The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History

By R. Keith Schoppa | Go to book overview
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APPENDIX TWO
Documents

1. LETTER OF COMMISSIONER LIN TO QUEEN VICTORIA
(AUGUST 1839)

This letter of Lin Zexu, the Imperial Commissioner dispatched to deal with the opium problem in Guangdong province, was sent to Queen Victoria shortly before the Opium War began. It reveals the Chinese self-conception and relationship with foreigners and foreign nations. It also expresses consternation and incredulity about Britain's continuing to smuggle opium into China even though well aware of its tragic consequences.

His Majesty the Emperor comforts and cherishes foreigners as well as Chinese; he loves all the people in the world without discrimination. Whenever profit is found, he wishes to share it with all men; whenever harm appears, he likewise will eliminate it on behalf of all of mankind. His heart is in fact the heart of the whole universe.

Generally speaking, the succeeding rulers of your honorable country have been respectful and obedient. [T]he Celestial Empire, following its traditional policy of treating foreigners with kindness, has been doubly considerate towards the people from England. You have traded in China for almost 200 years, and as a result your country has become wealthy and prosperous.

As this trade has lasted for a long time, there are bound to be unscrupulous as well as honest traders. Among the unscrupulous are those who bring opium to China to harm the Chinese: they succeed so well that this poison has spread far and wide in all the provinces. You, I hope, will certainly agree that people who pursue material gains to the great detriment of the welfare of others can be neither tolerated by Heaven nor endured by men. Having learned about this deadly poison, His Majesty the Emperor was furious with anger; he dispatched me to Guangdong Province to examine the situation more thoroughly and, in consultation with the governor-general and the

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