Book Review – “The Chinese Opium Wars” (by Jack Beeching)


4/25/17 (way earlier than I care to admit)

This is one of the most fascinating (and possibly “telling”) books I own (or have ever read)…

OPI_Book Cover
Beeching’s History of the Opium Wars

Author, Jack Beeching does an outstanding job of illuminating an oft-forgotten corner of history that I believe is as relevant today as it was in the 19th century – and for multiple reasons!

The book was written in 1975 and addresses the infamous (for those who still even know it happened that is…) “Chinese Opium Wars” waged by The British under Queen Victoria in the mid to late 1800’s.

Not including additional pages for the index and sources / methods – my copy runs 331 page, and is a first edition.

I take only one issue with the book so I’ll get that out of the way first – the physical material, actual pressing of the spine / pages is sub-standard. I recall seeing similar feedback online as well so its not just my specific copy. This book addresses a vital bit of history that we can ABSOLUTELY LEARN FROM – it’s a pity that it was assembled little better than some throw away pulp fiction.

But onto the book and the history therein.

First, some brief context and orientation on where we are focusing in history.

There were actually two separate wars waged by the British – the first occurred in the 1840’s and the second, later that century in the 1850’s.
At this point in world history the British Empire was a major world power with one of the finest and most effective navies in the world.
By contrast, the  Chinese were well behind the British in terms of technology even though they were a much older civilization.

OPI_Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria – Team Opium

The first thing that should jump out at you about this conflict is the moment of what I call “Naked History”. The Opium Wars are still called just that — because the British were fighting for their desire to import and sell — OPIUM. It’s not like they dressed u the conflict to market it to people like we do today (especially the USA unfortunately) – no one was bombing Chinese ports because they were
Long story made short the British needed a way to offset or reverse the flow of hard currency (silver) which was leaving their coffers (and national budget as well) and going to their colonies to pay for TEA.

This tragic, overlooked, sordid little corner of history has so many angles – but one of them is addiction – and the subsequent CONTROL that others may receive as a result of it. The British were addicted to tea – and in order to recover their ongoing loss of revenue – they started sponsoring Poppy cultivation in India (and parts of China as well I think) – with the specific purpose of IMPORTING it (on the street they call that “pushing” or “dealing”, kids – and you go to jail for it) into China so as to generate Opium addiction within that civilization.

OPI_Chinese addicts
More Satisfied Customers of the British Opium “Trade” – (I can almost hear their loyal testimonies now!)

That’s it — there were no heroic ‘other goals’ from our British friends. And as you read the book you’ll quickly acquire a growing appreciation for two (more probably) things:

  1. The British openly kept records of what they were doing and why. Their Parliament was composed of landed gentry and moneyed interests and nothing else. When they made formal note of the notion that:

“…twice as many Chinese opium addicts (and for that matter, British opium addicts) had somehow TO BE CREATED” – pg 34

….you realize you’re seeing an honest (and very ugly) historical moment captured for what it was…..”NAKED HISTORY”….warts and all. And it gets you to thinking….since history repeats itself and all……

2.  Are there any modern parallels? is ANYONE doing ANYTHING like this today???   SURELY NOT. Governments or their shadow / spook agencies and proxies using the drug trade to profit and control others? NO WAY, SIR — but we’ll raise a separate hypothesis on that at the end of the article (or perhaps in a “part 2”)

So the British tea trade at this time – accounted for 10% of their entire government revenue. Taxes on importation – and I’d assume – the sale/consumption of tea.
The book does a very good job of highlighting other intricacies of the international marketplace as there WERE other commodities involved (British cotton used in India for instance) – but this is just an overview of course.

The book goes on to record that the actual company responsible for selling (…ahem…dope peddling? slinging rock maybe?) Opium – “owed its very existence to the British Parliament”.

With that backdrop provided, here are some excerpts and other facts from the book:

  • One of the British overseers of the Opium TRAFFICKING was a man named William Jardine. He was also Vice President of the Medical Missionary Society. (pg. 56)
  • “…the Government was advocating the cause of the contraband trade, in order to force an Opium War on the public; but [it was] impossible to be conceived that a thought so absurd and atrocious should have entered the minds of the British Ministry.” – Thomas Babington Macauly – Secretary of War, in the parliamentary debate of 7 April 1840.
T. Babington Macauly – We’re Selling WHAT??

Author’s Observation – here we see an echo AND foreshadowing (because this wasn’t history’s first nor last outrage) of other events in history which simply seemed too horrible to consider – so they went unchecked or ignored –*see footnote* (i.e. Socio-Communist Concentration Camps running for DECADES and exterminating some 60 Million lives).

More excerpts from the book:

  • We also see a fascinating pre-cursor to the modern tactic (which the USA and I believe Israel + the UK) REALLY seem to enjoy – notice the phenomena of British support for Chinese rebels (I’m sure they were moderates) in order to destabilize the incumbent Chinese government that doesn’t want to do business with them…. 
    • “…a secret society known as the Triads, powerful in and around Canton, had put up as a rival to the Manchu Emperor (i.e. the legitimate / standing ruler – Author) a pretender called the Golden Dragon King.
      • SOUND LIKE ANYTHING YOU’VE EVER HEARD IN THE NEWS? Disposing leaders in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Yugoslavia — and perhaps soon Syria? Iran again? North Korea?
      • The book is worth owning just to have this old British Empire tactic *see footnote 2* (and clear parallel of “The Wests” contemporary, chaos-tinged foreign ‘policy’) clearly documented and laid bare.
  • Addiction to Opium spread rapidly in China during this time and even the Emperor’s sons had become addicted, The Chinese Emperor had many good reasons to resist the British on this one – and some of those reasons were quite personal.
  • British subsidized poppy fields in India (another British colony at the time) consistently produced Opium by the ton. By 1839 there were 40,000 chests of Opium being shipped from India into China. pg. 78
  • While the motives are now pretty clear, the British DID try to obscure their intents and motivations at the time (maybe they should have named it something other than “The Opium Wars” – haha – oh well) . The book notes on pg 80 that they began “seeking … desperately for points of conflict which might sound more reputable than Opium.”
  • And please don’t think of these wars as isolated, irrelevant historical events – I’m MORE THAN WILLING TO BET MY ’65 STRAT THAT THE CHINESE LEADERSHIP TODAY REMEMBERS IT WELL. Also, the book states that, “Great Britain…had had a conscious about the real ground of conflict with China and  has had one ever since.”
  • On pg. 86 we see that “Americans” (the book isn’t clear if this was the US Govt, acting in an official capacity, or if perhaps a pack of wild eyed men from Alabama got together on this…) start to sell guns to China on the side.
    • I guess some people saw it as a ‘win / win / win’
      • Win – continue to subtly cross the British who the US had fought in a second war earlier that century
      • Win – Make BIG MONEY, G.I. !!
      • Win – HELP THE LITTLE GUY! I mean they were getting blown up for not importing – and getting addicted to enough Opium for God’s sake….if there was EVER a time where US weapons running might have had a tinge of morality to it….this may have been it (spoiler alert: Didn’t Help)

There’s no way this one article can do justice to the wealth of information that’s in this book!

There are tie in’s with the early 1900’s “Boxer Rebellion” in China where U.S. Marines claim one of their early victories.
Also, the “Pig Trade” later in the USA where Chinese immigrants were used as indentured servants (slavery had JUST been outlawed by the Emancipation Proclamation) and were key to finishing the coast to coast railroads that were so critical. The Chinese worked as something just better than an actual slave from what I could tell – and they were sometimes (often?) lured into the USA for work under false and misleading pretenses.

The modern drug trade also has roots in this dark corner of history. You can see how the scourge actually spreads and intensifies! On pg. 178 of the book we learn that by 1875 there were an estimated 120,000 American opium addicts. This was just one foothold from which a multi-billion dollar crime industry would emerge.

Given all that’s in this book – I will consider getting a Part II up tomorrow to provide a little more insight – but in the meantime — GO FIND THIS BOOK!!

OPI_Brits vs Chinese in Battle
One account in the book describes how Chinese warriors took to the field and started making scary/monster like faces at the British — this was embedded in their beliefs and tradition. The British were eager to test their new machine guns so they methodically mowed the Scowling/Grimacing Chinese down in seconds.

In closing – I believe that studying this obscure conflict provides VERY important clues to some events that are happening in our world today.
I’ve already mentioned the eerie historical similarities of the British use of proxy wars and support to “in country / native rebels” as a means to an end

But – think about this for a moment.
The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, soon after the attacks on 9/11. We were all told CLEARLY that the goal was to OUST THE TALIBAN.

If you recall – there was a slick series of marketing infomercials that passed for “news” so everyone could better understand WHY we needed to oust a regime that none of us had ever heard of before.

So we invaded – 16 years ago.


We helped destroy the industrial military machines of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan between 1941 and 1945….but we can’t get the Taliban out of Afghanistan.

AND we can’t find the will nor way to do anything meaningful about the Poppy fields and  heroin trade.


Edit on 4/25/17: I didn’t realize that Afghanistan was brimming with so many valuable natural resources — here’s a link that probably helps explain why were still there?

Afghanistan Has MUCH MORE Than Poppy Fields and Fun Filled People – Learned Something New Today

Those folks KNOW we’ll eventually have to leave — and we will (like many others who have come there for various strategic reasons and — failed)

And nothing will have changed — perhaps the poppy production will become more competitive. As it stands now we have soldiers “PATROLLING” the Poppy Fields *footnote 3*


Sputnik News – Taliban Still Attacking US / NATO Forces in Afghan – 90% of World’s Heroin Supply Remains UNHARMED However

CBS Article in 2012 – “Taliban STILL Not Defeated” — are we even TRYING? SHOULD WE BE???

and so is 90% of the world’s Heroin supply…..

NBC News – Heroin Use Escalates in the USA as Poppy Cultivation THRIVES in Afghanistan

Wikipedia on Poppy Cultivation and Heroin Production in Afghan – includes a reference to some who think our CIA might be purposely USING the Heroin trade…..SURELY NOT!

NY Tines from 2010 – US Turns a “BLIND EYE” to Poppy / Heroin Production in Afghan.

Business Insider Notes that production “EXPLODED” in 2016

The NY Times Article just two items above this line — deserves an excerpt:

From Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on down, the military’s position is clear: “U.S. forces no longer eradicate,” as one NATO official put it. Opium is the main livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, which was seized from Taliban rebels in a major offensive last month. American Marines occupying the area are under orders to leave the farmers’ fields alone.

“Marja is a special case right now,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Eggers, a member of the general’s Strategic Advisory Group, his top advisory body. “We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over.”


So — we’ve gone from ousting the Taliban — to helping the moderate Afghani’s …. grow poppy.….which provides 90% of the world’s heroin…& doesn’t that make you start to wonder what all the EXPORT MECHANISMS MIGHT BE???

Is it unfair to keep that in mind the next time someone opines about the most recent return (or escalation etc) of Heroin use?

In short – and in my OPINION – we don’t WANT to stop the flow — and we’re currently participating in a MODERN DAY OPIUM WAR — only it’s not just CHINA that’s in the crosshairs.

You REALLY SHOULD get this book, friends.


Good night for now.

2 + 2 = 4

OPI_Summer Palace Burns
Don’t Want to Buy our OPIUM? Well — take THAT!


* footnote 1 – I over simplify a bit here as neither the British Tea / Opium trade nor the Soviet era extermination camps would have simply have been done away with as long as “someone” decided to “do something” about it – however the ‘theme’ of an outrageous series of events or atrocities unfolding with little to no intervention – has been a theme throughout time so I note the linearity here.

* footnote 2: I acknowledge that this tactic may well have been employed by others before the British, However it’s one of the oldest examples I can share where the motivation was clearly economic and the proxy war / puppet regimes – transparent for what they were. I would wager that the Romans, Babylonians and others probably used similar ploys.

* footnote 3: I acknowledge that there have been SOME efforts to curb poppy production here and there. But obviously – it’s not been our best effort.,,I also think it’s obvious that it’s not a serious goal of our administration — same for whomever else is involved with the “New Opium Wars” — I don’t believe it’s JUST the USA that’s probably dirty in all this.

Opium was routinely used for medical purposes during this period of history. However there was (and is) a tremendous difference in the effects and addictive properties depending on whether one EATS IS (as was custom for pain relief) or SMOKES IT (withdrawal becomes much more difficult and unpleasant as well)

Here’s a British source on the subject of the Opium Wars – note that, right off the bat, the CAUSE of the wars is laid at the feet of “Chinese Isolationism”:

Victorian Web Notes – THEY WERE ASKING FOR IT!!!

Yes, that darned “ISOLATIONISM” — which NO ONE ever defines — but apparently includes trying to stop a dangerous and taxing DRUG TRADE at YOUR BORDERS.

PS: Once you read this book – ask yourself how Chinese leadership  feel about border protection.


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