Continued from Foreign Mud – Part 2

Occasionally there were “fiery discharges,” about as dangerous as ritual Chinese firecrackers. Once an opium ship had finished her business at Lintin Island and set sail on the return voyage, mandarin junks would sometimes set out in hot pursuit. Your more mischievous “country firm” captain would slow down at once, compelling the junks to shorten sail as well, for the last thing they wanted was to come up with the “enemy.” But out of sight of land – though not out of hearing – a furious bombardment would begin and in due course Peking received a report of a barbarian smuggler sunk or driven off. Thus the Chinese perfected the arts of self-deception, while every one of their officials was in on the racket, from the meanest mandarin to the hoppo and the emperor’s viceroy. Tens of thousands of chests of opium passed through their hands each season. “But,” to quote J.M. Scott again, “the point here is this: of the tea being drunk in the West – at Methodist and anti-slavery meetings, in fine drawing rooms and poor cottages – nearly all of it was bought with opium.”

Westerners seemed convinced that inside every Chinese was a Protestant Christian trying to get out and that the opium trade was the miraculous method of releasing him. Missionaries were even employed by opium traders, though the  founder of Jardine, Matheson, forced to fire one for refusing to off-load opium chests on the Sabbath, observed, “We have every respect for persons entertaining strict religious principles, but we fear that godly people are not suited for the drug trade.”

Continued in Foreign Mud – Part 4