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

Corruption and Bribery

The smugglers and Mandarins have come to an arrangement in this place, that they are to be paid $10 for every chest we deliver. Captain Hadley and myself agreed to it, and accordingly rose the prices of all that much. In my opinion is the best thing that could have happened, for all parties. We have a man put on board, who receives the cash and a chop has been delivered to me.

Captain Mackay in Chimmo Bay to William Jardine in Canton, November 29th, 1835.*
Most of the business which has been conducted in Chimmo bay has been carried on by the parties which traded with us two years ago. We do not pay the $10 fee but give the mandarins of the station a present now and then.

Captain Rees in Chimmo Bay to William Jardine in Canton, May 19th, 1838.**

In The Case Against Shi Hou, the government officials who prosecuted the case noted that Shi Hou was in the practice of charging a $10 commission for every chest sold to customers that he brought out to Big and Little Li's ships in Shenhu Bay. As the above quotations illustrate, the Jardine-Matheson records also feature the practice of somebody charging $10 fees for every chest sold. But whereas in the Qing account the practice is coded as a brokerage fee that captured suspect Shi Hou was charging other Chinese merchants for access to the foreign ships, in the Jardine records the British opium captains portray the fee as part of a government protection scheme, which is consistent with the records from other anchorages.

The matter of the ten-dollar fee in Shenhu Bay was part of a broader pattern of corruption and bribery developing between the British opium ship captains, the coastal lineages, and the Qing civil and military authorities in Xiamen and Quanzhou. During May and June of 1836, for instance, Rees went into negotiations with an official with jurisdiction over Shenhu Bay known in the Jardine sources as “Luo Toa” (laoda, local parlance for “elder brother” or “the big man”). In May, Rees reported having negotiated with his brother to fix prices for the bay and subsequently combine together to offer the laoda an annual fee of $20,000 in order to secure the trade and also “not to allow strangers to trade” (i.e. not allow competing British, Parsee, and American opium ships into the bay).***

Jardine-Matheson captains were in direct negotiation with local authorities on the coast. A month later Rees reported that the laoda had “sent off to say he cannot accept less than $24,000 fees for accommodation for both ships. For this sum he says he can protect the trade in case strange ships should come in … He is certainly authorized to treat with us by the authorities at Chinchew [Quanzhou].”  Negotiations like this appear repeatedly throughout the Jardine-Matheson archive.****

*Source: JM B2 7, Reel 495, No. 69, November 29, 1835

**Source: JM B2 7, Reel 495, No. 194, Rees to Jardine, May 19, 1838

***Source: JM B2.7, Reel 495, No. 99, May 21, 1836.

****Source: JM B2.7, Reel 495, No. 102, June 15, 1836.

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