Lin Zexiu Destroys Opium at Humen
After the times of prosperity in the reign periods under Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong, officials and civilians of the Qing Empire started to dream of the "Celestial Empire," and the government upheld the policy of closing the country to the rest of the world. However, at that time Western countries had already embarked on a new path to development. To put an end to the trade deficit, these countries started to smuggle opium into China in order to degrade the Chinese people.
Opium is a type of drug made from the milk of the poppy, and strongly toxic. A little opium can ease pain, reduce diarrhea and relieve cough; but anyone who takes it becomes easily addicted, until they need to take it every day. Statistics in 1835 showed that two million Chinese people took opium at that time, and more than four million taels of silver flowed to Western countries. Essentially, opium harmed the Chinese people, and moreover caused a great loss to the financial revenues of the Qing Dynasty.
In early 1839, Emperor Daoguang (r. 1821-1851) sent his imperial commissioner Lin Zexu (1785-1850) to Guangzhou. Lin was determined to ban the opium trade. Using all means possible, Lin Zexu acquired a good understanding of opium smuggling and severely punished certain officials, soldiers and opium traders. He then promulgated an announcement, declaring that all foreign businessmen should turn in all their opium and sign letters of guarantee to never again engage in opium smuggling. If they were still found to be engaged in the opium trade, they would be punished accordingly: the opium would be confiscated and the criminal executed.
At the news, foreign opium smugglers living in the Guangzhou Foreign Building became alarmed and confused, and some immediately turned over their opium. Yet, incited by British Commercial Supervisor George Elliot, others plotted to refuse to turn in the opium.
Hearing this, Lin Zexu ordered decisively: "Send an announcement immediately to the British merchants - According to our practice, they have refused to turn over the opium but plan to evade the law; thus the Chinese government must stop the trade between China and Britain. We should dispatch troops to blockade the building, withdraw Chinese personnel from it, and cut off transportation to the sea. If they still resist, we shall stop the supply of food. And our navy will keep close watch on British ships."
Therefore, the British merchants turned over their opium. All the opium totaled over 20,000 boxes (including 1,500 boxes from US merchants) and weighed 2,370,000 jin (about 1,185,000 kg). Lin Zexu decided to destroy the opium publicly on Humen beach. This lasted more than twenty days, after which time all the opium Lin Zexu had confiscated had been completely destroyed.