Portrait of Chinese scholar and official Lin Zexu.

Lin Zexu

(1785 - 1850)

In 1839 imperial commissioner Lin Zexu traveled to Guangzhou to stem the tide of British opium imports. He destroyed about three million pounds of the drug by dumping it into the city’s bay, apologizing to the spirit of the South China Sea and asking it “to tell the creatures of the water to move away for a time, to avoid being contaminated.” Among Lin’s suggestions to the Daoguang emperor to suppress opium usage by the people was that addicts should be helped with treatment, but if they failed to lose their habit in eighteen months they should be executed. Lin’s policies helped precipitate the first Opium War, which ended in 1842 with the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing.

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