The Opium War -- and Lin Ze Xu
Modern Chinese history actually started after the outbreak of the Opium
War. The British had started to smuggle opium to Chinese ports and spread
the habit of opium smoking among the Chinese people. By the 1830s, there
were some ten million opium addicts in China, leading to a serious drain of
silver westwards. By 1835, there were already two million opium-smokers in
the coastal cities of China. From 1800 to 1838, the British had smuggled
hundreds of thousand cases of opium into China. And at the time, Western
trade was conducted through the monopolistic of.cial Chinese agents called
cohong, who were forced to spend half of the year in Macau, were only allowed
to live in the "factory area" -- a small strip of land opposite Guangzhou, and
were forbidden to enter the city and bring their wives.
In 1838, Lin Ze Xu was appointed the Imperial Commissioner in charge
of dealing with opium smuggling. In 1839, Emperor Dao Guang ordered
Commissioner Lin to suppress the entire opium trade. A death penalty was
imposed on anyone involved in the trade. Lin discovered 22 British ships, each
loaded with a thousand cases of opium. He ordered the owners of the opium
to surrender the opium and gave them an ultimatum. The British initially tried
to bribe him and surrendered only a thousand cases. When they failed to bribe
him, they threatened him. Lin, being a patriot, insisted that they surrender
the whole amount. When the British de.ed him, he ordered his men to burn
all the opium and throw it into the sea. This provoked the British and a clash
took place between the forces of the British and Lin's men. The burning of
the opium resulted in the Opium War in 1840.
Lin Ze Xu is from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian. Fujian province also
produced several prominent political figures, one of whom Chen Bo Da, was
the ghost writer for Mao Ze Dong and Lin Biao, who was sentenced to death
because of his involvement with the Gang of Four. Another prominent Fujian Rén is Lin Sen, the first President of the Republic of China. Of course, Fujian
also produced China's most notorious smuggler Lai Chang Xing, who is now
hiding in Canada, wanted by the Chinese Government. Fujian also produced
several prominent scholars including Yan Fu, who was the earliest Chinese
author to translate Western literature into Chinese. His translation included
Adam Smith's The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
Fujian: Building on Fortune
Poor overland communications, a rugged interior and a long coastline made
Fujian one of the most aggressive and outward-looking of China's provinces
besides Guangdong. Of this southeastern province's population of 36.2 million
people, most are descendants of the Yue tribe and are by nature blunt,
frank, outspoken, and rough. They are aggressive in business, not intellectually
inclined, and are known for their courage, stamina and integrity.
Fujian Rén are China's most multilingual people; they speak different kinds
of dialects within the province. The majority of them speak Minnan Huà
This dialect is spoken in counties such as Xiamen (whose old name is Amoy),
Zhangzhou, Zhao'an, Tong'an, Nan'an, Quanzhou, and Yongchun. However,
Minnan Huà is not understood in other Fujian counties like Fuzhou,
where the people speak their own Fuzhou dialect, nor in Putian, where a
dialect called Henghua is spoken. The people in Yongding and the western
side of Fujian speak the Hakka dialect.
A contemporary Fujian name now notorious throughout the world is Lai
Chang Xing -- China's biggest smuggler. He is not a highly educated man, but
a brainy man from Jinjiang, a district under the administration of Quanzhou.
He became the richest man in China but sneaked out of the country when he
was placed on the wanted list and is now staying in Canada awaiting repatriation.
It is said that he made his fortune smuggling motorcars, petroleum, and
other expensive goods into China, with the help of all ranks of government
officals, including leading military personalities, through the use of bribes.
Many of these leading government officals, including mayors and intelligence
chiefs, have been sentenced to death by the firing squad.
Two other famous personalities from Fujian are Lin Sen and Chen Bo Da.
Lin Sen was the President of the Republic of China (1932–1945) who took
over from Chiang Kai Shek after Chiang stepped down. Chen Bo Da was Mao
Ze Dong's closest con.dant and head of the Cultural Revolution group who
was later sentenced to death and hanged.
Lin Ze Xu: The Fuzhou Hero Who Destroyed Opium
Lin Ze Xu's father Lin Bin Re was originally from Putian but moved to
Fuzhou. He was a xiucai (top government of.cial during the Qing dynasty)
who failed several times and succeeded only when he was 29 years old. He
studied so hard that his eyesight was affected. He married late at 37 and his
first son died during childbirth. Therefore Ze Xu was the only son in the Lin
Lin Ze Xu was unusually brilliant as a young boy. He did not believe in the
classical method of learning by rote and tried to use his brains to solve matters.
He started reading when he was four and at seven, he could write essays. At
13, he came out first in his class. At 14, he passed the xiucai examination and
at 20, he became a juren.
At the time when the Fujian hero Zheng Cheng Gong was using Xiamen as
a base to fight the Dutch in Taiwan, Ze Xu was offered a job as a secretary in the
Ministry of Sea Defence in that city at the age of 21. He was much influenced
by the courage of Zheng Cheng Gong, alias Koxinga, an anti-Manchu hero
who had liberated Taiwan. There were many foreigners in Xiamen and Ze Xu
had the opportunity to observe the behavior of the foreigners and the corrupt
behavior of many foreign firms in their connections with the Chinese. He
saw opium being smuggled in Xiamen and was aware of the evildoings of the
When he reached the age of 26, Ze Xu went to Beijing to sit for the
higher examination of the jinshi and passed after having failed twice. When
in Beijing, he saw the decadent lives of many corrupt officals who only knew
how to drink and have fun. This was at a time when the Qing dynasty was
about to topple and the whole society was rotten. He was greatly disappointed
with what he saw.
In 1816 when he was 31, Lin was sent to Wuzhang in Hubei as the Chief
Examiner to supervise the provincial scholastic examination. He was so strict
that many candidates who had tried to bribe examination officals failed their
examinations and instead, many poor and brainy candidates passed and got
through. It was the first time the poor ever had the chance to succeed; prior to
Lin Ze Xu's appointment as the Chief Examiner, many poor candidates failed
because they could not afford to bribe officals or buy examination papers sold
in the market at exorbitant prices. Lin's performance won him a good image
in the eyes of the people but he offended the corrupt officals.
In 1831, Lin was appointed the supervisor of drainage systems in Jiangsu.
During that year, a dire .ood and famine spread in Jiangsu. Farmers staged a
protest and more than a hundred thousand farmers came with their changkol
and other farming tools to demonstrate against the government's inef.ciency.
Lin's superior advocated using force to suppress the farmers but he suggested
taking a softer line of persuasion by reducing rent, helping the farmers, and
punishing the hoarders that were the evil merchants. His tactics paid off and
the farmers went home satis.ed. This was the first success in his career.
When Lin was 35, he was sent as a supervisor to another county in Hubei.
There, his actions offended a powerful and unscrupulous local general who
was involved in piracy and often ill-treated the villagers. As a Fuzhou Rén, Lin
was brave, straightforward and had no fear, even of the devil. He proceeded
to report the wrongdoings of this general to the emperor. As a result, the
general was punished and later died in Fujian.
At 36, Lin was promoted to be Chief Executive Of.cer of three cities.
He helped the three cities not only in solving the problems of .ooding and
other natural disasters but also curbed corruption and the decadent lifestyle
in the cities. He closed gambling dens and brothels and punished those who
engaged in such activities. He was highly respected by the ordinary people
but offended the corrupt officals who were out to make money.
Lin was later sent to Jiangsu to solve irrigation problems and to help
increase production. After he had proved himself fit for better assignments,
he was promoted to the position of Governor of Hunan and Guangdong.
He was already 47 years old and started to tackle the more important tasks
of dealing with the foreigners. His honesty and righteousness earned him the
legendary name of "Bao Qing Tian" -- the most popular and incorruptible
judge of the Song dynasty.
Imperial commissioner Lin & the Opium War
In 1800, the British navy aboard the ship named Dian Xi arrived at Wangbo
and started to firing at the civilians, killing one person. The Qing authorities
demanded compensation but the British ignored their demand. In 1807,
sailors of another British naval vessel Hai Huang Xin (Star of the Sea King)
created trouble in Guangdong and killed several Chinese. They paid only a
fine of four English pounds.
Since MacCartney had failed in his mission to persuade China to open its
ports, Britain's triangular trade, by which imports of tea and silks were paid
for by opium exports from India to China, had increased dramatically. By the
late 18th century, the tea trade was worth $20 million while Chinese imports
of opium had risen from around a thousand chests to forty thousand chests.
Opium is the oldest-recorded and best-documented of drugs: the
Sumerians of the fourth millennium called the poppy the "Plant of Joy".
Egyptians prescribed opium as a kind of medicine to its people in the 16th century
BC. The Minoans had a Poppy Goddess and Homer knew it as nepenthe.
When the Romans systematized medicine, opium took its place as the principle
sopori.c. In Britain, opium had the blessing of the Royal Society of Arts,
which instituted an award of 50 guineas to anyone who could successfully
cultivate the drug in Britain. It was used for reducing fever but it could also
be used as a dangerous drug that weakens the body and soul and renders the
human being into a useless person. It makes one forget the world, entering a
world of bliss and pleasure, spiritually .oating in the air and at the same time
allows one's energy to be dissipated until a time when one is too weak and dies.
Lin recruited 5,000 men of Chinese minority who were good at martial
arts and acquainted with the sea, and trained them as soldiers to fight the
British. Then came an incident where a British killed a Chinese. Lin insisted
that the British hand over the culprit but they refused. Lin cut off all food
supply to the British. British soldiers started to attack Xiamen, Ningbo, and
other coastal areas. As the Chinese soldiers were weak in arms, they retreated
and suffered many casualties.
When the British expeditionary force took over Shanghai and advanced
to Nanjing, Emperor Dao Guang conceded defeat. This ultimately led to the
signing of the Nanjing Treaty in 1842, which ended the OpiumWar. As a result
of the treaty, the cohong trade monopoly in Guangzhou was abolished and the
Chinese agreed to set fair and regular tariffs and pay an indemnity of 20 million
silver dollars. In addition, eight Chinese ports, including Guangzhou, Xiamen,
Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai, were opened to the foreign traders of the
Western powers and given extraterritorial rights exempted from Chinese laws,
and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain.
Exile in Xinjiang
After the Opium War had ended, Lin was made a scapegoat. In 1842, the
weak emperor, under heavy Western pressure, banished him to Xinjiang. The
local inhabitants of Xinjiang were mostly Muslims and Lin mixed well with
them and took care of them. As an irrigation expert, he helped to solve some
of the province's water shortage problems by building a canal that is almost
five kilometers long to draw water from the river to provide water for the
people. As an engineer, he also discovered a new way of digging wells. Apart
from doing his duty as an engineer, Lin also spent time writing books about
naval matters. In Xinjiang, Lin met a Muslim general who was kind to him
because he respected Lin.
Appointed to suppress the taiping rebels
When the Taiping Rebellion (1851¨C1864) was stirring up in 1850, Lin was
reinstated as one of the ministers to suppress the rebellions in Guangxi. The
Qing rulers wanted to exploit his image and talent to help liquidate the Taiping
Rebellion. When Lin was travelling towards Shantou, the Taiping rebels heard
news of it but let him pass because they too respected this great hero who had
fought the British opium-smugglers. But Lin died on his way to Shantou in
1850 before he could assume his new task.
Lin died at the age of 66. He is remembered not only by Fuzhou Rén
but by all Chinese for his contribution in dealing with the British against