How did East India Co keep the Chinese high on drug despite protests and two opium wars - 19th century ?

Chinese Opium ivory pipe.

Opium Poppy flower.

Britain’s social, economic and political development had a direct link with illegal opium export from India to China, exploitation of poor Indian farmers and slavery by the English company, which was the first militarized corporate in the world in the 18th and 19th century. At one stage in the later period, EIC had a well organized powerful army with  more than 250000 soldiers including  Indians backed by advanced artillery power  and ammunitions. EIC had built several cantonments and barracks  across India to protect and defend its commercial operations and illegal seizing of Indian lands.The Meerut  Cantonment in UP and Barrackpore cantonment in West Bengal were quite famous with army hospitals and churches.

Centuries ago tea being  a fashionable drink for the British elite in the social clubs or gatherings, it started flowing  like  water and the ladies and gents enjoyed having a delightful conversation over matter related to the  latest fashions, polities, etc., with a  hot brew in their hand.  Obsessed with tea as far back as 1650s, the British consumption of tea from China  had increased  drastically over the years and it meant that the East India company had to import  large quantity of tea from China by paying  either in silver or gold.  It put a strain on the British treasury as the metal reserve was draining out quickly impacting trade balance with China. The bottle neck was Chinese refusal to open up trade. China  was not enthusiastic about exotic  British products from the sale of which the balance of payment could be adjusted. 

 China and India. Centuries of exploitation by EIC
 The tax of 10%  on tea yielded substantial  income for the crown to meet the various needs to run  the administration, civic services  etc. By the end of 18th century  the trade between China and England was restricted only  to tea. So the crown  allowed the expansion of the trading activities of  the EIC overseas.  

The East India company which began its trade activities  in 1620 in Surat (Gujarat), had expanded well and built a major settlement  in Calcutta  in the fertile  province of  Bengal. Armed with Special Royal Charter to maintain  an army  to protect its settlement, etc over the years the company became autocratic and brutal using  the military power to seize Bengal in the late 1760s  under ruthless Robert Clive with trickery, betrayal, broken treaties, lure of corruption, power etc.  The tax collection rights (Diwani), and full control of Bengal and the income from various resources gave the company lots of income and encouraged them to  capture more provinces using military and manipulative political strategies. 

Having come to know about the small scale opium cultivation in Bengal  and the weakness of Chinese for smoking opium, the English company was committed to embarking  on   a different area of operation - illegal export of processed opium to China where the targets were the rich and middle class people. To produce  it cheaper and reach common people in China,  EIC discovered a new type of smoking opium - (process involves soaking it in tobacco for a specified time after drying the freshly cultivated poppy flowers).  Bent on getting the needed silver or gold from China without any moral ground, the company had  started the worlds' first illegal trafficking of  processed opium to China from on a larger scale from India despite ban by the Chinese rulers. Ships laden with opium first sailed from the Calcutta harbor and later from Bombay covering part of the Arabian sea, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China sea.

The Chinese authorities posted extra officials on the east coastal areas to prevent the import of   illegal drug to protect the health of its people. However the English corporation was keen to make a large section of people feel high so that opium sale would flourish and  increase the gold/silver reserve in the British treasury.  

 EIC ingeniously formed a group of traders (mostly British)  with license from them who would carry on illegal trafficking with Chinese smuggles along the east coastal towns. The licensed  traders were mostly based  near Calcutta  and later around Bombay harbors who were the real operator,  transporting and loading opium chests aboard the British ships. and  regularly sailing to  China. The opium chests were carefully unloaded away from the Chinese coasts  at  predetermined rendezvous  points in the sea and the trusted smugglers there would make proper payment and delivery to the specified selling agents of narcotics. The agents also had the  EIC  ships loaded with  Chinese stuff destined for England  The unethical, immoral  and illegal opium export to China by the English continued for a long period and this operation  saw the  British  coffers. rapidly filling up precious metal for international payment.  To earn more gold and silver, the English company never stopped the illegal export of opium to China and kept the Chinese population hooked to the narcotic specially made in EIC factories in UP and other places in India. This narcotic operation left the opium farmers in India high and dry with no profits. Under duress and police force, they were forced to raise opium in the field. By 1770  a large swathe of land in Bengal, Bihar and UP was  under opium. EIC forced the Princely states to cultivate opium. Its militarized operation was quite visible in the early part of the 19th century during this opium smuggling.

Govt. Opium factory, Ghazipur India. Bihar Times


Addiction to opium became widespread in China, causing serious social and economic disruption. By 1797, the EIC was selling 4,000 chests of opium (each weighing 77 kg) to private merchants per annum.  By 1833, the Chinese opium trade soared to 30,000 chests.

This led to two opium wars with China between 1839 and 1942 ,and the other one between 1856 to-1860. The treaty of 1842 required China to pay an indemnity of $21 million, to cede Hong Kong to the British, and to increase the number of treaty ports where the British can trade and reside from one to five. The second war broke out due to additional concession by the British. The 1858 ended in favor of the British   During the peak of  the illegal opium  export the operation was done exclusively under Opium Agency with more than 2000 clerks and 100 offices across the opium producing areas of India.

Author Thomas Manuel in his book Opium Inc (2021) noted  “The British were enabling the longest running drug deal in the history of the world,”  They were getting  huge profit at the cost of spoiling the lives of million of people in China despite the ban on the narcotic drug. Without any moral obligation or scruples  they kept a large percentage of Chine population high on drug with selfish motivation and, at the same time the English company,  backed by the police force forced the Indian farmers in Bengal, Bihar and UP to cultivate opium and keep them in bondage or servitude  by offering advance money for the crops which had be adjusted from the wages. There was no room for them to see any profit, and whatever small lands they held they became unfit for raising other crops in the later years because of soil contamination. a small population of the subcontinent in the north was affected by  opium addiction.  Paradoxically, the British government  safeguarded their population with stringent laws  against opium use in their own country.  

The East India company, illegally took over countless Kingdoms to get additional revenue, but the profit from the export of opium was way high..

Anthropologist Nicholas Saunders in his book  ''The Poppy: A Cultural History from Ancient Egypt to Flanders Fields to Afghanistan (2013''). mentioned, “The two Opium Wars and the vast wealth in silver it generated for the British government and traders probably gave rise to a lot of London’s great institutions and architecture,”