Xiamen was a large city, the most important commercial center in Fujian province during this period. It was home to the office of the Xinghua-Quanzhou-Yongchun Circuit Intendant (daotai), a powerful official situated on the administrative ladder between the Quanzhou Prefect and the Fujian Provincial Governor. Xiamen was also the headquarters of much of the military infrastructure of southern Fujian, and housed the office of the Fujian Admiral (shuishi tidu), whose boats patrolled the coastline where Shi Hou and his foreign contacts ran their opium operation.
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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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What to know before exploring the "Treacherous Waters" module
Peter D. Thilly
Opium was illegal in the Qing empire during the 1830s, but British merchants brought enormous quantities of the drug from India to the southern coast of China. Over the course of the 1830s, the trade expanded in volume as it migrated northward from Lintin off the coast of Guangdong province to Fujianese ports like Xiamen and Shenhu Bay. This northward migration was partly responsible for the outbreak of the Opium War in 1839.
Continue below for more background on these points. Or, continue to the next page.
The sale and consumption of opium was extraordinarily widespread in China during the 1830s, but it was entirely illegal. This meant that all of the opium sold and consumed in the Qing empire during these years had to be smuggled in and distributed illegally. As a consequence, there were infinite opportunities for corruption and government participation in the illegal trade, from the moment of import, at each node in the distribution network, down to the retail and smoking of the drug.
Opium trading practices:
The opium sold in China in the 1830s was grown in India and smuggled into the Pearl River Delta near Guangzhou (Canton) by primarily British merchants. Americans and various British colonial subjects (especially the Parsee community of Bombay) were also involved in the transport trade from India to China.
Since at least the mid-1820s, the central location for opium transactions between foreign and Chinese merchants was an anchorage off the island of Lintin in the Pearl River Delta near present-day Hong Kong. At this remote offshore island, British firms permanently anchored large "receiving ships," which were stationary vessels that operated as floating warehouses. Chinese buyers would go to money-lending shops in Guangzhou (Canton) to make payment, then take a receipt out to a foreign receiving ship anchored near Lintin to receive their opium. In this way the British and Chinese merchants involved in the trade could keep their transactions out of the immediate surveillance of the high officials in Guangzhou.
Opium's northward migration:
The Lintin system of offshore opium transactions expanded north from Guangdong province into neighboring Fujian province around 1834, when British firms established receiving ship stations in various locations along the southern Fujian littoral. This migration of the trade from the Pearl River Delta north into Fujianese ports like Xiamen and Shenhu Bay is the primary subject of this module. The timing of the trade's migration in 1834 is due to the British East India Company relinquishing their monopoly over British trade in China that year, which opened the door for new British firms like Jardine-Matheson and their competitor Dent & Co. to expand the trade into new markets.
The events of this module take place in the years just before the Opium War of 1839-1842. That war began in the wake of an incident wherein a Qing official named Lin Zexu determined to confiscate and destroy the opium holdings of Jardine-Matheson and a number of other firms. William Jardine spent the duration of that war in London lobbying the British Government to secure compensation for the opium that Lin destroyed.
This module thus explains one of the central reasons for that war: the rapid expansion of the trade in the mid-1830s, and the movement of foreign opium merchants up the coast towards Fujian. Jardine-Matheson and their Chinese partners established a hugely successful opium import market in the waters off Fujian province. For anti-opium officials like Lin Zexu (himself a native of Fujian), one of the unforgivable actions of the opium traders was in moving their boats up the coast from the Pearl River Delta, which had an established system of legal trade for Europeans, and anchoring instead in Fujian, where foreigners from Europe were not allowed to travel.
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.
Chimmo (Shenhu) Bay
An opium depot on the China coast located between Xiamen and Quanzhou.
Peter D. Thilly
I expect the coast will take off at least 5000 chests of the new Bengal drug, providing we are not interrupted by the Mandareens. Merchants from other ports make a point to come here for their opium.
John Rees in Chimmo Bay to William Jardine in Canton, 1.18.1836*
Shenhu Bay (深滬灣), known to the British opium merchants as Chimmo (also Chimo, Chimmoo), is an inlet approximately four miles across and strategically situated between the large ports of Xiamen and Quanzhou. The bay is big enough to provide shelter in rough seas, but small enough to defend effectively. It was also far enough away from seats of government power to avoid constant surveillance, but located along a major coastal shipping line between two large ports. With Xiamen twenty-five miles to the south and Quanzhou fifteen to the north, the bay was perfectly suited for Jardine-Matheson's purposes. Shenhu Bay remained an important opium smuggling depot all the way until 1860, when implementation of the 1858 the Treaty of Tianjin de facto legalized the importation of opium.
Though it was located out of the way from the two neighboring ports, the anchorage at Shenhu bay could not have been “secret” in any meaningful way. The area was densely populated, and no local residents would have missed the arrival of foreign opium ships. As the above photograph and this video both illustrate, anyone with access to the water would have seen the British opium ships, which were anchored in the bay every day between 1833 until 1860. Any boats from shore that visited the ships would also have not been able to do so in secret, unless at night. But the Jardine-Matheson archives record daytime sales in abundance. People for the most part felt safe and secure enough to paddle out to the ships in the middle of the day and purchase large quantities of opium. Perhaps they paid an attached fee that made them feel more confident in their security.
*Source: JM:B2 7 [R. 495, No. 74] Rees to Jardine, 1.18.1836
The Shi lineage ancestral home in Jinjiang County, Fujian
Peter D. Thilly
Yakou village is over 100 li from the county seat of Jinjiang, in Quanzhou Prefecture. The Shi lineage has gathered together and lives there in great numbers, with both good and bad people living together as one. The landscape is entirely composed of mountains facing the coast, and from the bay in front of the village it is only 10 li south to get to the the "outer ocean," a location through which all northbound boats must pass.*
Yakou Village is the ancestral home of the Shi lineage, whose surname dominates the village even today. In the Qing dynasty, lineages like the Shi who controlled coastal Fujianese villages like Yakou were extremely large and powerful. Lineages like the Shi were governed by a council of elders responsible for education, public works, investment, and arbitrating civil and (potentially) criminal disputes within the lineage. In other words, they were largely independent. The memorial about Shi Hou skirts around the issue somewhat in order to avoid alienating powerful lineage members, but the tone of the above quote indicates a common wary attitude among Qing officials towards lineages like the Shi and places like Yakou.
Yakou occupied a particularly strategic position within the political geography of southern Fujian. The village lay within the jurisdiction of the Jinjiang County Magistrate and the Quanzhou Prefect, both of whom had their offices in the city of Quanzhou. But Yakou is about as far from Quanzhou as possible within Jinjiang county. The village was also in the jurisdiction of the Xing-Quan-Yong Circuit Intendant, whose offices were in Xiamen, a city that also housed the Fujian Admiral (shuishi tidu) and the bulk of the Qing's southeastern navy. But as the map below shows, by virtue of Shenhu Bay, Yakou is out of sight of Xiamen, hidden by a bulky peninsula.
*Junji chu hanwen lufu zhouzhe (Grand Council Chinese-Language Palace Memorial Copies), Beijing: First Historical Archives, 03-4007-048, DG 18.10.29
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- 1 2019-11-18T17:22:59-05:00 Amoy town and harbour seen from Kulangsu 8 "Amoy town and harbour seen from Kulangsu," Photograph, 1874. plain 2020-09-13T18:02:47-04:00 24.46017, 118.07944 Xiamen (Amoy), Fujian, China 1874 Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amoy_town_and_harbour_seen_from_Kalangsu_Wellcome_L0034288.jpg. Wellcome Library, London L0034288 Amoy town and harbour seen from KalangsuCredit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Imagesimages@wellcome.ac.ukhttp://wellcomeimages.orgAmoy town and harbour seen from Kalangsu (Gulangyu) Island. The old Amoy hospital pointed at by an arrow. Fuh-kien (Fukien), China.Photograph1874 Royal Society of Tropical medicine and Hygiene, Papers of Sir Patrick MansonPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Wellcome Trust, London, United Kingdom. Public domain. Peter D. Thilly PDT-0017 L0034288 Amoy town and harbour seen from Kalangsu Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ L0034288 Amoy town and harbour seen from Kalangsu