|Lin Zexu 30 Aug 1785-22 Nov 1850 Photo Courtesy of Freddie Wong,|
Urumqi, Red Hill Park.
Lin Zexu (Ling Chek Sii) was a Foochow (Chinese) scholar and official of the Qing Dynasty.
He was most famous for his stand against the opium trade in Guangzhou. He was highly regarded by both Chinese and foreign diplomats for his high moral standards and conduct in this fight against opium addiction.
The Qing Emperor Yongzheng had banned non medicinal consupmption of opium in 1729 but by 1830's British trade in opium had affected China's economy and society.
Many believed that Lin's stand was the catalyst for the First Opium War of 1839-42. As a result he was considered a "role model for moral governance, particularly by the Chinese."
He was born in Fuzhou and his home still stands impeccably preserved as a museum to honour his memory. He was a brilliant scholar, a JINSHI in 1811 and was appointed tothe Hanlin Academy. By 1837 he was governor general of Hunan and Hubei. ( Here he launched a suppression campaign against the trading of opium.
The foreign traders were interested in tea but the Chinese were not interested in their products. The Chinese only wanted silver for their tea. This trade imbalance caused a lot anguish to the foreigners and they hit upon the idea of narcotics, opium. Events were ugly by that time.
Lin was sent by the Empror to Guangdong in1838. "He arrested more than 1,700 Chinese opium dealers and confiscated over 70,000 pipes. It took Lin one and half months before the merchants gave up nearly1.2 million kg of opium..In June 1839, 500 workers took 23 days to destroy all the opium. Opium was mixed with liume and salt and thrown into the sea."
26th June is now the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in honour of Lin Zexu's work.
"In 1839, Lin also wrote an extraordinary memorial to Queen Victoria in the form of an open letter published in Canton, urging her to end the opium trade. The letter is filled with Confucian concepts of morality and spirituality. His primary line of argument is that China is providing Britain with valuable commodities such as tea, porcelain, spices and silk, while Britain sends only "poison" in return. He accuses the "barbarians" (a reference to the private merchants) of coveting profit and lacking morality. His memorial expressed a desire that the Queen would act "in accordance with decent feeling" and support his efforts."
We find that your country is sixty or seventy thousand li from China. Yet there are barbarian ships that strive to come here for trade for the purpose of making a great profit. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?The Royal Open Letter was prevented from reaching the Queen by shipping merchants, who attacked the Emperor`s forces before the Letter could have been acted on by Her Majesty. Belatedly, after the merchants had drawn Her Majesty`s forces into war, it was delivered and published in The Times.
—Lin Zexu, Open letter addressed to the sovereign of England and published in Canton (1839)
Lin made significant preparation for war against the possible British invasion. The British sailed north to attack Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The governors of these two provinces failed to heed a warning from Lin, however, and were unprepared when the British easily landed and occupied Dinghai.
Because of this defeat, and also because of the intrinsic behaviour of Chinese imperial political structure of the Qing dynasty, Lin was popularized as a scapegoat for these losses. His position was then given to Qishan in September 1840. As punishment for his failures, Lin was exiled to the remote Ili region in Xinjiang.
The Qing government ultimately considered Lin to be an official of rare virtue, however, and in 1845 he was appointed as governor-general of Shaanxi-Gansu (Shaan-Gan). In 1847 he became governor-general of Yunnan-Guizhou (Yun-Gui). But these posts were less prestigious than his previous position in Canton, and his career did not fully recover from the failures there .
While in Xinjiang, Lin was the first Chinese scholar to take note of several aspects of Muslim culture there. In 1850 he noted in a poem that the Muslims in Ili did not worship idols, but bowed and prayed to tombs decorated with poles that had the tails of cows and horses attached to them. This was the widespread shamanic practice of erecting a tugh, but this was its first recorded appearance in Chinese writings. He also recorded several Kazakh oral tales, such as one concerning a green goat spirit of the lake whose appearance is a harbinger of hail or rain.
Lin died in 1850 while on his way to Guangzi, where the Qing government was sending him to help put down the Taiping Rebellion. His documents were given to Wei Yuan who published the Illustrated Treatise on the Maritim Kingdoms in 1943.
A wax statue of Lin also appeared in Madame Tussauds wax museum in London.
A statue of Lin stands in Chatham Square (Kimlau Square) in Chinatown, New York City, United States. The base of the statue is inscribed with "Don't do drugs" in English and Chinese. The statue faces what has been dubbed "Fuzhou Street" which means his back is turned to the Manhattan Detention Complex and the city's main police station.
If you do visit Fuzhou City, do spend half a day in the Museum or Memorial Hall which honours Lin Zexu.