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- 1 media/bs2.site.modulecollage.image2.001.jpeg media/BS2.Images.NewWordCloud.GuidedTour.png 2020-04-30T18:34:02-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f An Introduction 8 Start Here plain 43344 2020-05-14T18:39:04-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f
- 1 2020-05-14T18:32:59-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f Entry Points 3 Release the Rhizome visual_path 43345 2020-05-14T18:36:55-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f
- 1 media/BS2.Images.Documentation.MainMenu.jpg 2020-05-14T18:34:19-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f Documentation 2 Acknowledgements; Contributors; What We Learned plain 4897 2020-05-14T18:38:18-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f
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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.
Discrete Physical Spaces
A list of some of the discrete physical spaces important to the spatial history of profit
Chimmo (Shenhu) Bay
Peter D. Thilly
People pursued opium profits within discrete physical spaces. These spaces shaped decision making, instilling confidence or exposing vulnerabilities, embodying opportunities to enhance profitability, decrease risk, or manipulate the competition. Below is a list of some of the spaces that I have identified as important to the spatial history of profit. Visitors to the module are encouraged to compile their own lists, and to connect the significance of some of these physical spaces to those occurring in other modules.
- The receiving ships at Lintin and in Shenhu Bay and along the coast. These were stationary vessels captained by British employees of Jardine-Matheson and their competitors, and crewed by sailors from all over the world. These ships rarely moved locations, and operated as floating warehouses. One of the fullest pictures of life on these receiving ships can be found in a travelogue by the American dentist, B.L. Bell (this account is from over a decade after the events of this module take place).
- Smaller, fast ships like the Fairy that made rapid and repeated voyages between the receiving ships anchored on the coast in places like Shenhu Bay and the company's central receiving ship at Lintin.
- Opium clippers like the Red Rover that voyaged between India (Calcutta or Bombay), Singapore, and the receiving ships at Lintin. Perhaps the most exciting examination of life aboard these opium clippers can be found in the Ibis Trilogy by author Amitav Ghosh.
Villages, Towns, and Cities:
- Yakou Village, a small coastal town dominated by the Shi lineage. This is where Shi Hou and his kinsmen operated a massive smuggling ring, positioning themselves as middlemen between Chinese buyers and British opium importers.
- Macao, a Portuguese colonial outpost in the Pearl River Delta near Lintin. One important function of Macao as a physical space was as a meeting place and job market for Chinese brokers to link up with British ship captains like the Rees Brothers to arrange trips up the coast.
- The Canton Factories, just outside of the Guangzhou city gates. This is where the leadership of the Jardine-Matheson company kept their offices, arranging deals with prominent Chinese merchants, interacting with the representatives of the Qing state, and overseeing the correspondence of the company's global network.
- Other cities like Calcutta, Singapore, Bombay, and London.
- Neither fully on shore, nor fully out at sea, anchorages like Shenhu Bay and Lintin were also important physical spaces in this story. As the video I took from the beach at Yakou demonstrates, the anchorages were in plain sight of the shore. In the 1830s, a veritable fleet of fishing and trading sailboats would have passed back and forth past them each day.
Manipulating Space and Time
The intersection of technology, time, and profit
Peter D. Thilly
Time was an essential component of how actors calculated their actions in the pursuit of opium profits. Below I explore two avenues through which to understand the role of time in a spatial history of the opium trade, but visitors are encouraged to develop their own arguments about time and to use the materials in this module to link up with the others.
Monsoon seasons and Asian commerce in the age of sail
In the age of sail, the movement of people, objects, and boats between China, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent was almost entirely dependent on the yearly pattern of monsoon winds. A single boat could only make the journey from India to China and back (or the reverse) but one time per year. This is because travelers going from India to China could only set sail during the southwest summer monsoon, and the trip would take two to three months. Likewise, the journey from China to India had to take place during the northeast winter monsoon, and again this trip would take nearly three months. The monsoon seasons therefore structured and limited trade between China, Southeast Asia, and India for most of recorded history.
Then, in 1832, the leadership of Jardine-Matheson and a coalition of other opium merchants got together to purchase an opium clipper known as the "Red Rover," which quickly became the first ship in recorded history to sail to China from India against the wind. This new technology enabled firms like Jardine-Matheson to bring ever-increasing quantities of opium from India to China, at record speed. As discussed below, one important consequence of more rapid connections between India and China was that it changed the calculus of opium pricing in Lintin and along the China coast.
Opium prices, the movement of information, and a race against time
Directly related to the history of sail technology and the centrality of the monsoon to Asian trading patterns, opium profits were highly dependent on taking advantage of differences in opium prices between locations. One example of this from the module is the quote from Captain Rees that headlines the Malwa page. In that example, Captain Rees discusses how the brokers in Shenhu Bay had managed to acquire information about the price of Malwa opium at Lintin and were consequently purchasing large amounts. For Captain Rees, setting prices was a matter of constant anxiety, as he was under pressure to sell as much opium as possible but at as high a price as could be obtained. The ability of his customers in Yakou Village to keep abreast of the price at Lintin limited Rees' ability to sell at inflated prices. For both parties, buying and selling opium was a constant race against time for the latest and best information.
The British East India Company opium auctions in Calcutta were another place where Jardine-Matheson and their competitors had to engage in complex calculations about time. The company's purchasing agents in Calcutta, like Rees in his station on the China coast, were under constant pressure from William Jardine in Guangzhou to make advantageous purchasing decisions, a calculation that could change unpredictably based on the activities of Chinese purchasers and government officials thousands of miles away. In the quote that headlines the Calcutta page of this module, we see Jardine complaining to Rees about the company agent in Calcutta's lack of awareness in failing to ship enough Patna and Benares opium to Lintin. On other occasions, Jardine became furious when the Calcutta agent sent too much opium to China and brought down prices.
It is easy to imagine an organization like the Shi lineage engaging in a similar range of time and price calculation. Like Jardine-Matheson, the Yakou Shi were a diversified and complex business organization, purchasing opium in Shenhu Bay for shipment to places like Taiwan, Ningbo, and ports in North China. A full range of sources do not exist to demonstrate the point, though the combination of materials in the British and Chinese archives do enough to give a clear sense of the size and scope of the Shi lineage's opium operations.