This first appeared in issue #2 of 'History Notes', compiled by the late Phillip Bruce. It is reproduced here on Gwulo by kind permission of Mr Bruce's family.

A few days before the start of the year 1800 an edict was published at Canton which condemned in the strongest possible terms the importation of opium into China.

Opium was being brought to Macau at that time by private traders or "country ships", rather than by the ships of the East India Company. The supercargoes, or business managers, of the company at Canton, reported to the Court Of Directors on January 3, 1800, saying that they had predicted some form of action against the opium trade. Now an edict had been issued.

The proclamation was translated by G.T. Staunton and it is reproduced in The East India Company Trading to China, by H.B.Morse.

This ran as follows:

Edict to prohibit the sale of opium, published at Canton, on December 2, 1799.

Addressed by the Hoppo or Receiver General of the Customs at Canton for the information of the Merchants appointed to trade with Foreign Nations.

Whereas I have received advices from his Excellency the Fouyuen setting forth that 'The Ships of Foreign Nations have long since been permitted to import at Whampoa and Macao in the province of Quangtong for the purpose of carrying on a Trade by the free interchange of such commodities as were in demand on the one hand and Superfluous on the other. From this General rule the article only of Opium was excepted, a substance of whose composition we are unacquainted, but which is of a violent and powerful Nature, and possesses a foetid and odious flavour; being however remarkable at the same time for a quality of exciting and raising the spirits, it has been sought after and purchased by persons without fixed homes or professions, who having prepared an extract from it, opened Shops for the support of this branch of Traffic. The Use of Opium originally prevailed only among vagrants and disreputable persons, who occasionally associated together for the purpose of partaking of this substance, but has since extended itself among the Members and descendants of respectable Families, students and Officers of Government, many of whom are so infatuated in their attachment to this drug, as to make an habitual use of it.

Their inducement on this occasion appears to be, the power which this substance communicated to those who partake of it, of not closing their Eyes for entire nights, and spending them in the gratification of impure and sensual desires, whereby their respective duties and occupations are neglected. When this habit becomes established by frequent repetition, it gains an entire ascendent, and the Consumer of Opium is not only unable to forbear from its daily use, but on passing the accustomed hour, he is immediately seized with pains in the head and a feverish heat, cannot refrain from tears or command himself in any degree. For relief therefore from these painful symptoms and to regain his wonted health, he has necessarily recourse to the same pernicious substance. When at length the gradual and progressive effects of this poison have pervaded the lungs and the whole bodily frame, the sufferers with the pale and sickly hue of Doves, or small fluttering birds, are no longer within reach of Medical assistance; desirous but in vain of quitting so dreaded a practice, they would willingly end it with their lives by tearing out their entrails in despair.

The extraordinary expence of this article is likewise to be noticed, each mace weight of which in the extract is exchanged for eight or nine Mace in Money, and the constant use of it raises at the same time an excessive appetite for other kinds of food, which the fortunes of the bulk of the Community are unable to satisfy, and are therefore, in the course of a few years wholly dilapidated and wasted away. Of These, The infirm and weak perish gradually from want and hunger, while the Strong and Vigorous become Thieves and Robbers, the ultimate ruin of all being thus equally certain and inevitable. Others again among the deluded and misjudging people, from trifling causes or absurd conceits, take the premature resolution of swallowing a decoction of Opium in Wine, Thus ending their existence by means of a readier access than the generality of Vegetable substances usually esteemed poisonous and destructive to the human frame.

The pernicious effects arising from the use of Opium were formerly confined to the provinces of Fokien and Quangtong, but have spread in the course of time through the other provinces of the Empire, where the eagerness after the traffic, and consumption of this Article has even exceeded that of its first introducers. Thus it is That Foreigners by the means of a Vile excrementious substance, derive from this Empire the Most solid profits and advantages, but that our Countrymen should blindly pursue this destructive and ensnaring vice even till death is the consequence without being undeceived, is indeed a fact, odious and deplorable in the highest degree.

Being now desirous of opposing the growing evil for which it appeared necessary to revert to the sources whence it sprung, We discover by a careful investigation that the article of Opium is imported by Foreigners, and gains admittance into the Empire through the Bocca Tigris, either by the Pilot Vessels and armed guard-boats that are stationed there, it is conveyed up the river to Shen Shin (Dane's Island) or, by Means of small craft it is landed by degrees at Macao and thence conveyed privately to the Capital, while the Custom House Officers and guards at the different Stations, though well acquainted with the transaction, suffer it to pass without examination or enquiry, being doubtless bribed to a large amount for that purpose.

If the utmost endeavors are not now made to cut away the root and branches of the Evil, to what extent may they not proceed! We therefore publish these our general orders, for the information of all officers Civil or Military at the different stations and districts of the province, that they may vigorously examine into and punish the commission of this Offence whenever it occurs, and at the same time we request of His Excellency the Hoppo to issue positive orders and injunctions to the Officers, attendants and Guards of the several Custom houses in his Department, that should hence forth any pilot Vessels, Guard boats or Fishermen privately take on board, those pieces of mould or earth denominated Opium, a strict search and investigation shall be made, and the Offenders apprehended and conveyed to the presence of the Magistrate to undergo such punishment as may be thought adequate to their Guilt. If not withstanding these our Orders, Bribes are again accepted, and the passage of this article connived at, it shall be traced with the utmost exactness and rigor in the districts and Stations, through which it had been transported, that no pains may be spared to effect a thorough reformation and amendment in these respects. Should any further mode or regulation occur, that might tend to enforce or render more effectual these prohibitions and restrictions, We require of His Excellency the Hoppo to give us due information thereof in reply to this our communication to him,'

The Hoppo noted: "On receiving the foregoing letter, I made a Similar Enquiry respecting the introduction of the substance denominated Opium, and find that it is indeed imported into this Country by Foreign Vessels and have consequently Issued orders to the Superintendent of the Custom House at the Port of Macao, to be communicated to the Chief Foreign Presidents and Commanders of Vessels belonging to that city, notifying our determination to prohibit the entrance of the Article Opium into that Port; as well as our General Orders to make any exertion to discover and inform us of it, if ever it should take place.

"Having replied to His Excellency the Fouyuen's Communication I proceed to extend the above Orders to the Hong Merchants to which it behoves them to pay a strict and unreserved obedience, and communicate them to the Chief Supracargoes of Foreign Nations, that they may inforce the observance of this prohibition on the importation of Opium on board the Ships of their respective Countries. But should nevertheless any Ships hereafter import this article, none of the Hong Merchants will be so imprudent or absurd as to become Security, or undertake the disposal of her Cargo, as I should in such event immediately report their conduct to the Viceroy and Fouyuen by whom the Merchant would be rigorously examined and punished for the Offence without any mitigation or excuse being admitted. The Hong Merchants shall according to their Custom, reply hereto and make known to us their obedience to these commands.

"Given at Canton on the 11th day of the 11th moon of the 4th year of the Emperor Kia Kiang."

The supercargoes noted: "As far as we can learn these Steps have occasioned no kind of Alarm to the Chinese who conduct the Opium business and as the present Fouyuen is not thought to be a Magistrate of the purest integrity it is not certain were an opportunity to present itself that he might not employ it in a manner seriously prejudicial to the Hong Merchants."

The opium trade continued.