In 1893 Lin Zexu, a scholar and Qing mandarin, wrote an open letter to Queen Victoria of Britain, calling on her to suspend the opium trade in China:
“During the commercial intercourse which has existed so long, among the numerous foreign merchants resorting hither, are wheat and tares, good and bad; and of these latter are some, who, by means of introducing opium by stealth, have seduced our Chinese people, and caused every province of the land to overflow with that poison. They seek merely to advantage themselves, they care not about injuring others! This is a principle which heaven’s Providence despises; and which mankind looks upon with abhorrence!
Moreover, the great emperor hearing of it, actually quivered with indignation, and especially dispatched me, the commissioner, to Canton, that in conjunction with the viceroy and governor of the province, means might be taken for its suppression.
Every native of the Inner Land who sells opium, as are all who smoke it, are alike adjudged to death. We find that your country is distant from us, that your foreign ships come hither striving one after the other for our trade, and for the simple reason of their strong desire to reap a profit. By what principle of reason then, should these foreigners send in return a poisonous drug, which involves in destruction those very natives of China?
Without meaning to say that the foreigners harbour such destructive intentions in their hearts, we yet positively assert that from their inordinate thirst after gain, they are perfectly careless about the injuries they inflict upon us! And such being the case, we should like to ask what has become of that conscience which heaven has implanted in the breasts of all men?
We have heard that in your own country opium is prohibited with the utmost strictness and severity. This is a strong proof that you know full well how hurtful it is to mankind. Since then you do not permit it to injure your own country, you ought not to have the injurious drug transferred to another country, and above all others, how much less to the Inner Land!
Of the products which China exports to your foreign countries, there is not one which is not beneficial to mankind in some shape or other. There are those which serve for food, those which are useful, and those which are calculated for re-sale – but all are beneficial. Has China ever yet sent forth a noxious article from its soil? Not to speak of our tea and rhubarb, things which your foreign countries could not exist a single day without!”