Gems of Chinese Literature/Lin Tsê-hsü-Letter to Queen Victoria

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THE ways of God are without partiality; it is not permissible to injure another in order to profit oneself. The feelings of mankind are not diverse; for is there any one who does not hate slaughter and love life? In your honourable nation, which lies 20,000 li away, separated by several oceans, these ways of God and feelings of mankind are the same; there is no one who does not understand the distinctions between death, life, profit, and injury. Our divine House reckons as its family all within the Four Seas; and our great Emperor, as though with the goodness of God, offers shelter to all alike, even distant wilds and far off countries sharing with us in life and in the means of nourishment.

Now, ever since the restrictions on sea-borne trade at Canton were relaxed―several decades back―and a free business intercourse followed, the people of the Inner Land and the barbarian ships from outside have been at peace in the enjoyment of their profits. It may be added that rhubarb, tea, silk, etc., are among the most precious products of the Middle Kingdom, and that if the Outside nations were unable to obtain these, they would be deprived of the necessaries of life. That our divine House, regarding all with equal goodness, allows these goods to be sold without stint for export beyond the sea, and extends its favours to sympathy with the foreigner, is solely to model its own feelings upon those of God and Mother Earth. There is, however, a class of treacherous barbarians who manufacture opium, smuggle it in for sale, and deceive our foolish people, in order to injure their bodies and derive profit therefrom. Formerly, smokers were few in number; but of late the contagion has spread, and its flowing poison has daily increased. In China, of those who are thus involved, a great many are wealthy persons, but there are also among the foolish masses some who cannot resist a whiff, and so injure their lives; in all such cases the penalty is self-inflicted, and there is really no room for pity. But ever since the great Ch'ing dynasty united the empire, its aim has been to regulate manners and customs with the view of rectifying the heart of man; how then can our House allow those who live within the girdle of the Seas to poison themselves at their own sweet will? Therefore, all who trade in or smoke opium in the Inner Land will be most severely punished, and the introduction and circulation of the drug will be for ever prohibited.

It appears that this particular form of poison is illegally prepared by scoundrels in the tributary tribes of your honourable country and in the devil-regions under your jurisdiction; but of course it is neither prepared nor sold by your sovereign orders. Further, that it is not all nations but only some which prepare this article; and that you do not allow your own people to smoke, under severe penalties for disobedience, evidently knowing what a curse it is and therefore strictly prohibiting the practice. But better still than forbidding people to smoke, would it not be to forbid the sale and also the preparation of opium? Surely this would be the method of purifying at the fountain-head. Not to smoke yourselves, but yet to dare to prepare and sell to and beguile the foolish masses of the Inner Land―this is to protect one's own life while leading others to death, to gather profit for oneself while bringing injury upon others. Such behaviour is repugnant to the feelings of human beings, and is not tolerated by the ways of God.

In view of the dominion exercised by our divine House over Chinese and barbarian alike, nothing would be easier than to put the guilty to death; but in respectful sympathy with the sacred intelligence and great leniency of our Emperor it is only fitting that orders should be issued beforehand. Hitherto, it has not been customary to send written communications to the princes of your honourable nation; and now, if suddenly there came this stringent prohibition, you might try to plead ignorance as an excuse. I now propose that we shall unite to put a final stop to this curse of opium; in the Inner Land by prohibiting its use, and in your dominions by prohibiting its preparation. As to the stocks already prepared, your country must at once issue orders that these shall be searched out and be consigned to the bottom of the sea, and never again allow this poisonous thing to appear between heaven and earth. Not only will the people of the Inner Land benefit thereby, but also the people of your honourable nation―for since they prepare it, who knows but that they smoke it?―if the manufacture is forbidden, will not suffer injury from its use. Will not this plan confer on both parties the blessings of perfect peace, and further manifest the sincerity of the respectful conciliatoriness of your honourable country? Having this clear perception of divine principles, Almighty God will not send down calamities upon you; and being thus in harmony with the feelings of mankind, you will receive the approbation of our Holy Sages.

Further, inasmuch as under strict penalties smoking opium is now forbidden in the Inner Land, even if prepared there will be no opportunity of selling it and therefore no profit to be made, rather than lose capital and toil in vain, why not direct one's energies into another line of business? Also, all opium discovered in the Inner Land will be totally destroyed by fire and burning oil; and if barbarian ships again smuggle in opium, it will only remain to burn them likewise, with the risk that they may have on board other goods, so that jade and pebbles perish alike. Thus, there would be no profit, with evident injury to self; a desire to injure others forestalled by injury to self. Our divine House controls the myriad nations by a spiritual majesty which is unfathomable; do not say that you were not warned in time! And on receipt of this letter, make haste to reply, stating the measures which have been adopted at all sea-ports for cutting off the supply. Do not falsely colour the matter nor procrastinate! Anxiously waiting; anxiously hoping.

2nd moon of the 19th year of Tao Kuang (1839).