Letter from Lin Zexu of the Qing Empire to Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1839)

I really enjoyed reading this letter. Lin Zexu was a Chinese scholar of the Qing dynasty. He was well known for his significant role in the First Opium War. Zexu was the second son in the family. At school he was seen as a brilliant student. His father, Lin Binri, served as an official under the Qing government. When Zexu became Governor of Hunan and Hubei, he started a campaign to eliminate the opium trade. Zexu was biased towards the Chinese people. He believed that “his Great Emperor soothes and pacifies China and the foreign countries, regarding all with the same kindness. If there is profit, then he shares it with the peoples of the world; if there is harm, then he removes it no behalf of the world.” In other words, he wanted to stop the European foreign “barbarians” from harming the Chinese people through selling opium.

Zexu sent this letter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain to encourage her to end the opium trade. He explained that it is not fair that China was providing Britain with “tea and rhubarb…with Britain sending only poison in return.” Then, Zexu threatened to stop sending the beneficial Chinese products to Britain. He said, “The good from China carries away by your country not only supply your own consumption and use, but also can be divided up and sold to other countries, producing a triple profit.” I think Zexu sent this letter to give Britain one more chance before making China take harmful actions against Britain since he ended his letter saying, “May you, O [Queen], check your wicked and sift out your wicked people before they come to China, in order to guarantee the peace of your nation…to let the two countries enjoy together the blessings of peace.” Overall, I do find Zexu convincing. People in China were desperate for opium and this caused internal problems in China. Even for the Manchu dynasty, “one of their goals was to keep their Chinese people happy” (class notes). Zexu had the right to ask Britain to stop selling opium to his people, especially since opium addiction had some negative health consequences. However, I also believe that Zexu did not understand that in Europe and part of the Middle East, opium was not banned because it was used for medical reasons. In terms of credibility, as a leader in the Qing government, I think he was in a position of authority. He was a very well-educated and powerful figure in China and had the power to move the country into a war zone. This letter reminded me of the “Letter of Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation to the House of Representatives of the United States of America,” since both Ross and Zexu were sending letters to governments that were powerful and taking advantage of the Chinese and Cherokee people.