No. 142.
Mr. Angell to Mr. Evarts .

No. 65.]

Sir: After the departure of the two commissioners, my colleagues, I received from Mr. William N. Pethick, of Tien-tsin, a letter which contains some interesting statements addressed to the commission. I have thought it well to forward you a copy.

Mr. Pethick’s views are of interest, not only because of his intelligence and his long residence in China, during a portion of which he has held official positions under our government, but especially because of his close and confidential, perhaps we may say official or semi-official, relations with Li-Hung Chang, the grand secretary and viceroy of this province. It is by no means a violent presumption that Mr. Pethick’s letter reflects the views of the viceroy, and so gains a value which makes it worthy of transmission to you.

Moreover, the figures which he gives in elucidation of the disastrous influence of the opium trade in China, in a purely commercial point of view, are very impressive. When we see that China pays more for opium annually than she receives for her whole exportation of silk, or than she receives for her whole crop of tea, we can understand why intelligent Chinese statesman, like the viceroy of this province, regarding the importation only as a business transaction, deeply regret it.

[Page 217]

But no figures can give even an approximate idea of the ruinous effects upon the health and the demoralizing effects upon the character which are produced by the rapidly increasing use of opium in this empire. One must live here and see the wretched condition of the victims of the drug to appreciate what a curse it is to this nation. It is a matter of congratulation that so few of our citizens suffer themselves to be engaged at all in its importation or sale.

In this connection I beg leave to refer you to Mr. Low’s dispatch No. 46, of January 10, 1871, which contains some very interesting statistics and comments on the subject.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 65.]

Mr. Pethick to the United States special commissioners to China .

Your Excellencies: I cannot deny myself the liberty of writing to offer my congratulations upon your success at Peking. A long official career in China and my present relations with the grand secretary and viceroy Li, enable me to say with confidence that the success which has crowned your efforts will have a marked effect upon the welfare of humanity and civilization, at least in this part of the world.

The question of Chinese immigration to the United States has been settled in a way that will give satisfaction to both countries. But though the solution of that vexed question was the end and aim of your mission, I leave what has been accomplished to speak for and commend itself to our people, as its bearings will be so well understood by them. My present concern is with opium, a subject not quite so well understood at home as the other.

It is a mistake to say that since the opium war with England in 1842, the Chinese Government has never shown a genuine desire to limit or suppress the opium traffic. The printed laws of the empire, imperial, edicts, memorials from the members of the government at Peking and from the provincial authorities, and remarks by the ministers of the Chinese foreign office, addressed to the representatives of foreign governments in documents and in conversation, fully attest the fact that China has never consented to bear, without murmur, this great wrong which was forced upon her. Nor because imperial edicts are set at naught, and the cultivation of the poppy connived at by officials in some parts of the country, is it fair to tax the government with indifference to the spread of this evil. Blood and treasure were spent freely in combating its introduction, and, though defeated in war, the government has not remained a silent or unfeeling witness of this blight extending over the country. The public archives down to the present time bear witness to the fact. American merchants formerly shared in this traffic, and American ships are ready even now to carry opium from place to place in China. But the trade has fallen largely into the hands of Jews and Parsees, British subjects, from India. Very few English mercantile firms of reputation are concerned with it, save by employing their vessels to carry it about. Yet the Chinese people make no such nice distinction as to principals and accessories in this trade. They know that opium was forced on the country by a war, that all foreign merchants and their ships have engaged in the trade, and that any foreign vessel will carry opium now. The common name with them for opium is “yang yao” (foreign drug), and the simple facts ever present in their minds are that foreigners first brought opium into the country and bring it still; and the efforts of their authorities to put it down have no manner of effect upon foreigners. Thus Americans, as foreigners in this country, and being free to deal in opium, come in for their share of the opprobium equally with English merchants, and bring the fair fame of Western civilization into disrepute.

To give a clear idea of the present extent of the foreign opium trade in China, I will here quote some statistics, taken from the latest official report of the foreign customs service of the Chinese Government; Chinese weights and values are reduced, for convenience, into our own weights and currency.

[Page 218]

Imports into China from foreign countries during the year 1879.

1. Opium (from India, under monopoly of the British Government, 11,073,333 pounds) $50,700,000
2. Cotton goods (from England and the United States) 31,400,000
3. Woolen goods (chiefly from England) 7,000,000
4. Metals (chiefly from England) 5,700,000
5. Matches (chiefly from Europe) 550,000
6. Kerosene oil (from the United States) 1,000,000
7. Sundries (from all countries) 18,000,000
Total value of all imports $114,350,000

Exports from China to foreign countries during the year 1879.

1. Tea, 265,000,000 pounds $46,000,000
2. Silk 40,000,000
3. Sugar 3,000,000
4. Sundries 11,200,000
Total value of exports $100,200,000
Value of whole foreign trade, export and import, for the year 1879 $215,000,000

The total quantity of foreign opium imported during the year 1879 reached a figure never attained before, namely, 83,050 piculs (11,073,333 pounds, over 5,000 tons), representing a value of 36,536,617 taels, or about $ 51,000,000, and this formed very nearly one-half of the whole foreign import trade. The amount imported has steadily and rapidly increased from 52,000 peculs in 1864 to 82,000 in 1879. In 1879 the import was 11,000 piculs (one picul, 133⅓ pounds) more than the previous year.

This will show that the use of foreign opium is steadily and rapidly increasing in China. To this is to be added the amount consumed in Hong-Kong, and the amount re-exported thence for the use of the Chinese in California, Australia, and elsewhere; and estimating 21,919 piculs as smuggled from Hong-Kong into China, the customs authorities state that “the total importation of opium into China would therefore appear to have amounted in 1879 to 104,970 piculs,” (13,995,000 pounds over 6,000 tons).

This single article (opium) equals in value all the other goods brought to China from foreign countries. Its value is greater than all the tea sent out of China, or all the silk. For the 265,000,000 pounds of tea China sends abroad, she is given 11,000,000 pounds of opium, and still has $5,000,000 to pay for this opium in other goods, the opium being worth nearly $51,000,000 and the tea but $46,000,000.

These figures establish quite enough for my purpose, which is to show that the black stream of pollution which has so long flown out of India into China has been increasing in volume and spreading its baneful influence wider and wider. If this stream be not checked, the world may soon despise China as a nation of opium-smokers, even as Judah was reviled by the prophet for her abominations.

I take it for granted that the ill-effects, physical and moral, of opium-smoking are known and admitted by intelligent and unprejudiced people, and notwithstanding the fine-spun theories of various apologists for the habit, it is enough here to refer to the positive condemnatory testimony of native victims of the habit; to all intelligent and respectable Chinese; to foreigners who have had much experience in the country, and to the united opinion of the foreign medical faculty in China from the earliest date of foreign intercourse to the present. The British Government long ago abandoned its defense of the trade on moral grounds, and now sustain it simply and confessedly for financial reasons.

Your excellencies have appeared in China at this juncture, and while seeking to remedy a misfortune suffered by our country at the hands of the Chinese, you have been mindful to redress a wrong long sustained by China from the United States, for we have been more or less involved in the opium trade in common with other foreign countries. This is an act of common justice and national equity. It fulfills a moral obligation which has rested upon our country to make amends for the wrong which has so long had our tacit and implied approval. The United States by a bold and noble declaration against opium now stand in the right before the world and the God of nations.

It would be premature to forecast the good results which should follow this act. You are aware of the profound effect it has had upon the government at Peking and [Page 219] upon the Viceroy Li. That effect, I feel certain, is not transitory. It has encouraged long deferred hope; confirmed oft-defeated determination; it has nerved the arm of the government with new strength, and we shall see China once again grappling with the monster that is stealing away the prosperity and energies of her people.

I feel proud to belong to a country capable of such an act of magnanimity to a weaker one. It is an act of peace and good-will such as exalts a nation, if we believe Holy Writ, far more than the conquests and triumphs of war; and your excellencies will doubtless come to reflect upon your work, so happily accomplished, with the pleasing consciousness of a great duty performed before God and man in behalf of our country.

I have the honor to be your excellencies’ obedient servant,