On this day:
Lin Zexu (30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850), courtesy name Yuanfu, was a Chinese scholar-official of the Qing dynasty best known for his role in the First Opium War of 1839–42. He was from Fuzhou, Fujian Province. Lin’s forceful opposition to the opium trade was a primary catalyst for the First Opium War. He is praised for his constant position on the “moral high ground” in his fight, but he is also blamed for a rigid approach which failed to account for the domestic and international complexities of the problem. The Daoguang Emperor endorsed the hardline policies advocated by Lin, but then blamed Lin for the resulting disastrous war.
Early life and career
Lin was born in Houguan (侯官; modern Fuzhou, Fujian Province) towards the end of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign. His father, Lin Binri (林賓日), served as an official under the Qing government. He was the second son in the family. As a child, he was already “unusually brilliant”. In 1811, he obtained the position of a jinshi in the imperial examination, and in the same year he gained admission to the Hanlin Academy. He rose rapidly through various grades of provincial service. He opposed the opening of China but felt the need of a better knowledge of foreigners, which drove him to collect material for a geography of the world. He later gave this material to Wei Yuan, who published the Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms in 1843. He became Governor-General of Hunan and Hubei in 1837, where he launched a suppression campaign against the trading of opium.
Campaign to suppress opium
See also: Destruction of opium at Humen
In March 1839, Lin arrived in Guangdong Province to take measures that would eliminate the opium trade. He was a formidable bureaucrat known for his competence and high moral standards, with an imperial commission from the Daoguang Emperor to halt the illegal importation of opium by the British. Upon arrival, he made changes within a matter of months. He arrested more than 1,700 Chinese opium dealers and confiscated over 70,000 opium pipes. He initially attempted to get foreign companies to forfeit their opium stores in exchange for tea, but this ultimately failed. Lin resorted to using force in the western merchants’ enclave. A month and a half later, the merchants gave up nearly 1.2 million kg (2.6 million pounds) of opium. Beginning 3 June 1839, 500 workers laboured for 23 days to destroy it, mixing the opium with lime and salt and throwing it into the sea outside of Humen Town. Lin composed an elegy apologising to the gods of the sea for polluting their realm. 26 June is now the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in honour of Lin’s work.
In 1839, Lin also wrote an extraordinary memorial to Queen Victoria in the form of an open letter published in Canton, urging her to end the opium trade. He argued that China was providing Britain with valuable commodities such as tea, porcelain, spices and silk, with Britain sending only “poison” in return. Lin appears to have been unaware that opium was not banned in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, and was commonly used for its medicinal rather than recreational effects. He accused the “barbarians” of coveting profit and lacking morality. His memorial expressed a desire that the Queen would act “in accordance with decent feeling” and support his efforts. He wrote:
We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li 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 others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?
— Lin Zexu, Open letter addressed to the sovereign of England and published in Canton (1839)
The letter to the Queen never reached her. Belatedly, it was delivered and published in The Times of London.
Lin and the Daoguang Emperor, comments historian Jonathan Spence, “seemed to have believed that the citizens of Canton and the foreign traders there had simple, childlike natures that would respond to firm guidance and statements of moral principles set out in simple, clear terms.” Neither Lin nor the emperor appreciated the depth or changed nature of the problem. They did not see the change in international trade structures, the commitment of the British government to protecting the interests of private traders, and the peril to British traders who would surrender their opium. Moreover, the British viewed the opening of China to free trade as a moral issue as well.
Open hostilities between China and Britain started in 1839 in what later would be called the “First Opium War”. The immediate effect was that both sides, by the words of Charles Elliot and Lin, banned all trade. Before this, Lin had pressured the Portuguese government of Macau, so the British found themselves without refuge, except for the bare and rocky harbours of Hong Kong. Soon, however, the Chinese forces faced a British naval fleet, which included the East India Company’s steam warship Nemesis and improved weapons, and were soon routed.
Born on this day:
1879 – Vivian Woodward, English footballer and soldier (d. 1954)
Vivian John Woodward (3 June 1879 – 31 January 1954) was an English amateur football player who enjoyed the peak of his career from the turn of the 20th century to the outbreak of the First World War. He played for Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
He captained Great Britain to gold medals at the 1908 Olympics in London and in Stockholm in 1912. Woodward’s tally of 29 goals in 23 matches for England remained a record from 1911 to 1958.
He served in the British Army during the First World War, and as a result missed out on Chelsea’s run to their first-ever FA Cup final in 1915. Woodward’s injuries during the war caused his retirement from football.