Fuzhou was the provincial capital, several hundred miles up the coast from Yakou Village. More tightly governed than Xiamen, Quanzhou, and the littoral of coastal southern Fujian, Fuzhou was the seat of the Fujian Governor, the Fujian-Zhejiang Provincial Governor, the Commander-in-Chief of the Fujian military, as well as the provincial Judicial Commissioner. When in 1832 British traders attempted to visit Fuzhou for the purposes of trading in opium, they quickly determined that they would have better luck in southern Fujian, away from the intervention of the provincial administration.
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- 1 2019-11-18T17:23:00-05:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f Spatialities of Qing Power in Southern Fujian Kate McDonald 43 Exploring the structure of Qing authority in the region google_maps 5244 2021-09-30T10:53:16-04:00 39.92284, 116.40120 Beijing 26.0614, 119.3061 Fuzhou 24.86830, 118.67729 Quanzhou 24.48535, 118.08850 Xiamen 1837 Peter D. Thilly Shi Hou Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f
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Spatialities of Qing Power in Southern Fujian
Exploring the structure of Qing authority in the region
Peter D. Thilly
The mass arrests that took place in early 1837 were conducted by the territorial administration of the Qing state. The governing institutions that eventually caught Shi Hou in their nets were—like the smuggling network Shi operated—forged out of the interactions between people and structures. The above map shows the five most important sites in the political geography of the story told in this module. The map and descriptions below link to individual pages about each of those five places.
Beijing, imperial capital and site of the offices of the Board of Punishments and the Forbidden City, where the Emperor lived and worked.
Fuzhou, the site of the provincial capital and offices of the Fujian Governor and Fujian-Zhejiang Governor General.
Quanzhou, where the Quanzhou Prefect as well as the Jinjiang County Magistrate had their offices.
Xiamen, where the Xinghua-Quanzhou-Yongchun Circuit Intendant was housed together with the Admiral (Shuishi tidu) of the Fujian Navy.
Yakou Village, run with effective independence by a coalition of lineage elders, but located in the jurisdiction of the Jinjiang County Magistrate, the Quanzhou Prefect, and the Xinghua-Quanzhou-Yongchun Circuit Intendant.
Environment and Physical Geography
The role of environment and physical geography in opium profits
Chimmo (Shenhu) Bay
Peter D. Thilly
Environment and physical geography played key roles in how actors sought to maximize their opium profits. Below I discuss one aspect of this history that appears within the sources, and gesture towards another that is relevant to this story but not included in this module. Visitors to the module are encouraged to find additional ways that environment and physical geography might have affected the history of the opium trade, and to use this concept to link this module to the others.
Where mountains meet the sea
The Fujian littoral is a place of jagged coastline, small bays, scatterings of islands, winding peninsulas, and steep mountains that ascend from the shoreline. In short, it was and remains an extremely difficult place for states to keep watch over. The region's first foreign Commissioner of Customs, F. Nevill May, wrote in 1865 that Fujian’s mountains and rivers present “so many obstacles to the construction of canals and railways that they will probably never be introduced into this part of China.”* Fuzhou and Wenzhou—a large city in coastal Zhejiang only 207 miles north of Fuzhou—were only recently connected by rail, in 2003. The construction necessitated the excavation of no fewer than 53 tunnels.
The map below is geotagged to Xiamen, Shenhu Bay, Quanzhou, and Fuzhou in order to enable users to view the entirety of the Fujian coast from above (much like how the Japanese state sought to use airplanes to achieve a new view of Inner Asia). Zoom in and consider for yourself how difficult it must have been for the Qing state to try and keep powerful lineages like the Yakou Shi from breaking maritime laws.
The jagged and winding nature of the Fujian littoral was clearly an important part of the success of the Chinese and foreign network of opium traders discussed in this module. Because the opium trade was nominally illegal, the ideal scenario for people like Shi Hou and John Rees was to keep their dealings entirely invisible from the state. Arranging clandestine meetups offshore was clearly the way to go.
As the years went on, it became impossible for a trade of this volume to go on without any government awareness. Recall the video of Shenhu Bay: any person in any of the villages that overlook the bay and any person that travelled to the bay would have been able to see the British opium ships and the boats of their Chinese opium customers. It simply isn't that big of a place. Thus, as discussed more extensively elsewhere in this module, the opium smugglers of Yakou village and their British partners offshore arranged for systematic bribery of local officials to keep the trade going. At that point, the utility of a geographic location like Shenhu Bay was that it was not visible from other, more well-garrisoned parts of the coast. Officials who took bribes, it should be remembered, also needed to keep their secrets.
Environment, topography, and opium cultivation
The cultivation of opium poppies and production of opium is another side of the history of opium profits, which for the most part is not touched on within the sources included in this module. Historian Rolf Bauer's new book The Peasant Production of Opium in Nineteenth-Century India (Brill, 2019) is a fantastic place to start for anyone interested in this side of the story. Bauer's research into the production of Patna opium in India is exhaustive and wide-ranging, including detailed analyses of social formations, labor practices, and the changing interactions between peasant cultivators and the physical landscape over a century of opium production. Consider the following passage on irrigation in two environmentally very similar parts of India: Gaya, an opium producing region just south of the city of Patna, and Saran, just to the north of Patna. As Bauer shows us, there are rich possibilities for a spatial history of opium production, tracing out the interactions between human actors and the physical environment in the pursuit of opium profits:
Gaya's agriculturalists constructed irrigation facilities because the natural conditions basically forced them to. Saran's agriculturalists were less pressed to do so because the district's soil easily retained moisture… How can we explain this difference despite the similar conditions? Saran's relative progress was ascribed to the ambition of the local sub-deputy opium agent, then a Mr. Tytler, who was known for encouraging the construction of wells. On the one hand, this must be seen as a positive investment in Saran's infrastructure. On the other hand, the contracts for the construction of wells were a powerful tool to further press the cultivators.**
*Chinese Maritime Customs Microfilm, Reel 4, “Return on Trade at the Port of Foochow for the Year 1865.”
**Rolf Bauer, The Peasant Production of Opium in Nineteenth-Century India (Brill, 2019), p. 107.
Conclusion: Space as Process
Breakdown, Transformation, Constitution, and Reconstitution
Chimmo (Shenhu) Bay
Peter D. Thilly
The history of the opium trade in coastal Fujian shows how discrete physical spaces unfold into “space as process.” Discrete physical spaces and locales constitute, transform, break down, and reconstitute distinct spatialities through the movements, actions, and decisions of people.
The Jardine-Matheson Company’s global network was a collection of ports and sailboats between Great Britain, India, and China. The geospatial location of the ports can be mapped with numerical precision, lending these ports the aura of transcendental place. The assumption of the absolute-ness of location shapes how we see the visual media that represent these sailboats: not as wayfaring vessels seeking out moving locales in the shifting media of the ocean (wind, waves, etc.) but as objects in transit between two fixed points in the network. But the points were not so fixed as we might assume. The meaning, function, and distance between—and therefore, the location of—the Jardine-Matheson company's network of ports and sailboats between India and China changed appreciably over the course of the early nineteenth century. Clipper ships like the Red Rover fundamentally changed the nature of the spatialities of profit and information management for Jardine-Matheson. The actions of people like William Jardine, James Matheson, and their partners and employees transformed the possibilities of the technology into new patterns of trade, investment, and profit. The island of Lintin did not move locations, and neither did the ground upon which people built the cities of Singapore and Calcutta. But the work that these ports did to generate profits for Jardine-Matheson, and the distance between them, changed, bringing Lintin, Singapore, and Calcutta closer to each other and closer to London. These efforts worked in parallel with the efforts of the British Empire to produce new geopolitical frameworks for profit. The Treaty of Nanjing (1843), which concluded the Opium War, further changed the place of ports in the Jardine-Matheson network. Lintin lost its significance, replaced (in part) with the new British colony of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the opening of two treaty ports in Fujian (Xiamen and Fuzhou) meant that people living in the coastal hinterland in places like Shenhu Bay had to create ways of trading, investing, and profiting from opium.
Space as process reveals the dynamic nature of narratives of place and personhood. The evolving commercial network between people like Shi Hou and John Rees precipitated the emergence of shadow or echo spatialities within the politics and worldviews of Qing administrators and patriotic Han Chinese onlookers from outside of the region. Coastal Fujian had long possessed the reputation of a place with outsized (and dangerous) lineages, along with illegal (and dangerous) commercial and migratory connections to various parts of Southeast Asia. But beginning in the 1830s, the connotations of coastal Fujian's connections and interactions with the outside world began to change. The actions of these people and the networks they operated came to represent the core essence of treason as China entered the modern era. Coastal Fujianese opium traders like Shi Hou came to personify treason during the rise of modern Chinese nationalism. The sources of the documents in this module underscore this. I found Shi Hou in a Chinese archive devoted to Qing history—an example of many legal cases the Qing administration brought against coastal residents who participated in the opium trade. In contrast, John and Thomas Rees and the Jardine-Matheson Company live on in modern glory—a dedicated archive at one of the world’s most prestigious universities, named buildings that continue to mark the coastline of the People’s Republic of China and Wales, and dozens of monographs devoted to understanding and analyzing their empire.
Brokers and Middlemen
Jardine-Matheson sources on local Chinese brokers and middlemen
Peter D. Thilly
To ensure success brokers must be employed—I was quite helpless without them and before again sailing for that or any new market I must procure from Macao at least a couple. JM B2 7, Reel 495, 50, May 27, 1835.
In the Jardine-Matheson archive, “brokers” are the Chinese people who either facilitate opium transactions or themselves purchase the drug. In the above quote, Captain MacKay notes that brokers for trips to southern Fujianese ports like Shenhu Bay can be found in Macao. Not many of these brokers are named in the archive, but one does appear with some detail and frequency: a certain “Mr. Yabe.”
In 1834, Yabe first appears as a contact of the enigmatic Prussian missionary, Charles Gützlaff, who was then working for Jardine-Matheson as a translator. In the second quote, Yabe essentially recommends the receiving ship system, much as Shi Hou was alleged to have done a few years later.
Your correspondent Yabe of the firm Sam Toan Moh (三全茂), sighs under the wrath of the Mandarins and does not dare to come on board, he has however fulfilled a part of the contract, and I doubt not will trade more largely. JM B2 7, Reel 495, 10, February 2, 1834.
Yabe repeatedly requested Mr. G to tell me that he wished to have a ship up every month as he prefer purchasing from foreign ships than run the risks with their own boats, he also said that he has made arrangements with the Mandareens for the next arrival, they will not be troublesome unless some fresh hand come on at the station. JM K1-2, Extracts from Company Records, 10, September 8, 1834.
A few years later, in the months following the arrest of Shi Hou and his compatriots, Yabe is living in fear.
Capt. Dodd observed on the 5th Instant the Mandareen junks landing their men at Mr. Yabe's village and a fire soon after took place. The reports are that Mr. Yabe, a broker who trades largely with us, left the village in time and the Mandareen burnt his house and several other people's. JM A8 123, 12, April 1837.
There has been proposals by Mr. Yabe, but he was in such a fright the other day that he told me to go away for 10 to 14 days. JM B2 7, Reel 495, 150, June 16, 1837
In some of his final appearances in the archive, Yabe has gotten into even hotter water in connection with a lineage feud and some slain government officials.
You will observe by the enclosed occurrence that our business in both bays have been much interrupted by a large fleet of Mandarins and I have been informed that their appearance here has been in consequence of Mr. Yabe's party shooting government officers when interfering in a fight with two villages. JM B2 7, Reel 495, 188, April 21, 1838.
During the last week the brokers are under a great alarm by the arrival of the Chu Kang and another officer from Foo Chow Foo. They have come to settle a query between two large towns, and also to squeeze the party that shot a Government officer last month near Mr. Yabe’s village. I believe the latter is settled on a payment of $8000, and these officers are expected in the bay in a day or two, many of the brokers have absconded, and most of the principal ones came off to me last night to remain for protection here, and the others beg me to leave for 10-12 days, but it is quite uncertain if it is the intention of their officer to interfere with the opium dealers or not. JM B2 7, Reel 495, 224, September 24, 1838.
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- 1 2019-11-18T17:22:58-05:00 The Eastward View of Fuzhou (Foochow) from Black Stone Hill, in the late Qing Dynasty 9 George Morrison, "The Eastward View of Fuzhou (Foochow) from Black Stone Hill, in the late Qing Dynasty," photograph, ca. 1900. plain 2020-09-13T18:00:59-04:00 26.07447, 119.29648 Fuzhou 1900 Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Foochow_morrison.jpg. National Institute of Informatics: Digital Silk Road Project , Digital Archive of Toyo Bunko Rare Books. Public domain. Peter D. Thilly PDT-0008