Lin Zexu (30 August 1785 – 22 November 1850), was a Chinese scholar-official of the Qing dynasty best known for his role in the First Opium War of 1839–42.

Lin became Governor-General of Hunan and Hubei in 1837. In March 1839, Lin arrived in Guangdong Province to take measures that would eliminate the opium trade. He was a formidable bureaucrat known for his competence and high moral standards, with an imperial commission from the Daoguang Emperor to halt the illegal importation of opium by the British.

In 1839, Lin also wrote an extraordinary memorial to Queen Victoria in the form of an open letter published in Canton, urging her to end the opium trade. He argued that China was providing Britain with valuable commodities such as tea, porcelain, spices and silk, with Britain sending only “poison” in return. Lin appears to have been unaware that opium was not banned in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, and was commonly used for its medicinal rather than recreational effects. He accused the “barbarians” of coveting profit and lacking morality. His memorial expressed a desire that the Queen would act “in accordance with decent feeling” and support his efforts.

The letter to the Queen never reached her. Belatedly, it was delivered and published in The Times of London.

Lin ordered the destruction of opium at Humen that began on 3 June 1839 and involved the destruction of 1,000 long tons (1,016 t) of illegal opium seized from British traders.

Open hostilities between China and Britain started in 1839 in what later would be called the “First Opium War“. The immediate effect was that both sides, by the words of Charles Elliot and Lin, banned all trade. Before this, Lin had pressured the Portuguese government of Macau, so the British found themselves without refuge, except for the bare and rocky harbours of Hong Kong. Soon, however, the Chinese forces faced a British naval fleet, which included the East India Company’s steam warship Nemesis and improved weapons, and were soon routed.

Lin made significant preparation for war against the possible British invasion. The British sailed north to attack Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The governors of these two provinces failed to heed a warning from Lin, however, and were unprepared when the British easily landed and occupied Dinghai.

Lin became a scapegoat for these losses due to court politics. As punishment, he was exiled to the remote Ili region in Xinjiang. His position was then given to Qishan in September 1840. While in Xinjiang, Lin was the first Chinese scholar to record several aspects of Muslim culture there. In 1850, he noted in a poem that the Muslims in Ili did not worship idols but bowed and prayed to tombs decorated with poles that had the tails of cows and horses attached to them.

In 1847, he became governor-general of Yunnan-Guizhou (Yun-Gui). These posts were less prestigious than his previous position in Canton.

Lin died in 1850 while on the way to Guangxi Province, where the Qing government was sending him to help put down the Taiping Rebellion. Though he was originally blamed for causing the First Opium War, Lin’s reputation was rehabilitated in the last years of the Qing dynasty, as efforts were made once more to eradicate opium production and trade. He became a symbol of the fight against opium, with his image displayed in parades, and his writings quoted approvingly by anti-opium reformers.

Monuments to Lin have been constructed in Chinese communities around the world. A statue of Lin stands in Chatham Square in Chinatown, New York City, United States.

Despite the antagonism between the Chinese and the British at the time, the English sinologist Herbert Giles praised and admired Lin: “He was a fine scholar, a just and merciful official and a true patriot.”

Edited from wikipedia


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