Showing posts with label opium trade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opium trade. Show all posts

03 December 2015

The Drug Smuggling Missionary of the Pearl River


by Eve Fisher
Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff.png
A young Karl Gutzlaff

I talked a while back about the opium trade in China, run by Western "trading companies" like Jardine-Matheson and Russell & Company, who smuggled and sold opium (then illegal) all up and down the coast and rivers of 19th century China.  And how that led to two Opium Wars, which eventually forced the Chinese (who lost) to make opium legal.  And Christianity.  Both legalizations merged in the person of the one and only Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851), missionary, journalist, translator...

What do you do with a person like Karl?  He started out as a missionary when he was 23, sent to Java by the Netherlands Missionary Society in 1826.  (Karl was German, born in Pomerania.)  He left them after 2 years, and spent the rest of his life in the mission field as an independent operator, earning his living in a variety of ways, some of which were highly unorthodox.  Please remember this:  Karl Gutzlaff was never "officially" affiliated with any organized church ever again. 

He moved around a lot:  from Macau, to Singapore, and eventually Hong Kong. He was a superb linguist, speaking/writing Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Lao, and perhaps Japanese.  He translated the Bible into all of these languages and wrote dictionaries for at least three of them.  He also - and this is VERY key - married a very wealthy English missionary, Maria Newell, who died in childbirth within a year, leaving him all her money.  In 1834, he remarried, to missionary Mary Wanstall, who at that time ran a school and home from the blind in Macau.  (She died in 1849, and Karl remarried, one last time, in 1850 to an English woman in England.)

Karl, in native dress
1834 was when Karl's "Journal of Three Voyages Along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832, and 1833" was published.  It became hugely popular, partly because it described more of China's interior than any previous book written by a European.  It also described his missionary work, distributing tracts and pamphlets and talking to the people.  Karl did not mention the fact that the 1832 voyage was on an East India Company ship, and the 1833 voyage was on the Jardine Matheson opium smuggling/trading ship "Sylph."  He worked for both as a translator, and while he said he was opposed to the use of opium, he also said that he saw this (distributing Bibles as the opium was being traded) as a great opportunity to spread the gospel.  (G. B. Endacott, A Biographical Sketchbook of Early Hong Kong, p. 106)

In 1840 his Chinese translation of the Bible was published.  It would be the text adopted by the leader of the Taping Rebellion, God's Chinese Son Hong Xiuquan (and I hope to write about that wildly improbable man some day).  It was also the year that the First Opium War began, and Gutzlaff translated for the British throughout, assisted at the negotiations for the peace treaty, and got an official government position afterwards for his trouble.  NOTE:  He did not work for free.

In 1844, he set up his own training school for native missionaries and an organization - the Chinese Union - to send them out.  It succeeded well enough that Gutzlaff went on a hugely popular European fund-raising tour from 1849-1850.  Back in China, though, things were nowhere near as rosy as Gutzlaff proclaimed:  Most of his native Chinese "missionaries" were criminals and/or opium addicts who faked their conversion figures, taking the Chinese Bibles that Gutzlaff had given them to distribute and selling them back to Gutzlaff's own printer, who then resold them to him.  (Jessie Gregory Lutz, Opening China:  Karl F. A. Gutzlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852, p. 276) A huge scandal erupted, forcing him to return to Hong Kong in 1851.  It was still going on when he died in 1851.

Despite the scandal, Gutzlaff's legacy was wide-spread and varying.  His idea of native missionaries and foreign missionaries speaking the native language, wearing native dress, living as the natives did, caught on, and was continued through the founding of the China Inland Mission under Henry Hudson Taylor.  This (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, a/k/a OMF International) became the primary missionary organization in China.

HSParkes.jpg
Harry Parkes, Consul
He and his wife ran a boarding school in Hong Kong, where all the up-and-coming future European leaders of Asia were boarded.  Among them was Mrs. Gutzlaff's nephew, Harry Smith Parkes.  Harry stayed with them from age 13 to adulthood, learning fluent Chinese, and accompanying his uncle on many of his travels, including the signing of the peace treaty for the First Opium War.  Over time, Parkes became acting Consul in Canton, and in 1856, he began the Second Opium War in true British Imperial style:  there was a Chinese ship called the "Arrow", owned by a Chinese, manned by Chinese sailors, under a British flag.  Well, the Chinese sailors were drunk and unruly, the Chinese authorities arrested them and (rumor has it) took down the British flag.  Mr. Parkes saw this as an insult to Britain, stormed into the jail, yelling, swearing, and beating on the jailers with his walking stick.  One struck back, and voila!  Parkes declared war on China.  The British won, and the opium trade and Christianity were both finally, fully legalized in China.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
And then there was Gutzlaff's writing, which influenced both Dr. Livingstone and Karl Marx.  (It's not often that you get to write those two names in the same sentence...)  David Livingstone read Gutzlaff's "Appeal to the Churches of Britain and American on Behalf of China" and decided to become a medical missionary.  Unfortunately, it was 1840, and the outbreak of the First Opium War made China too dangerous for foreigners.  So the London Missionary Society send him to Africa, where (in 1871) Henry Morton Stanley would find him working hard in Ujiji, Tanzania.  "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

Karl Marx 001.jpg

Remember the European fund-raising tour that Gutzlaff went on to raise money for the Chinese Union?  Karl Marx went to hear him speak in London (David Riazonov, "Karl Marx on China", 1926).  He also read Gutzlaff's many writings, which became sources for Karl Marx' articles on China for the London Times and the New York Daily Tribune in the 1840's and 1850's, all of which are anti-imperialist and anti-religion.

(Alas, I have searched for, as yet in vain, for a direct written-in-Karl-Marx'-hand connection between Gutzlaff and Marx's well-known statement, "religion... is the opium of the people."  All I can say is, it was written in 1843, nine years after Gutzlaff's "Journal of Three Voyages..." was published.  Who knows?)



HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street.JPG
"HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street" by Wenlensands - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: HK_Central_Gutzlaff_Street_sign_near_Wellington_Street.JPG#/media/File

A very influential man.  And also, in many ways, a mystery:  a profoundly earnest missionary, who would use any means that came to hand, including the opium trade.  A man of great pride and presumption, who was convinced that the Chinese were inferior to Europeans, and yet was the first to train (or at least try to train) native missionaries.  A great linguist, who made sure he got paid very, very well for his translating work.  As you can see above, there's a street in Hong Kong named for him.  There's his writings.  And there's the image of him, in his twenties, handing out Bibles from the back of the opium ship as the traders are handing out opium from the front...  Karl, Karl, Karl...



08 October 2015

The First Cartel


by Eve Fisher

Well, probably not the first, but back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the main drug cartels were selling opium to Asia, and shipping the money home to Britain and the United States and the Netherlands.  And I'm not talking about little dribs and drabs:  in the mid-1800's, the opium trade provided one-third of British colonial revenues, and those millions of pounds (trillions in today's money) were just what actually made it home to the Crown.

The East India Company was the major player in India, where the opium was grown and processed. It was a private British joint-stock venture that effectively ruled India from 1757-1858.  Raw opium was processed into the smokeable stuff for the China market (in Western Europe, people preferred drinkable laudanum) - chests weighing about 133 pounds each, which went for $1,000 dollars (about $25,000 in today's money.)  The East India Company established a trading post in Canton, China in 1699, but leased out the trading rights to the trading companies, or hongs, which took the opium from Canton and smuggled it into China (via rivers, etc.).  The major players were:

Jardine and Matheson
  • Jardine, Matheson and Company, a/k/a The Honorable Company, was founded in 1832 in Canton with the partnership of William Jardine and James Matheson, both University of Edinburgh graduates. They were always the biggest trading company, or hong, and (having diversified heavily in the 20th century) are still going strong in Asia, even though they're incorporated out of Bermuda.  (Their official website is interesting: http://www.jardines.com/  NOTE: Jardine-Matheson was fictionalized - and I would say cleaned up to the point of unrecognizability - by James Clavell in Tai-Pan.)  
  • Dent & Company, another British smuggler under Thomas Dent's leadership.
  • The Dutch East India Company, about which I know tragically little.  
  • And the Americans:  Russell & Company was the major player.  One of the senior officers was Warren Delano, grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  (In case you're wondering where some of the Roosevelt money came from...)  The other officer, Samuel Russell, was filthy rich and left a Russell Trust, which (among other things) is the original source of endowment funding for the Skull & Bones Society at Yale.  
Jardine-Matheson, Dent & Company, and Russell & Company all began - unofficially - as agents of the East India Company, and then for the British government.  They also took on more "official" jobs. James Matheson was the Danish consul for years, Thomas Dent the Sardinian consul, even though neither were from either country.  And they became hugely rich.

You see, up until the early 1800s, there was a major trade imbalance with China (and you thought that was a modern phenomenon!).  There were a lot of reasons:  China wasn't particularly interested in trade, they kept the British and other merchants hemmed into specific treaty ports and didn't let them into the rest of the country, 90% of their population was too poor to buy anything, and finally, the British didn't have much that they wanted.  Except silver.  So, for 130 years, China sold the West silk, porcelain, navigation equipment, firecrackers, and above all, tea.  And since in those days trade involved either hard goods or hard cash, the British were being drained of silver at an alarming rate. And then someone got the bright idea to sell them opium.


Charles Elliot 
The fact that opium was illegal in China didn't matter.  The British smuggled it in, as much as 1,400 tons of opium a year.  And, as the opium flowed in, the silver flowed out (in 1800's dollars, $21,000,000 a year; in today's terms, multiply that by about 25,000, making it $52.5 trillion a year), destabilizing the Chinese economy, not to mention creating a huge number of hopeless drug addicts.  Eventually even the Imperial Court - locked up in the Forbidden City in distant Beijing - launched a war on drugs. The Emperor sent an imperial commissioner Lin Zexu to Canton, where he seized 2.6 million pounds of opium and burned it.  (A lot of boats sailed and held themselves downwind of that fire...)

Now the British charge d'affaires in Canton was Brian Thornton's and my favorite 19th century British agent, Captain Charles Elliot, R.N.  He basically said that that opium (despite being illegal) was the property of the British crown and the Chinese needed to reimburse the merchants.  They wouldn't, Elliot seized Hong Kong for starters, and the war was on.

There aren't too many wars which have been fought for the specific purpose of requiring the losing nation to legalize drugs.  The Opium Wars were about the only ones I can think of.  And, in terms of size and wealth disparities, it was the equivalent of the Colombian government aligning with the Colombian drug cartels to declare war on the United States in order to legalize cocaine in the 1970s. And winning.  And, getting the following results:
Sir Robert Hart
  • China had to open more treaty ports to foreigners.
  • China had to give Britain Hong Kong permanently.
  • China had to pay a $21,000,000 indemnity for all the costs of the war.  (In today's terms, $52 trillion.)
  • China had to give the British the right to set, control, and collect its own tariffs.  NOTE:  The Imperial Maritime Customs Service was manned by British officers from 1854-1950.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Look, it takes a long, long time to extort $52 trillion from any country, much less the additional revenues that Britain consistently expected. Over time, besides collecting maritime trade taxes and managing domestic customs administration, the IMCS collected maritime trade taxes, managed domestic customs administration, postal administration, harbor and waterway management, weather reporting, and published monthly Returns of Trade.  The most famous Inspector-General was Sir Robert Hart, who held the post from 1863-1911.  
  • All foreigners got the equivalent of diplomatic immunity (called extraterritoriality back then); the right to be tried only by its own consul (i.e., whichever Jardine-Matheson-Dent was there). What really stuck in the Chinese craw was that this was extended to any Chinese employees of foreigners, making them suddenly beyond Chinese law.
  • China had to allow foreigners to travel freely into the Chinese interior and live in Beijing.
  • China had to legalize opium.
  • China had to legalize Christianity.  (You may wonder why China was upset about this.  I'll talk more about that, and the one and only Karl Gutzlaff, missionary and opium trader, in another post.)
Opium Den, unromanticized by Hollywood

Imagine the United States having to submit to Colombian rule.  Or any other...  Imagine having a foreign power in charge of our taxes and tariffs for almost a hundred years.  Imagine having our country carved up into "spheres of influence", until there's hardly anything officially Chinese left. And now wonder why the Chinese have viewed, and still view, the West with suspicion.  We think we have excellent reasons to distrust China.  I'd say that if we do, it's called revenge.