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Posts Tagged ‘Opium Wars

The Groves of Academe…

It’s that time of year- graduation season.  So, from our friends at Good, a look back at what college graduates will remember, and a peek forward to what those escaping high school can expect:  “The Top 10 Oddest College Courses that $50,000 Can Buy.”

Beyond Narnia: The Political Theory and Writings of C.S. Lewis
Offered by Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island)
Annual cost of tuition and fees: $52,030
Photo (cc) by Flickr user menj

More provocative pedagogy at “The Top 10 Oddest College Courses that $50,000 Can Buy.”

As we sharpen our pencils, we might recall that it was on this date in 1839 that Chinese authorities led by Lin Zexu destroyed 1.2 million kg of opium confiscated from British merchants in Canton.  Sino-British trade had been brisk since 1756.  Initially the trade was an exchange of British silver for Chinese luxury goods; but this generated a trade imbalance that the British addressed by beginning, in the 1780’s to substitute opium (harvested in India) for silver.  While opium had some documented medical uses, the primarily application was “recreational”– and it proved very popular indeed.  Imports of the narcotic exploded.  In the 1830’s the British East India Company’s monopoly on Chinese trade was ended, and Americans began to import cheaper Turkish opium to compete with the British.  Use in China grew even more widespread… and the problem that it created became undeniable.  In 1839, the Daoguang Emperor appointed Lin Zexu governor of Canton, charging him with ending the opium trade… and so it was that the First Opium War was begun.

The Chinese underestimated Britain’s commitment to its merchants– and its newly-strengthened military and naval power.  The War ended In 1842 with the Treaty of Nanking, the first of what the Chinese called “the unequal treaties,” which granted an indemnity to Britain, opened five “treaty [free, for the British] ports,” and the ceded of Hong Kong Island to the Crown.  But even these concessions failed to satisfy the British appetite for trade; the Second Opium War began in 1856.

HMS Nemesis destroying Chinese junks during the First Opium War (source)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan…

an exhibit in The Opium Museum

This website is a virtual museum dedicated to a little-known subject: the artistry of antique Chinese opium-smoking paraphernalia.

The controversy of the Opium Wars and the subsequent British opium trade with China is still widely remembered today. What has been forgotten is that by the time the trade was banished, and opium smoking began to be effectively eradicated in China, it had already become an integral part of Qing dynasty culture, indulged in at every level of Chinese society – from the lowliest rickshaw pullers to the court eunuchs within the luxurious chambers of old Peking’s Forbidden City. And to satisfy the sophisticated tastes of China’s noble, mandarin, and merchant classes, the paraphernalia and ritual of opium smoking reached dizzying artistic heights. Opium pipes, opium lamps and other accoutrements were crafted from the finest materials – ivory, jade, silver, cloisonné and porcelain.

Beginning in the 18th century, opium accompanied the Chinese diaspora: first to the Chinese quarters of Asian cities, and later to the Chinatowns of the West, particularly North America, where opium smoking in the Chinese manner and with Chinese-made paraphernalia became fashionable among non-Chinese.

Once the drug was banned and its paraphernalia outlawed, these illicit items were heaped into piles and burned in public bonfires. From Shanghai to Saigon to San Francisco, the means to smoke opium were destroyed along with the drug itself. So few examples of these relics remain that most experts on Chinese art are blithely unaware of just how sumptuous and opulent this art form had become during its heyday.

We at the Opium Museum believe that, right or wrong, opium smoking was a part of the human experience, and as such, examples of its paraphernalia should be preserved for posterity. We are not advocating the use of opium. Our appreciation lies in the unique design and aesthetic genius of opium paraphernalia, as well as the ritual that evolved around its preparation and ingestion. In no other addictive substance did man’s quest for mood-enhancement reach such artistic heights.

As we admire the accoutrement of vice (even as we abhor the vice itself), we might recall that, on this date in 1861, the Confederate States of America began selling postage stamps.

The 5 cent Jefferson Davis

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 16, 2009 at 12:01 am

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