Read the letter written by the Chinese diplomat Lin to Queen Victoria. After you read the letter, summarize the argument it made. Finally, state your own informed stance as to whether the Chinese or the British were on the “right side of history” in the matter of the outcome of the Opium Wars. Back up your stance with evidence from the letter and from the lesson or your own research.Lin Tse-Hsu:
Excerpt of Letter of Advice to Queen Victoria
We find your country is sixty or seventy thousand li [three li make one mile, ordinarily] from China, yet there are barbarian
ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great
profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say,
the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of
China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure
the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do
us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring
Let us ask, where is your conscience? I have heard that
the smoking of opium is very strictly forbidden by your country; that is
because the harm caused by opium is clearly understood. Since it is not
permitted to do harm to your own country, then even less should you let it be
passed on to the harm of other countries — how much less to China! Of all that
China exports to foreign countries, there is not a single thing which is not
beneficial to people: they are of benefit when eaten, or of benefit when used,
or of benefit when resold: all are beneficial. Is there a single article from
China which has done any harm to foreign countries? Take tea and rhubarb, for
example; the foreign countries cannot get along for a single day without them.
If China cuts off these benefits with no sympathy for those who are to suffer,
then what can the barbarians rely upon to keep themselves alive? Moreover the
woolens, camlets, and long ells [i.e., textiles] of foreign countries cannot be
woven unless they obtain Chinese silk. If China, again, cuts off this
beneficial export, what profit can the barbarians expect to make? As for other
foodstuffs, beginning with candy, ginger, cinnamon, and so forth, and articles
for use, beginning with silk, satin, chinaware, and so on, all the things that
must be had by foreign countries are innumerable. On the other hand, articles
coming from the outside to China can only be used as toys. We can take them or
get along without them. Since they are not needed by China, what difficulty
would there be if we closed our frontier and stopped the trade? Nevertheless,
our Celestial Court lets tea, silk, and other goods be shipped without limit
and circulated everywhere without begrudging it in the slightest. This is for
no other reason but to share the benefit with the people of the whole world.
The goods from China carried away by your country not only supply your own
consumption and use, but also can be divided up and sold to other countries,
producing a triple profit. Even if you do not sell opium, you still have this
threefold profit. How can you bear to go further, selling products injurious to
others in order to fulfill your insatiable desire?
Suppose there were people from another country who carried
opium for sale to England and seduced your people into buying and smoking it;
certainly your honorable ruler would deeply hate it and be bitterly aroused. We
have heard heretofore that your honorable ruler is kind and benevolent.
Naturally you would not wish to give unto others what you yourself do not want.
We have also heard that the ships coming to Canton have all had regulations
promulgated and given to them in which it is stated that it is not permitted to
carry contraband goods. This indicates that the administrative orders of your honorable
rule have been originally strict and clear. Only because the trading ships are
numerous, heretofore perhaps they have not been examined with care. Now after
this communication has been dispatched and you have clearly understood the
strictness of the prohibitory laws of the Celestial Gourt, certainly you will
not let your subjects dare again to violate the law.
We have further learned that in London, the capital of
your honorable rule, and in Scotland, Ireland, and other places, originally no
opium has been produced. Only in several places of India under your control
such as Bengal, Madras, Bombay, Patna, Benares, and Malwa has opium been
planted from hill to hill, and ponds have been opened for its manufacture. For
months and years work is continued in order to accumulate the poison. The
obnoxious odor ascends, irritating heaven and frightening the spirits. Indeed
you, O King, can eradicate the opium plant in these places, hoe over the fields
entirely, and sow in its stead the five grains [millet, barley, wheat, etc.].
Anyone who dares again attempt to plant and manufacture opium should be
severely punished. This will really be a great, benevolent government policy
that will increase the common weal and get rid of evil. For this, Heaven must
support you and the spirits must bring you good fortune, prolonging your old
age and extending your descendants. All will depend on this act.
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