The Opium War:How far was it reasonable for the British at Canton to be surprised at the policy pursued by Commissioner Lin from 1839?

Introduction and Background

This Essay was written as part of the course Opium and Empire at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS): I submitted it on 1/3/1999. The objective of the essay was to analyse if and how the polices of the Imperial commissioner Lin Zexu, sent by the Qing court to put an end to the Opium trade, caught the  British at Canton unprepared.

The Result of Lin’s actions led directly to the first Opium War. The War was won by the British and led to the opening of China to the outside world and the subsequent collapse of the Qing dynasty and China’s imperial system.

The Question:

How far was it reasonable for the British at Canton to be surprised at the policy pursued by Commissioner Lin from 1839?

“Errors of Judgement by the Merchant community towards what Lin planned to do ..”, stemmed from the fact that “Lin was a type of official unknown to their experience.” (Sargent, p.77).

Introduction


This paper will argue that the British at Canton had every reason to be surprised at the policy pursued by commissioner Lin in 1839. Firstly, by looking at the policies the Chinese authorities adopted towards foreign merchants at Canton over the issue of opium, it will be shown that there didn’t exist any precedent for Lin’s actions. Secondly, by taking a close look at the personal and political motives that were driving Lin’s policies, it will be demonstrated that the British had little or no idea of the kind of man they were dealing with. The final part of the essay will examine how Lin’s policies when implemented caught the British unaware. Continue reading “The Opium War:How far was it reasonable for the British at Canton to be surprised at the policy pursued by Commissioner Lin from 1839?”

Sunday 11 November 1990: hard seat from Jiayuguan to Lanzhou!

After an hour-and-a-half wait at the station we embark on our very own journey through Dante’s inferno. As we only have standing tickets, we literally have to fight our way onto the train and through five carriages already overflowing with people, before finding any place at all. We end up in one of the little hallways, right by the place where the train bends, and not even in any protected corner, but smack in the middle.

The first six hours are a bit of a nightmare: there is nowhere to put our backpacks, we eventually have to lay them flat on the floor and kind of squat on top of them. Unfortunately, people are endlessly pushing trolleys with food and drinks through the aisle and each time we have to lift all our luggage and make ourselves as small as possible. The hot-water trolley, which passes every two hours, is the worst as it leaks water and oil, covering the floor in a disgusting black sludge, in which we have no remedy but to put our packs down again. To make matters worse, in its wake, the hot-water trolley is inevitably followed by a horde of pushing and shoving Chinese, anxious to refill their thermos, or jam-jars, full of tea. It’s this continuous, heaving mass of people, fighting to get past you, while you struggle to keep your balance and defend your patch, that really tires you out and wears you down.

The scenes we observe around us would have been best described by Dickens, as coming straight from the work-house, debtors’ prison or mental asylum. Everywhere you look the carriages are spilling over with people: there are 5 or 6 passengers to each bench, people down the aisles, crowding the halls, pressed up against, or even inside, the toilets, you name it. Luggage is piled up as high as the ceiling, as well as suspended from metal hooks: there are massive sacks, held together by ropes, primitive bundles, plastic bags, haversacks, heaps of sandwiches and thermoses. Continue reading “Sunday 11 November 1990: hard seat from Jiayuguan to Lanzhou!”