Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Arrest Statistics and Labor Relations

The memorial on Shi Hou contains information a total of 111 people (all men) who participated in the opium trade.

Who was arrested:

Fifty-eight people were arrested, and the remaining fifty-three people were at large and wanted when this document was forwarded to Beijing.

Who they were:

All of the people named in the memorial were local residents of Jinjiang county or a neighboring district. Fifty-three worked for wages, providing labor for other people’s businesses. Fifty-five others were investors or business operators. The remaining three people were boat owners who started off providing transport service for opium investors and subsequently invested in their own opium.


Those I have categorized as investors are people who contributed money to buy opium, though they may also have provided labor in the form of sales, brokerage, and arranging transportation. Their investments ranged from as small as four dollars (as in Lin Cang, Zhou Yue, and Guo Rui, who pooled funds to purchase a twelve-dollar ball of opium at Yakou village), to as much as several thousand dollars (as in Lin Yang, Lin Qing, Zhang Pan, and Zhang Kua, who pooled funds to purchase four chests of opium at Yakou for $4,500).


Those I have classified as laborers were almost exclusively people who worked on boats: sailors, ferry operators, and pilots. They could earn as little as 300 wen (cash), as in Wang Miao and Wang Hong, who were hired by investor Yan Wenrui to transport a single packet [bao] of opium to Luluo village. The most common salary for labor seems to have been around 3,000 wen per boat, per run, split among the laborers with a larger cut going to the boat owner.

Who was actually arrested?

Looking at who was arrested and who escaped prosecution reveals key details about the particular nature of exploitation in the coastal opium trade. Among the investors, only 13 were arrested while 42 remained at large when the Fujian provincial authorities wrapped up the case and forwarded it to Beijing. Among the laborers, only 8 remained at large while the remaining 45 were arrested and prosecuted.

Investors had an almost uncanny ability to avoid arrest, as in Wang Zhou, who hired Lin Sen and Sun Yang for 2,000 wen to transport him out to Shi Hou’s warehouses at Yakou to purchase 8 bricks of opium for $100. Wang Zhou was never captured while Lin and Sun were each sentenced to beatings of 100 strokes of the heavy bamboo and three years of hard labor. The case includes several variations on this story, as in Lin Xiaojiu, who hired three boatmen to purchase 8 balls of opium from the foreign ships in Shenhu Bay and somehow escaped with the opium while his employees Wu Mabo, Lin Shun, and Lin Xuyang were all captured and punished.

Working as a boatman in an opium operation was a dangerous job with harsh consequences. Investing in opium, on the other hand, was comparatively safe and incomparably remunerative.

Source: Junji chu Hanwen lufu zouzhe (Grand Council Chinese-Language Palace Memorial Copies, often cited as LFZZ), Beijing: First Historical Archives, 03–4007–048, DG 18.10.29.

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