Thursday, October 18, 2007

Foreign Mud Writing Assignment

According to Wikipedia, author Maurice Stewart Collis (1889-1973) was an apparent history buff during the course of his life. With this knowledge it is no surprise to find that the majority if not all of his published works are largely based on historical matters. Take Foreign Mud for example. Although the text is not a primary source, being that Collis was not living during the time frame highlighted, he managed to find first-hand accounts from those actually living in the period of Anglo-Chinese conflict. These documents, which could be articles from newspapers like the Chinese Repository, journals of those secretly assisting in the opium trade, or official letters transferred between countries, are carefully pieced together for effect and innumerably quoted throughout the book. As a whole Collis does not appear to take the side of either the British or the Chinese; he remains neutral, letting the reader alone decide which country seems to be more “in the right.” To the reader’s advantage, he fully expands on the views of both sides.
Collis takes the point of view of both the British and the Chinese, which allows the novel to be more intellectually challenging. He is basically saying to his audience, “Here’s what went down. Now you decide for yourself. Who was right? Were the consequences and penalties fair?”

The conflicts begin while Britain’s Lord Napier serves time in China to assist with the trade and foreign matters. The Chinese are so meticulous and uneasy about all the foreign merchants trying to establish trade with them, so Napier has to deal with all sorts of ridiculous Chinese rules and edicts constantly being issued. He is renamed Laboriously Vile because he is highly disproved of by the majority of the Chinese officials. But soon Napier falls extremely ill and dies a sudden, unexpected death.

Not long afterwards (December 1838, to be exact), the Chinese emperor appoints a native called Lin Tse-hsu as Imperial Commissioner. His job is to aid in the overthrowing of the drug traffic since the foreign devils refuse to cease delivering his poor citizens the addictive foreign mud regardless of edicts, fines, and a strangling. Lin’s answer to the emperor was this: “All could be accomplished by pressure; the Europeans at Canton were wholly in the power of the Empire; …they could be overawed and frightened into delivering up the whole store of their opium, both at Lintin and afloat; …they could be forced into a written undertaking to deal in opium no more [because if convicted in Chinese Courts, strangulation was in order].” (Collis 204-205) Commissioner Lin follows through these views with which the emperor is well pleased. Captain Elliot, the British’s current Chief Superintendent at Macao, is pressured by Lin to surrender all of the smuggled drug. Twenty-thousand chests are eventually surrendered, Lin disposes all of it by dissolving it in water which basically just empties out into the harbor. Then as promised, the port of Canton is reopened for trade.

Later a Chinese man is killed on shore while English and American sailors are present. Commissioner Lin makes it of the utmost importance that China be compensated for this loss by the loss of another. Trials are held, Thomas Tidder is found guilty of murder, but there is no hard evidence to ensure his conviction is fair. For this reason the captain refuses to allow the Chinese to take one of his men. “Captain Elliot, whose main duty had become the safe-guarding of all British subjects, held is to be unsafe for any of them to remain at Macao…On 21 August [1839] he issued a public notice advising the British to cross the bay to Hongkong and take refuge there on the merchant fleet…It was a great shock for such people to be told, in the hottest month of the year, to abandon their luxurious homes at a moment’s notice… [But] they were afraid to fall into Lin’s hands, knowing him to be elated by his recent success.” (Collis 243-244)

Eventually all the arising conflicts in China make their way back to Parliament in the form of letters and accidental leakage. The public soon becomes fully aware of the drug traffic and the Whigs and Tories go head to head for days in the great Commons debate. Each party does its best to appoint eloquent and persuasive persons to speak on matters such as morality, fairness, and war.

Ultimately there is a war. Actually quite a few wars are tied together and named in history as the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars. The Chinese try and stand firm, but the British artillery and warships are far too overpowering. Captain Elliot is dismissed and succeeded by Sir Henry Pottinger who carries out all the goals Britain had intended on having accomplished once the wars had concluded. On 14 August 1841 demands had begun to be met: “[The Treaty of Nanking] was a dictated peace and forced the Chinese to grant everything the British had been asking for from the time of Lord Macartney in the eighteenth century, as well as give satisfaction for Lin’s seizure of the opium…Hongkong was ceded to the British Crown absolutely. In addition… Treaty Ports were opened--Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo, and Shanghai--where British merchants could reside with their wives permanently…and without being obliged to buy and sell through Hong merchants.” (Collis 307) Obviously enough, these were very detailed demands, but the Chinese fulfilled them nonetheless. They now respected British power, and the British soon began to enjoy the luxuries and comfort of living on true foreign mud.

To wrap it up, I cannot help but reiterate the fact that Collis has introduced these specifically selected occurrences during the time of the Opium Wars in such a non-biased and neutral manner. There is an abundance of factual evidence in the accounts collected. He does not give his personal opinion, which I would find almost impossible to accomplish within such a sizeable book.

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