts. Such, the famous Hongkong connection came into
being, which provided narcotics for the Western hemisphere in the
second half of the 20th century when the People`s Republic of China
got rid of that problem. So we finally got back what we delivered !

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWolfgang Wiesner
importation statistics (1730-1880), based on standard units of unprocessed opium
(Jacques Gernet: Die Chinesische Welt)

For the proceedings of the first Opium War, the treaty of Nanjing and
the semicolonial status of China in the decades thereafter, click here !

The Green Gang

That gang had started with a monopoly of the opium trade
in Shanghai's French concession. A young leader of the
Green Gang, Tu Yueh-shang, realizing that many rival mobs
(including the Red Gang) were competing for control of drugs
in the vast, corrupt city, organized a cartel, and as a result
became known as the Opium King. In the early 1920s Tu was
behind the production of 'anti-opium' pills - compounded
of heroin, strychnine, caffeine, quinine, sugar of milk,
and refined sugar - which sold by the million, so that one
time the Shanghai syndicate was importing 10 tons of heroin
annually from the West. Following the Geneva convention ban
in 1928 on the marketing of heroin, the Shanghai traffickers
set up their own refineries. They were so successful that in
1934 the Shanghai municipal council received a report that
heroin was being more widely used than opium, and by then
Shanghai had become a major exporter to the United States.

Frank Robertson: Triangle of Death

The Nanjing treaty that
humiliated imperial China
and triggered a tremendous
increase of opium imports.

Click Here!