CHAPTER IX CAST OUT THE POISON
The Customs’ Returns for the past few years give the value of our imports at 80,000,000 Taels, and the exports at 50,000,000 Taels. The balance of thirty million Taels represents what has been consumed in smoking the pernicious opium pipe! Assuredly it is not foreign intercourse that is ruining China, but this dreadful poison. Oh, the grief and desolation it has wrought to our people! A hundred years ago the curse came upon us more blasting and deadly in its effects than the Great Flood or the scourge of the Fierce Beasts, for the waters assuaged after nine years, and the ravages of the man-eaters were confined to one place. Opium has spread with frightful rapidity and heart-rending results through the provinces. Millions upon millions have been struck down by the plague. To-day it is running like wildfire. In its swift, deadly course it is spreading devastation everywhere, wrecking the minds and eating away the strength and wealth of its victims. The ruin of the mind is the most woeful of its many deleterious effects. The poison enfeebles the will, saps the strength of the body, renders the consumer incapable of performing his regular duties, and unfit for travel from one place to another. It consumes his substance and reduces the miserable wretch to poverty, barrenness, and senility. Unless something is soon done to arrest this awful scourge in its devastating march, the Chinese people will be transformed into satyrs and devils! This is the present condition of our country.
The Chinese Government formerly prohibited the use and importation of opium under penalty of death, but the prohibition was of no avail. It was said that the curse came from Heaven, and the efforts of men to escape it would be futile. In these days we look upon the case differently. There is a remedy for the evil other than the proscriptions of law. It is said in the Analects, “If the people are to be brought to a state of order by the fear of punishment, they will seek merely to escape the punishment, and have no sense of shame; but if they are reduced to order by what commends itself to their sense of justice, they will preserve the sense of shame and at the same time be reformed.” What the enactions of law could not accomplish, Confucianism will effect. The ” Book of Rites ” says, ” If the philanthropist wishes to convert the people and establish their morals, it must be done by means of Learning.” What the Government could not do by prohibition, can be perfected by intellectual and moral suasion. The habit of smoking opium is generated by sloth, and sloth by the want of employment. This want springs from ignorance, and ignorance from having no desirable object of knowledge.
The stock of information possessed by Chinese literati is obtained from incomplete commentaries and eight-legged essays; the knowledge possessed by officials is derived from ” precedent.” The military know nothing beyond the use of a few blunt instruments and the antique methods of ancient warfare which suffices for all their needs. The farmer has no means of deriving any appreciable profit from his land, as he can produce nothing new ; the merchant cannot engage in distant trade, and the traveller has no means of easy and rapid transit.
Among the Chinese then, there is no incentive to thought or action, no intercourse among the people, and the condition of things has become stagnant and effete. Effeteness has begotten stupidity, and stupidity, lethargy; lethargy has produced idleness, and idleness, waste. And these are the reasons the hearts of the Chinese are shot to the core with sensuality and vice! A renaissance of learning would save the world [China] by directing attention from opium to more worthy objects. All classes, the rich and the poor, in city and country, would have something desirable to learn. Even those physically disqualified from going abroad could read the current literature of the day, whilst the strong could learn from travel. The literati would become thoroughly conversant with the affairs of the world, and the lower classes would become adepts in their trades.
With such attractive objects of knowledge held out to our people, such as the study of the heavens and the earth and all therein, under modern appliances, who would elect to change the day into the night (as the wretched opium-smoker does) and spend his whole life on a divan, by a lamp, sucking a filthy opium pipe?
Therefore we say, bring learning to the front in order to remedy the opium evil! Many thoughtful Chinese are apprehensive that opium will finally extirpate the race, and efforts are being made to mitigate the curse. Anti-opium societies have been formed in Shanghai and Yangchow. The members of these societies pledge themselves to refrain from the use of the drug and to exercise their power and influence in repressing the habit in others. Masters prohibit their servants from smoking, teachers their students, generals their troops, landlords their tenants, merchants their assistants, and foremen their journeymen.
But this method, although very commendable, does not reach the large class of wealthy and influential officials and gentry who are addicted to the use of opium; nor does it affect the lower orders who can leave their temperate masters, find employment elsewhere and still continue the practice. Again, our officials are always on the move from one post to another; their influence is not permanent, and there is an unwillingness on their part to leave off opium. The plan of reformation by learning, which we recommend, will only reach men of discernment and the younger class. The foolish and wayward we will deal with as best we can. Confirmed smokers will have to be let alone as no power on earth can save them. Rightly administered it will do much to bring about the desired result. In ten years the young and wealthy men will have grown up and become established in life and qualified to control the actions of their subordinates. In twenty years more, opium will be eradicated.
In the provinces of China, societies for the promotion of Learning have already been extensively formed. We suggest an anti-opium annex to these bodies with strict rules forbidding admission to all opium-smokers under forty years of age. What grand results would follow if each household, each village, and each institution of learning in the Empire would discountenance the use of opium! Then would the winter of our distress be made glorious summer by the coming of better times for China. Now is the time for action. Confucius says, ” Know what shame is, and you will not be far from heroism; ” and Mencius, ” If one has not the sense of shame, in what can he be equal to other men?” All the countries of the world recoil with disgust at the idea of smoking this vile, ill-smelling, poisonous stuff. Only our Chinese people love to sleep and eat with the deadly drug, and in the deadly drug we are self-steeped, seeking poverty, imbecility, death, destruction. In all her history China has never been placed in such frightful circumstances. From these we might be delivered if Confucius and Mencius could live again to teach the Chinese a proper sense of shame, and inaugurate a better condition of things for our country now under the power of this awful curse.