[TRADE OR OPIUM?]

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at xxxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Tue Aug 8 17:43:29 MDT 2000


 

TRADE OR OPIUM?

New York Daily Tribune
September 20, 1858
 
by
KARL MARX
 

THE NEWS of the new treaty wrung from China by the allied Plenipotentiaries has,
it would appear, conjured up the same wild vistas of an immense extension of
trade which danced before the eyes of the commercial mind in 1845, after the
conclusion of the first Chinese
war.  Supposing the Petersburg wires to have spoken truth, is it quite certain
that an increase of the Chinese trade must follow upon the multiplication of its
emporiums? Is there any probability that the war Of 1857-8 will lead to more
splendid results than the war of 1839-42?  So much is certain that the Treaty Of
1842, instead of increasing American and English exports to China, proved
instrumental only in precipitating and aggravating the commercial crisis of
1847.  In a similar way, by raising dreams of an inexhaustible market and by
fostering false speculations, the present treaty may help preparing a new crisis
at the very moment when the market of the world is but slowly recovering from
the recent universal shock. Besides its negative result, the first opium-war
succeeded in stimulating the opium trade at the expense of legitimate commerce,
and so will this second opium-war
do if England be not forced by the general pressure of the civilized world to
abandon the compulsory opium cultivation in India and the armed opium propaganda
to China.  We forbear dwelling on the morality of that trade, described by
Montgomery Martin, himself an Englishman, in the following terms:

"Why, the 'slave trade' was merciful compared with the 'opium trade'.  We did
not destroy the bodies of the Africans, for it was our immediate interest to
keep them alive; we did not debase their  natures, cormpt their minds, nor
destroy their souls.  But the opium seller slays the body after he has
corrupted, degraded and annihilated the moral being of unhappy sinners, while,
every hour is bringing new victims to a Moloch which knows no satiety, and where
the English murderer and Chinese suicide vie with each other in offerings at his
shrine."

The Chinese cannot take both goods and drug; under actual circumstances,
extension of the Chinese trade resolves into extension of the opium trade; the
growth of the latter is incompatible with the development of legitimate
commercethese propositions were pretty
generally admitted two years ago.  A Committee of the House of Commons,
appointed in 1847 to take into consideration the state of British commercial
intercourse with China, reported thus:

We regret "that the trade with that country has been for some time in a very
unsatisfactory condition, and that the result of our extended intercourse has by
no means realized the just expectations which had naturally been founded on
afreer access to so magnificent a market.... We find that the difficulties of
the trade do not arise from any want of demand in China for articles of British
manufacture or from the increasing competition of other nations.... The payment
for opium ... absorbs the silver to the great inconvenience of the general
traffic of the Chinese; and tea and silk must in fact absorb the rest."

The Friend of China, Of July 28, I 849, generalizing the same proposition, says
in set terms:

"The opium trade progresses steadily.  The increased consumption of teas and
silk in Great Britain and the United States would merely result in the increase
of the opium trade; the case of the manufacturers is hopeless."

One of the leading American merchants in China reduced, in an article inserted
in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, for January, 1850, the whole question of the
trade with China to this point:  "Which branch of commerce is to be suppressed,
the opium trade or the export trade of American or English produce?"  The
Chinese themselves took exactly the same view of the case.  Montgomery Martin
narrates: "I inquired of the Taoutai at Shanghai which would be the best means
of increasing our commerce with China, and his first answer to me, in the
presence of Capt. Balfour, Her Majesty's Consul, was: 'Cease to send us so much
opium, and we will be able to take your manufactures.'"

The history of general commerce during the last eight years has, in a new and
striking manner, illustrated these positions; but, before analysing the
deleterious effects on legitimate commerce of the opium trade, we propose giving
a short review of the rise and progress of that stupendous traffic which,
whether we regard the tragical collisions forming, so to say, the axis round
which it turns, or the effects produced by it on the general relations of the
Eastern and Western worlds, stands solitary on record in the annals of mankind. 
Previous to 1767 the quantity of opium exported from India did not exceed 200
chests, the chest weighing about 133lbs.  Opium was legally admitted in China on
the payment of a duty of about $3 per chest, as a medicine; the Portuguese, who
brought it from Turkey, being its almost exclusive importers into the Celestial
Empire.  In I773, Colonel Watson and Vice-President Wheeler -- persons deserving
to take a place among
the Hermentiers, Palmers and other poisoners of world-wide fame -- suggested to
the East India Company the idea of entering upon the opium traffic with China.
Consequently, there was established a depot for opium in vessels anchored in a
bay to the southwest of Macao.  The speculation proved a failure.  In 1781 the
Bengal Government sent an armed vessel, laden with opium, to China; and, in
I794, the Company stationed a large opium vessel at Whampoa, the anchorage for
the port of Canton.  It seems that Whampoa proved a more convenient depot than
Macao, because, only two years after its selection, the Chinese
Government found it necessary to pass a law which threatened Chinese smugglers
of opium to be beaten with a bamboo and exposed in the streets with wooden
collars around their necks.  About 1798, the East India Company ceased to be
direct exporters of opium, but they became its producers.  The opium monopoly
was established in India; while the
Company's own ships were hypocritically forbidden from trafficking in the drug,
the licences it granted for private ships trading to China containing a
provision which attached a penalty to them if freighted with opium of other than
the Company's own make.  In 1800, the import into China had reached the number
of 2,000 chests.  Having, during the
eighteenth century, borne the aspect common to all feuds between the foreign
merchant and the national custom-house, the struggle between the East India
Company and the Celestial Empire assumed, since the beginning of the nineteenth
century, features quite distinct and exceptional; while the Chinese Emperor, in
order to check the suicide
of his people, prohibited at once the import of the poison by the foreigner, and
its consumption by the natives, the East India Company was rapidly converting
the cultivation of opium in India, and its contraband sale to China, into
internal parts of its own financial
system.

While the semi-barbarian stood on the principle of morality, the civilized
opposed to him the principle of self.  That a giant empire, containing almost
one-third of the human race, vegetating in the teeth of time, insulated by the
forced exclusion of general intercourse, and
thus contriving to dupe itself with delusions of Celestial perfection-that such
an empire should at last be overtaken by fate on [the] occasion of a deadly
duel, in which the representative of the antiquated world appears prompted by
ethical motives, while the representative of overwhelming modern society fights
for the privilege of buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest
markets-this, indeed, is a sort of tragical couplet stranger than any poet would
ever have dared to fancy.

                                        from the Marx/Engels WWW Archive
                                        http://www.marx.org
                       transcribed into ascii by harold at ezwp.demon.co.uk
                                    report errors to director at marx.org
 

--

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222
 



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