Opium has become
a major problem in China. The total number of addicts in China
is estimated to 12 million. The trade deficit Western countries
had with China has quickly turned into a trade surplus. China
can't export enough tea and silk to balance the trade. Instead
the difference in trade is made up by the export of Chinese silver,
which is highly valued for its fine qualities. In 1839, the Chinese
opium smokers spent 100 million taels, while the government's
entire annual revenue was only 40 million taels. The drain of
silver greatly weakened the Chinese government. One government
official wrote, "If we continue to allow this trade to flourish,
in a few dozen years, we will find ourselves not only with no
soldiers to resist the enemy, but also with no money to equip
Since 1839, the Chinese government has imposed
extremely severe punishments, including death, for smoking and
trading opium. Special Commissioner Lin Ze-xu, the so-called 'Drug
Czar', was sent to Canton to ensure the rules were carried out.
Lin, while in Canton, made 1,600 arrests and confiscated 11,000
pounds of opium in two months. In June 1839, Lin forced foreign
merchants (mainly British citizens) to hand over 20,000 chests
of opium. He burned the opium in a public demonstration and scattered
the ashes across the sea.
The final stroke came when Lin gave the order
to close Canton to foreign trade.
In response, Great Britain has been sending gunboats and is now
attacking several Chinese coastal cities to force China into submission.
Despite the Chinese government's desperate attempts to withstand
the assault, a British victory now seems ineluctable.