22 June 2017

Opium Smugglers

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, 2009, Excerpt
Neel: ‘Mr. Burnham, I know nothing about this war you speak of.’

Mr. Burnham: ‘The officials in Canton have been moving forcefully to end the inflow of opium into China. It is the unanimous opinion of all of us who do business there that the mandarins cannot be allowed to have their way. To end the trade would be ruinous – for firms like mine, and indeed for all of India.’

Neel: ‘Ruinous? But surely we can offer China something more useful than opium?’

Mr. Burnham: ‘There is nothing they want from us – they have no use for our products and manufactures. But we, on the other hand, can’t do without their tea and their silks. If not for opium, the drain of silver from Britain and her colonies would be too great to sustain.’

Mr Doughty: ‘When I first went out to Canton, as a lad, there was just a trickle of opium going in. The yen for opium would still be limited if not for the perseverance of English and American merchants. It’s happened almost within living memory – for which we owe a sincere vote of thanks to the likes of Mr. Burnham.’ He raised his glass to the ship-owner. ‘To you, sir.’

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