CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST FOREIGN WAR
At this juncture Commissioner Lin, whose fervor and energy carried him away, appeared upon the scene, and, whereas a less capable or honest man would have come to an arrangement with Captain Elliot, his very ability and enthusiasm tended to complicate the situation and render a pacific solution unattainable. Commissioner Lin, on taking up his post, lost no time in showing that he was terribly in earnest; but both his language and his acts proved that he had a very much larger programme than was included in his propaganda against the opium traffic. He wished to achieve the complete humiliation of the foreigners, and nothing less would satisfy him. Within a week of his arrival at Canton he issued an edict denouncing the opium trade; throwing all the blame for it on the English, and asserting what was absolutely untrue; viz., that "the laws of England prohibited the smoking of opium, and adjudged the user to death." The language of the edict was unfriendly and offensive. The Europeans were stigmatized as a barbarous people, who thought only of trade and of making their way by stealth into the Flowery Land. At the same time that he issued this edict he gave peremptory orders that no foreigner was to leave Canton or Macao until the opium question had been settled to his satisfaction. Even then English merchants and officials, who felt no great sympathy with the opium traffic, saw that these proceedings indicated an intention to put down the trade in other articles, and to render the position of foreigners untenable. Lin's demands culminated in the request for all stores of opium to be surrendered to him within three days. By the efforts of some of the merchants about a thousand chests were collected and handed over to the Chinese for destruction; but this did not satisfy Lin, who collected a large rabble force, encamped it outside the settlement, and threatened to carry the place by storm. In this crisis Captain Elliot, who had declared that his confidence in the justice and good faith of the provincial government was destroyed, and who had even drawn up a scheme for concentrating all his forces at Hongkong, called upon all the English merchants to surrender to him, for paramount considerations of the lives and property of every one concerned, all the stores of opium in their possession. More than 20,000 chests, of an estimated value of $10,000,000, were placed at his disposal, and in due course handed over by him to Commissioner Lin for destruction. This task was performed at Chuenpee, when the opium was placed in trenches, then mixed with salt and lime, and finally poured off into the sea. After this very considerable triumph, Lin wrote a letter to Queen Victoria - whose reign has witnessed the most critical periods of the China question and its satisfactory settlement - calling upon her Majesty to interdict the trade in opium forever. The letter was as offensive in its tone as it was weak in argument, and no answer was vouchsafed to it. Before any reply could be given, the situation, moreover, had developed into one of open hostilities.