Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Opium Use in Canada Legal Until 1908

This correspondence arose out of an interview with me quoted in John Ibbitson's report "With execution of British man, China sends a signal" published in the Globe and Mail on December 30:

Professor Burton,
    Following quotation is from The Globe and Mail about your comments on Chinese execution on British drug-smuggler.
   "The execution, Prof. Burton said, should serve as a warning to any foreigner visiting or living in China that justice in that country can be brutal, capricious and swift, and that foreigners are not protected."
    I donot understand how you make conclusion that justice in China is brutal, capricious and swift. I suggest you to read some articles about Opium war between Qing Dynasty and Britain. Opium is the product British sells to China 170 years ago without any justice and conscience. Why donot you quote opium war to make comments on justice? why not Canadian allow British to sell opium to Canada?  thank you for your time to read my questions.

My response:
Thanks for your comment.  Actually opium was a common and legal import from China into Canada until 1908 (more than 60 years after the 1st Opium War that ended with the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanking of 1842).  It was a significant source of customs duty to the Dominion of Canada at that time peaking in 1891 at over $146,000 that year.  Opium was brought into Canada in raw form and processed in B.C.  In 1888 there were 13 licensed opium factories in B.C. that produced almost 90,000lbs of opium a year that sold for $15/pound.  It was also available mixed into processed medicines over that period.  It is a common misconception  that Britain sold a product to China that was illegal in Britain.  Even Lin Zexu ζž—εˆ™εΎ thought this as he indicated in correspondence with Queen Victoria.  In fact opium use was legal in Britain at the time.

No comments: