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The Opium Trade of China.

Botanical name:


Few are, perhaps, aware of the enormous trade still carried on in opium from India to China; and what is, probably, even less generally known, is that the poppy is largely cultivated in China itself, and that the native drug is beginning to replace much of the Malwa opium. Mr. R. Fortune saw the poppy extensively grown in China for the purpose of inspissating the juice, but was able to form no estimate of the quantity actually grown. We have, however, confirmatory recent evidence of the extension of the culture and production in China. More than thirty years ago it was stated in the Chinese Repository, on the testimony of the consellor Choo Tsun, that in his native province, Yunnan, the poppy was cultivated all over the hills and open country, and that the quantity of opium annually produced there could not be less than several thousand chests. Indian opium now brings in an average annual gross revenue to the Indian Government of about £8,200,000.

The value of the opium shipped from India to China in the last ten years is thus given in the official statistics; from which it will be seen that the average annual import has not varied very greatly in the two quinquennial periods, although there are alternate high and low years, and the price fluctuates much:

£ £
1860, 9,054,394 | 1865, 9,911,804
1861, 10,184,718 | 1866, 11,122,746
1862, 10,553,912 | 1867, 10,431,703
1863, 12,494,128 | 1868, 12,309,915
1864, 10,756,093 | 1869, 10,695,654
Total, 58,043,240 | Total, 54,471,822
Average, £10,608,648 | Average, £10,894,864

In 1856 the consumption of Indian opium in China was about 82,000 chests, of 140 lb. each, but this was exceptionally large.

In his report upon the trade of Tien-tsin for 1866, our Consul drew attention to the fact that the increase in the importation of opium in that and the previous year had been immediately preceded by an Imperial edict, issued on the 28th April, 1865, which prohibited the cultivation of the poppy throughout the empire. He stated that though at first, the operation of this edict was beneficial to the trade in foreign opium, the poppy was still grown extensively, and the prohibition would prove ineffectual. That such has hitherto been the result is proved by the fact of another edict having been issued on the 31st January, 1869, redirecting all viceroys and governors to cause proclamations to be issued, forbidding altogether the cultivation of the poppy, which is stated to have been introduced from Kan-suh into Shen-si and Shan-si, and afterwards grown in the provinces of Kiang-su, Honan and Shan-tung. The ground of objection to the poppy, and even to potato culture, stated in the edicts, is that they withdraw land from the cultivation of rice and grain.

There is little doubt that the competition of native-grown opium has had much to do with the declining price of the foreign-grown since 1866, and that at the same time the increased production of the native has lessened the importation of Indian opium.

At Tien-tsin, since 1866, it is certain that a yearly diminishing importation has accompanied a yearly falling price, plainly indicating a decreasing demand for foreign opium. There is no evidence, however, according to Mr. Consul Mongan, of the decrease of opium smoking, but rather of its increase; and therefore it may fairly be inferred that the quantity of native opium has so much increased, or its quality so much improved of late, as to have shut out a considerable amount of the Indian drug. This inference, too, is much strengthened by the reference which the late edict makes to the spread of poppy culture over northern China.

In addition to the provinces enumerated in the edict, there is also ample evidence of extensive poppy cultivation in other parts of the Chinese empire. It seems to have been carried on for many years in the extreme south-west in the province of Yunnan, the largest portion of which has thrown off its allegiance, and is now a practically independent kingdom.

Sze-chuen has also been for many years a great poppy province, and the drug produced there very perceptibly affects the market at Han-kow. When Lord Elgin visited that city in 1858, he stated (Blue Book, 1859, page 443) that he saw there "shops where native opium was openly advertised for sale." Mr. T. T. Cooper, in some notes on his travels towards India through Central China, speaking of Sze-Chuen, says, "In spring the country was white with the flower of the opium poppy, now one of the staple productions of the province;" and Mr. A. Wylie, the well-known Sinologue, who has travelled lately in the same province, says in a letter, "One fact I can vouch for, and that is the widespread use of the drug, and consequent degradation of the people. It was pitiable to see the victims of this practice coming to us to ask for relief and desiring to be cured, and such were by no means confined to the lower classes. I believe the practice in Sze-chuen, as elsewhere, is very widespread among the literary and governing class. From all the information we could gather, it commenced in this province within twenty or thirty years past. In the 'Statistical Account of Sze-chuen,' published in 1817, which gives a detailed list of the productions of the province, the poppy is not named. I do not remember seeing any foreign, though it is sold there, but at every market the farmers bringing in their little lumps of native production were always to be met with. As far as I could learn, the price ranged from 140 to 250 cash the tael weight."

Another vast region, not mentioned in the edict of 1869, in which poppy culture has been spreading rapidly within the last few years, is Eastern Mongolia and Central and Northern Manchuria, the drug thence brought down to the coast competing with Indian opium in the Newchwang market. Thus, in the provinces of Yunnan, Sze-chuen, Shen-si, Kansuh, Shan-si, Honan, Shan-tung, and Kiang-su, as well as in Manchuria and Mongolia, native opium is produced; and that its consumption by the Chinese is lessening the demand for the Indian drug, would seem to be indicated by the fact that in 1868 the total importation of the latter was less than it had been in 1867 by 4789 chests, representing a value, at the average ruling rate, of nearly two millions sterling.

These figures are given in a letter that was published in the North China Daily News of the 22d February, 1869.

Native opium sells in Tien-tsin at from 125 taels to 200 taels per picul less than Indian, and, though nominally prohibited, it pays a similar local duty to foreign. Opium is brought into Tien-tsin either crude or prepared. When in the former state it is generally spoken of as "tu," earth or clay, from its outward resemblance to lumps or cakes of common clay: and the native, as distinguished from the foreign, which is termed "Yang-tu," or foreign earth, is called "hsi-tu," or western earth-a name that has clearly a geographical reference to the producing provinces. (Consular Reports, No. 2, 1869.)

Prepared opium, called "ya-pieu-kao," is generally composed of foreign and native drug boiled down, and often largely adulterated by an admixture of various glutinous substances, and amongst the rest by a decoction of the berries of a leguminous tree called the "huai-shu," which grows abundantly in the province.

Before concluding, I may give a few figures showing the imports and consumption of opium in the United Kingdom. Opium imported and used in this country:

Imports. Consumption.
lb. lb.
1830, 209,076 22,668
1845, 259,644 38,229
1850, 126,818 42,824
1855, 50,143 34,473
1860, 210,867 112,795
1865, 401,571 225,571

The Board of Trade returns for the last two years are, of course, not yet issued.

The largely increased imports and consumption, unless a greater home stock is held, would give ground to the opinion that opium is beginning to be used somewhat extensively for other than medicinal purposes.

In 1858 we imported but 82,085 lb., and retained for consumption 77,639 lb. In 1868 we imported (nearly all from Turkey) 322,809 lb. and re-exported 128,965 lb., thus leaving 198,344 lb. for home consumption. The reshipments are principally to Holland, the United States, New Granada and the West Indies. In the latter countries it is evidently destined for consumption by the Chinese.—Pharm. Journ., Lond., Nov. 5, 1870.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XLIII, 1871, was edited by William Procter, Jr. (Issues 1-4) and John M. Maisch (Issues 5-12).

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