Monday, May 14, 2012

Opium. From a Punjab Government report, April 1886

We know from Ghosh's Sea of Poppies a bit about how the opium trade evolved starting in the 1830s and 40s in India, as a direct and intentional facet of British colonialism in India and China. What's surprising to me is that the opium trade is still positively acknowledged even in 1886. Wikipedia suggests that the consumption of Opium in China continued to rise after the Opium Wars ended in 1858, though increasingly China was producing opium domestically. It's unclear to me who was the target audience the opium mentioned in the Civil & Military Gazette in 1886. It's also suggested that the British government, from London, had officially aimed to curb opium consumption and addiction in the colonies after 1880. However, the following passage suggests that policy may have been met with ambivalence by actual colonial administrators.

Here is an excerpt from a long article, summarizing a government report on the state of the government of Punjab released in 1886:

Very little is said on the subject of opium, and that little may be considered favourable. For the third year, in succession, the prospects of the opium crop are exceptional. the future of the opium revenue must, we are told, very greatly depend on the successes attending the working of the new Convention with China, by which the levy of all duty on Indian opium by provincial Governors is prohibited; the only duty allowed being that levied at the Treaty Ports. Considering the sentimental objections that are periodically raised to our deriving any revenue at all from opium, it is probably well that as little as possible should be said on this subject. We all know that the loss of the opium revenue means something very like bankruptcy to India. For the present we may console ourselves with the thought that the government of India does not consider the future of opium as depending mainly on the opinion of Exeter Hall. 

Another example, I think, showing how much the civilizing mission and Kipling's 'white man's burden' were self-serving lies to justify economic exploitation.  

1 comment:

  1. Well before Amitav Ghosh there was Gay Courter's "Flowers in the Blood", a novel about the Indian opium trade. It's an easier read despite its length, possibly written for a different readership, but worth checking out.