China’s One-Hundred-Thirty-Seven-Years of Turmoil and Madness 1839 – 1976: Part 1 of 3

The Encyclopedia Britannica reports that the Opium trade with China was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Western countries, mostly Great Britain, exported opium grown in India and sold it to China.

“Early in the 18th century, the Portuguese found that they could import opium from India and sell it in China at a considerable profit. By 1773 the British had discovered the trade, and that year they became the leading suppliers of the Chinese market.”

When China attempted to end the epidemic caused by opium in 1839, England and France invaded China and ended up forcing opium and Christianity on China. There were two Opium Wars. The second one ended in 1860.

What many people don’t know is that five American families made their great fortunes from the dirty money that came from that opium trade.

The Astor Family: America’s first multimillionaire, John Jacobs Astor, joined the opium smuggling trade in 1816 when his American Fur Company bought 10 tons of Turkish opium and smuggled it into Canton.

The Forbes Family: John Murray Forbes and Robert Bennet Forbes worked for Perkins & Co. in its China trade. It was the brothers’ activities in the 1830s and 1840s in China that led to the Forbes family’s accumulated wealth.

The Russel Family: Samuel Wadsworth Russell started as an orphaned apprentice to a maritime trade merchant, made his initial investment capital on trading commissions while working for other traders, and eventually founded Russell and Co., the most powerful American merchant house in China for most of the second half of the 19th Century.

The Delano Family: Warren Delano, Jr., the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was chief of operations for Russell & Co., another Boston trading firm which did big business in the China opium trade in Canton. He first went to China at age 24 and spent a decade dealing dope on the Pearl River before returning to New York as a newly wealthy and very eligible bachelor.

The Perkins Family: Thomas Handasyd Perkins, a wealthy merchant, and Boston Brahmin par excellence made his bones as a young man trading slaves in Haiti, then peddled furs to China from the American Northwest before amassing a huge fortune smuggling Turkish opium into China.

After the Opium Wars, the British and Americans ended up controlling the industries in Shanghai, Nanking, Hankow, and Chunking.

The New York Times reported, “At the end of the 19th century, of a population of 300 million Chinese, 90 million were addicted to opium; the old Chinese empire was threatened by fragmentation, and the foreign powers were poised to divide it into economic zones of influence. The dismantling did not occur.”

Continued with Part 2 on June 27, 2018

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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