Opium, Empire, and India (Part II)

Editor’s note: Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s piece by Dr. Kawal Deep Kour. Make sure to check out Part I

Southeast Asia

References to the significance attached to trade with China abound in British diplomatic correspondences, treaties and conventions. Yunnan (in China), with its rich reserves of gold and silver was alluring to adventurer-entrepreneurs, merchants, and explorers alike as much as for its “opium geography.” Of great interest was the location of Yunnan- from here, opium could travel to its destined locations: Hong Kong and Shanghai. Correspondences between the Bengal government and an imperial agent deployed in British Burma refer to instructions relating to the safe passage of Chinese labour to clear ground for tea plantations in Assam, and also to the conveying of Indian opium to Yunnan at the insistence of the British merchants following Chinese hostility. Further, a large amount of goods were smuggled through Margherita (Assam) to the villages of the Khampti and Singpho people inhabiting the area, what is present day Arunachal Pradesh (northeast India), bordering China. The trans-border tribesmen from Borkhamti and from the Hukong valley smuggled large quantities via Margherita and even as far as Titabar in Assam. It was therefore considered that the opening of the Borkhamti country would uncover tremendous possibilities of Assam-China trade being conducted through the river routes-Irrawady-Salwin (present day Myanmar) and thence into Yang-tse-kiang (China). Surveying the region in 1826, Captain Wilcox in his memoirs had taken incidental note of the great demand for opium, apart from salt, among all Indo-Chinese nations.

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