Before the First Opium War, Western capitalist countries led by Britain wanted to find a commodity that they could sell and make a profit in China. At that time, the self-sufficient Chinese economy did not have much room for industrial products from Britain. To avoid losing more money from trade deficit, the British merchants smuggled opium into China to sell. China’s exponential import of opium turned Britain’s trade deficit into a surplus. Opium merchants thus made a fortune.
Foreign opium warehouse boats used to moor off Lintin Bay (or Lingding Bay, 伶仃洋). During typhoon seasons, they docked in Kumsing Moon (金星門) and Hong Kong waters for shelter. Many opium warehouse boats gathered in present-day Victoria Harbour, doubling the number moored there during the early 1820s. The slow battleships and the outdated firearms of the Qing dynasty could not disperse these fully-armed warehouse boats, turning Hong Kong waters into a hub of Britain’s opium trade with China. In 1839, a total of 22 opium warehouse boats were docked outside Humen (虎門), 16 of which were docked near Tsim Sha Tsui in the Hong Kong territory.
A diagram showing the locations where foreign countries engaged in opium trading in China during the First Opium War. The red circle indicates Kumsing Moon, while the blue circle indicates Hong Kong Island.
Opium trading lord James William Matheson and William Jardine co-founded Jardine Matheson & Co. in 1832. Matheson was the manager of the company and the Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Guangzhou (廣州), etc. Matheson Street in Hong Kong is named after him.
Another opium trading lord William Jardine, the co-founder of Jardine Matheson & Co.
From the 19th century, the quantity of opium entering China surged. The photo shows the British East India Company’s opium warehouse.
The Red Rover, a Jardine Matheson & Co’s opium clipper. It could do the return journey transporting opium from India to China three times a year.
Ships and clippers for smuggling opium near the sea of Inner Lintin Island (1830).
An opium warehouse boat.
The speed and weapons of the Qing battleships were far inferior to the British opium merchant ships in the 18th century. Qing China was unable to halt the rampant opium smuggling. (Stock photo)
The skeletal addict in the photo demonstrates the harmful effect of opium on human health and lives. (Photo source: Fotoe)
Millions of people, regardless of backgrounds, smoked opium.
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