20 June 2017

British Empire and the Opium Trade

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, 2012, Excerpt
The drug may come from India, but the trade is almost entirely in British hands. In the Bengal Presidency, the cultivation of opium is their monopoly: few Achhas play any part in it, apart from the peasants who are made to grow it – and they suffer just as much as the Chinese who buy the drug. In Bombay, the British were not able to set up a monopoly because they were not in control of the entire region. That is why local merchants were able to enter the trade. Their earnings are the only part of this immense commerce that trickles back to Hindusthan – all the rest goes to England and Europe and America. It was not the Achhas who started sending opium to China: it was the British. Even if every Achha washed his hands of opium, nothing would change in China; the British and Americans would make sure that opium continued to pour in.’

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, 2016, Excerpt
Free Trade, the truth was that their commercial advantages had nothing to do with markets or trade or more advanced business practices – it lay in the brute firepower of the British Empire’s guns and gunboats.

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