Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 4, 1883
to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Peking, January 29, 1883. (Received March 26.)
Sir: As a further reference to the subject of my dispatch, No. 34, I have the honor to inclose you a copy of a letter addressed to the legation by the Rev. Dr. Hopper, an American missionary long resident in Canton, discussing with clearness and ability many phases of the opium question. I commend the views of Dr. Hopper to the Department, as a part of the history of this agitation. I inclose also several extracts from recent Indian newspapers, giving some arguments on the other side, arguments in favor of the opium trade, as held by the official Indian class.
While the opium trade does not materially concern the United States, we cannot look without interest and sympathy upon the movement to suppress it. This movement received a marked impulse from the anti-opium clause in our recent convention with China. I never see the viceroy Li without his bringing up the question. I always say to the viceroy, and others who refer to the opium trade, that everything is to be expected from the humanity, justice and magnanimity of a Christian people like the people of England. When they come to realize the scope and volume of the degredation imposed upon China by the use of opium, they will suppress it, even if the Indian revenue were twenty times as large. In my latest conversation with the viceroy, I recalled the agitation against slavery in the West Indies, and the victory which came to a good cause after so many years of earnest and disheartening [Page 182]effort on the part of Wilberforce and his allies. Powerful, also, as the opium interest appeared to be now, it was not as strong as slavery in my own country twenty-five years ago. Public opinion in the end destroyed slavery, public opinion would destroy, opium, only remained for China to keep her cause steadily before the world, and for the rulers to show the sincerity of their protests by suppressing the growth of the poppy, and throwing were possible municipal restriction round the opium shops.
The calamity to be feared is that the opium habit will take so strong a hold of China that any successful effort to suppress it would be beyond even the power the Emperor. * * *
The suggestion of Dr. Hopper that a special embassy should be sent from China to England, to negotiate, or I might say, intercede as to opium, is I am informed; under consideration by the cabinet.
I have, &c.,
Substance of Dr. Hopper’s letter to Mr. Young.
There has arisen lately a class of writers who consider the use of opium as a harmless luxury, and some even as a healthful tonic and preservative against malaria. This arises because of $40,000,000 of revenue which India derives from the monopoly of the growth in its own territory and the transit dues which it levies on that which has to pass through its territory to a seaport for shipment to China. All the opium grown in Indian territory is grown for the Indian Government, which has the entire monopoly of its sale, paying the cultivators less actually for growing it than they would realize by the growth of other crops, the Government realizing the whole of the profits. On that grown by the native states Of Malva, which have no seaport, the Indian Government levies a transit duty of more than $300 a chest. The Government of India levies just as much as the commodity will bear and not stop its growth. It having been represented that the amount levied for several years past was stopping its growth, it has lowered the amount from 650 rupees a chest to 600 rupees. Yet the same Government which exacts such an enormous transit revenue refuses to allow China to levy transit duty on the same-commodity into different ports of China, lest it should operate by the enhanced cost of it to the consumer against the sale of the present quantity of the drug.
There are some points in the discussion as now conducted that need your careful consideration.
1. Sir Thomas Wade, for a quid pro quo, agreed in the state paper called “the Chefoo Convention” to permit the Chinese to levy transit duty ad libitum (called here “lekin tax”). The English have been in possession of what they obtained, but have to this time not given the Chinese what was promised in that convention. Last year Sir Thomas Wade was in conference with his excellency Li Hung Chang for months in this matter of opium, his excellency Li wishing to levy an import of 150 taels per chest, Sir Thomas only consenting to 90 or 100. Sir Thomas was called home to give information to the home Government on this point mainly.
2. The Chinese Government, failing to effect any cessation of its import from India, is trying a most dangerous and ineffectual plan, viz, permitting the native growth, in hopes thereby to supplant the India-grown drug. This scheme has failed in its purpose, the Indian drug continuing to come in the same quantity and to be sold at the same prices, whilst all the native growth is consumed by the multiplication of new victims in the ports where the native drug is grown. Sir Robert Hart, in the preface to the customs pamphlet on opium, estimated the native growth at 100,000 chests, the same as the imported quantity. Mr. Donald Spence, of the English consular service at Ichang, presents facts showing the growth of opium in the west provinces to be 224,000 chests.
Sir Robert Hart fixed upon three mace a day as the average daily consumption of smokers, and thus concluded that there were 2,000,000 opium smokers in China. In a paper on “The number of opium smokers in China,” I challenged the daily average of three mace as too large, and argued for one mace. In this estimate Dr. Dudgeon has concurred, as also Mr. Spence. I argued that the facts of the case as presented by travelers and others would lead to the inference that the number of smokers was [Page 183]at least from ten to twelve millions. On the estimate of 100,000 chests of native growth, there was drug enough to supply that number of smokers, but the amount of native drug as reported by Mr. Spence supplies more than sufficient of the drug for that number, and the number of smokers now cannot be much short of 15,000,000.
3. It is known to you that China has inserted a clause in the treaty with the United States forbidding United States citizens to engage in this trade. A similar clause has been introduced into the treaty with Russia and also with Braizil. The Chinese Government evidently wished in this way to bring public opinion to bear upon England. But England seeks to insure to India the export of the drug to China, and thereby hold the large revenue that she has from that source. To do this the English Government has to secure, the entrance of this drug into China, and also has to quiet the agitation that is now going on in England in regard to the morality of the opium trade as now conducted. As to China, England refuses to permit China to discourage this drug by levying a larger duty on it, either as import duty or lekin tax, thus curtailing China’s right as a sovereign power in her own territory. In England there is a combined effort to misrepresent the evils of the use of opium, and also to misrepresent England’s responsibility for the introduction of the vice into China, and for forcing the trade upon the latter country. A strong point which the English, will now urge at home is that the quantity imported is small as compared with that which is grown, and, therefore, the stopping of the import would not arrest the consumption of opium, but would only stimulate the Chinese to a more extensive growth to supply the deficiency occasioned by the withdrawal of the Indian drug. To quiet the anti-opium agitation in England the British Government is directing great efforts. Sir Thomas Wade has been called home to give information. Mr. Baker, who has spent some four years in West China collecting facts on native growth, on his way to England visited the governor-general of India, at Simla, with the object, I have no doubt, of putting the Indian Government in possession of all the facts about native growth. When Sir Thomas went home he called Mr. Spence (who has been in West China since Mr. Baker left) from his station at once, and took him home to England, although Mr. Spence told some of his, colleagues in the service that he was called from West China to go to some other port Putting these three things together, I think a strong effort is to be made to quiet this opium agitation in England as entirely uncalled for, on the ground that the India-grown drug is small as compared with that grown in China.
4. I know full well that the Chinese Government has stated again and again that they only permit the growth of opium temporarily in order to stop import from India, and I believe that so far as his excellency, Li Hung Chang is concerned, it has been done sincerely with that view. But his excellency needs to be shown that it has entirely, or nearly entirely, failed to effect anything in that way, and that it is affecting two most serious results: First, it is causing many of China’s friends to doubt his own sincerity in his expressed desire to stop the opium trade, and it affords the defenders of English complicity in the evil the apparently just grounds to say that, his great desire to stop the Indian import is that the Chinese Government may derive the whole profit from the native grown opium. This conviction, if allowed to spread, will quiet the agitation in England and settle the evils of the Indian import en permanence. The second evil of permitting the native growth is that it is getting so rooted in the country and raising up such a vast army of opium-smokers in all the provinces that the Government will be no longer able to arrest its growth, even if it should try. The high officials need to have their minds awakened to this matter. This enormous production of the native drug has nearly all come to pass within the last, fifteen years.
The American Government having entered into treaty agreeing to forbid its citizens to engage in the import or selling of opium, has a right to remonstrate against such an increase of a trade from which its citizens are excluded by treaty, the United States Government only acceding to such a stipulation on the implied understanding that China was desirous to stop the trade, both external and internal, entirely. But instead of taking any effective measures to stop the native growth it is increasing enormously yearly, with the knowledge of the Chinese Government, and, of course, with its consent.
The Chinese have tried various means to get control of the foreign drug. Last year it was proposed to form a syndicate with twenty millions of dollars capital, which would take the whole of the India-grown drug and pay the Chinese Government 150 taels duty, thus having the monopoly of the sale of it and relieving the Chinese Government of all responsibility for the prevention of smuggling. This was with the condition that 10,000 femer chests should be supplied each year, and thus in ten years the whole import should cease. Sir Thomas refused to agree, aud so it fell through.
I have in various ways presented to the Chinese Government that it can only get rid of the opium trade by sending a special embassy to England to represent the evils which China suffers from the opium trade—as the United States sent a special embassy to China to represent the evils it suffered from coolie emigration, and authorize this [Page 184]embassy to enter into a convention or mutual stipulation that, while England diminishes the amount of opium produced in India for the Chinese market year by year, say, ten or fifteen or twenty thousand chests, China should stop the native growth instanter and give England the right to examine as to the fulfillment of this stipulation by the former country.
I hold that if such an embassy were sent to England for such a purpose, the moral sentiment of the world would be so expressed in the newspapers and other ways of expressing public opinion as virtually to force England to accede and agree to such a proposal. But China is so inexperienced in the ways of western diplomacy that she shrinks from proposing such a thing lest she should fail, and thus experience a humiliation before the eyes of many people. But in the present state of the general conscience on this subject at present, such an embassy would be in no danger of failing in effecting such a convention between the two nations. * * * Russia and Brazil, as well as the United States, would be bound by their treaties with China to express sentiments at the court of London favorable to such a convention. All nations are interested in it commercially, because now China expends the whole of the value of the tea and silk she exports in paying for the imported opium from India, and hence has little money to pay for other kinds of imports. But there is every reason to believe that if she could save the money now expended on Indian opium she would purchase to that amount at least of other kinds of imports.
opium and the indian revenue.
“Would the extinction of £5,000,000 Indian revenue this very day involve either national insolvency or the imposition of new taxation amounting to cruelty?” This is the question which the Anti-Opium Association has addressed to Major Baring in reply to his budget speech. Of course the association answers its own question in the negative, and it quotes in support of its view the authority of the brothers Strackey:
“It would undoubtedly be possible to increase largely the income of the state without serious injury to the industry of the country, and without political danger, in the event of great financial emergency, such, for instance, as might conceivably, though not improbably, arise if we were suddenly to lose the greater part of our opium revenue, or if the difficulties caused by the fall in the value of silver in relation to gold should attain to very alarming dimensions.”
Before going further we would state the figures of the problem with more exactness. The net opium revenue for 1878–’79 was about six and a half millions sterling, and though the Anti-Opium Association, to suit their own purposes, desire to show the revenue as low as possible, and give therefore only the figures for Bengal, yet they do in fact want us to suppress the export from India altogether. This would entail not only the loss of the whole net revenue above stated, but a very large outlay in prevention of export and in compensation to the Malua states. Let us, however, state the loss with which India is threatened by the great anti-opium movement at home (which will, we fear, eventually succeed, unless the Indian Government encounters it much more vigorously than at present) at 6,000,000 net; it will then be but common prudence to consider beforehand how such a loss can be met, whether it befalls us suddenly, at the hands of the imperial Parliament, or whether it comes upon us gradually from the action of the Chinese. The probability is that both causes will act together. We may expect that under popular pressure the home Government will abolish the Bengal monopoly, and will encourage the Chinese Government to raise the tariff duty on opium and to levy the lekin, or local transit thereon under the provisions of the Chefoo convention. Also that the Chinese Government, thus assured of British sympathy, will gladly adopt this means of obtaining an enhanced customs revenue, and will at the same time vigorously push on the domestic cultivation to which, of course, the enhanced price of the foreign drug will give a natural impulse. Thus it appears to us certain that, in no long period of time, the Indian revenues must suffer a loss in the substitution of a duty for the Bengal monopoly. The amount realized by China on the opium imports under the present tariff rate is about two millions sterling. Enhancement of the tariff duty and imposition of lekin will probably more than double this: and, as most of what is gained to the Chinese Government will probably be loss to that of India, we arrive at the loss stated under the Chefoo convention. Again, the Bengal production, on an average of twenty years past, has been 50,000 chests, which, by a duty of 600 rupees per chest, would yield only three crores. Thus the loss in this measure (allowing for that already reckoned under the Chefoo convention, which would affect the present income under [Page 185]the monopoly) would he about one and one-half crores of rupees. It is thus a very safe and sober calculation to estimate the probable diminution of the Indian revenues in the matter of opium under the combined action of the home and Chinese Governments at 3,000,000 sterling. From what source is this sum to be made good?
The brothers Strackey have suggested the following possible sources of increased revenue:
Income and license taxes, £1,500,000; registration, £500,000; tobacco tax, £3,000,000 to £4,000,000; sugar, £1,000,000; railway traffic, £500,000.
Of these, however, the principal ones (tobacco and sugar) are condemned by them “as impracticable, except under the pressure of some financial catastrophe so great that it would justify almost any experiment.” The license tax already yields eighty-six lacs net, and an income tax yielding one and one-half crores additional is hardly conceivable. A tax on railway traffic would practically come out of the railway returns which depend upon the cheapening of traffic rates, so nothing would really be gained by that. The supposed half million from registration is purely speculative and may be dismissed from consideration. Where then are the three millions sterling to be made up with the loss of which the Indian revenue is threatened? We have answered the question many times before: it is in the pockets of the Bengal zemindars.
The admitted rental of the Bengal zemindars is 18,000,000 sterling, but as estimated by Sir George Campbell, when lieutenant-governor of Bengal, it was “probably more than 20,000,000 sterling.” Now, in 1793, when Lord Cornwallis took the tax collectors or publicans of the day and created them proprietors, each in his own circle of collection, their aggregate income or share of the government revenue retained by them in payment for collection must have been far below one-half million. Mr. justice Cunningham, in his “British India and its Rulers,” says: “The revenue in 1793 was about 3,000,000, and as the zemindar’s share was fixed at a tenth of the revenue (so fixed from the time of the Moguls), it cannot have been more than between £300,000 and £400,000.” No wonder then than Sir George Campbell said of these Bengal land-holders that “we have created in their favor an enormous property which never existed before * * * a property utterly unknown to any native government”— or indeed to our own English system either. And what have we had for it? Nothing. Mr. O’Kinealy, in his note on Enhancement, attached to the report of the Bengal Rent Law Commission, computes that these “descendants of Calcutta money dealers or of native officials,” who, as Mill says, “live as useless drones on the soil which has been given up to them,” extract from the ryots a sum which, if capitalized, “represents 165,000,000 sterling taken out of the pockets of the poor and put in the pockets of the rich, and do nothing for them or the country in return.” (Cunningham’s British India, page 302.) No wonder then that Mill says, “Whatever the Government has given up of its pecuniary claims for the creation of such a class has at the best been wasted.”
Though the admitted rental of the Bengal zemindars is stated at thirteen millions, Mr. Cunningham considers that the amount really taken by them from the ryots is at least double that figure. Adding expenses, illegal exactions, the expenses of litigation, and a share of the expenditure on police, the total payments, he considers, do not fall short of twenty-five or thirty millions sterling, and he speaks practically, with the authority of the famine commission. This estimate tallies with Sir George Campbell’s, and would show that Bengal ought, at the revenue rates of other provinces, to yield to the imperial treasury eight or nine millions more of land revenue than it does now under the permanent settlement, and what have we in return for the surrender of this vast sum? Mr. Cunningham tells us we have “the creation of a body of landlords who are described as not particularly prosperous, and of whom their warmest advocate can scarcely venture to affirm that they perform any one of the public duties which attach to the corresponding class in England, and of a corresponding class of tenantry whose unsatisfactory condition forces itself with increasing vehemence year by year on the public attention.”
Not only is this so, but there has been another remarkable result.
Bengal has nearly one-third of the population of British India, and in wealth and prosperity it represents very much more than one-third, of the Empire, hut evidently with a land revenue fixed on a scale of ninety years ago, it cannot and does not bear one-third of the public burdens, though it appears to do so, because most of the revenue of opium and customs is credited in Ben gal. So far, however, from really bearing its share of the general burden, “the richest province in India has been to a large extent defended, administered, educated, supplied with roads, barracks, hospitals, railways and canals, and relieved in the famine at the expense of the rest of the community. Ryots have been toiling in Madras and starving in the Deccan, in order that gentlemen like the rajahs of Durbhunga and Burduan may enjoy incomes of several hundred thousand pounds a year free from the rude contact of the tax collector’s hand.”
Of course it is quite out of the question that the whole eight or nine millions of short payment due from the zemindars of Bengal can ever be entirely made good in [Page 186]future, any more than it can he recovered for the past; but nevertheless a portion may.
There is no other reasonable proposition for making good a loss of opium revenue, and such a loss can and must therefore be met by a revision of the permanent settlement.
The sooner legislation declares that settlement liable to revision, the earlier will it be possible to begin, recouping opium Josses, thereby. It must be a very slow process, a long date will have to be given from the time of the act, before reassessment shall be lawful; and after that date, when reassessment may require to be made, it will have to be very gradual. The doubling of the present Bengal land revenue, of three and a half millions, which is the utmost increment that can be hoped for, will necessarily be a very slow and cautious process, extending over a long period of years, probally over a full generation.
the opium question in china.
We suppose that in due course of time the falsehoods published throughout England on the subject of the Indian opium trade to China will be discredited by their own virulence; but meanwhile, that they should meet any credence at all is little to the credit of our countrymen’s common sense. A Mr. Turner, among others, has published a book in which he typifies the conduct of England, as follows: “The strong man knocks down the weak one, sets his foot upon his chest, and demands, ‘Will you give me the liberty to knock at your front door and supply your children with poison ad libitum?’”
It is fortunate that the Anti-Opium League are thus overdoing it, for thus we may hope that they will defeat themselves. The British public and the London journals, even the Spectator, must ere long begin to understand that no one forces opium on China, and that no one wants to or does prevent China from taxing opium; Then they will further comprehend that the fanatic’s object is to deprive China of Indian opium, whether she wishes it or not; that they not only wish the Indian Government to abandon a most profitable manufacture and export on its own account, but also (as they know that this will only increase the opium supply) they want the manufacture and export forcibly put down altogether, and even the import into China forcibly prevented. And all this at the cost of the Indian taxpayer.
the opium trade.
As to the way in which the contraband trade in foreign opium was carried on in China fifty years ago, the Englishman says it at once shows how little would be the gain to morality if the views of the anti-opium agitators were carried out, and explains the dissatisfaction with which the mandarin class regard a system under which the importation of the drug into China is legalized.
The effect of laws which prohibited the importation of opium under pain of death was not to prevent the trade, but to fill the pockets of the local officials who winked at it for a consideration. The demoralizing effects of an irresistible temptation to corruption were thus superadded to whatever evil may have resulted from the consumption of the drug. This temptation would certainly be none the less effective, now that the habit of opium smoking is fifty years older and the number of the population addicted to it has enormously increased. Even if the Government of India were induced to play into the hands of the mandarins by preventing the export of the drug, or the cultivation of the plant itself, the effect would be only a temporary diminution of the supply. Not only would an immense expansion of the cultivation of the plant in China ensue, to the great advantage of the local officials and the detriment of consumers throughout the country, but a powerful stimulus would be given to opium growing in various other countries where climate conditions are quite as favorable to it as in India. Thus, while in China, the cause of morality would suffer rather than gain, the Government and people of India would be impoverished to the extent of several millions sterling annually for the sake of a chimera. The trade checked, it may be for a time, to the advantage of no one except the corrupt Chinese official and to the great distress of many, would, in the end, pass into the hands of less [Page 187]scrupulous or more practical rivals. The peasantry of India would groan under insuperable burdens, public works would be stopped, and the services would be starved for want of funds and all progress, except ail the road to ruin, would be at an end. In the mean time the superfine moralists of Exeter Hall would have the satisfaction of knowing that, however much evil might flourish in-China, the British nation at least had no concern in it, and however much misery might have been increased in India, it was amply compensated for by a sense of the virtue of self-denial.