Lin Zexu

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Lin Zexu

Lin Zexu ( Chinese  林則徐  /  林则徐 , Pinyin Lín Zéxú , W.-G. Lin Tse-hsü ; born August 30, 1785 - † November 22, 1850 ) was a high official of the Chinese Qing, known for his sincerity and special personal integrity. Government . In his honor there is a statue on Kimlau Square in New York, the base of which is inscribed with “Pioneer in the war against drugs” and its Chinese counterpart.


Born in Fujian , Lin passed his Jinshi exam (equivalent to a doctorate) in 1811 and then worked as a scholar at the renowned Imperial Hanlin Academy , but also in various administrative posts in Yunnan , Jiangsu , Shaanxi , Shandong , Hubei and Hunan . As governor general of the latter two provinces, Lin was first involved in combating the British opium trade in China. In a letter to his colleague Gong Zizhen, he gave unequivocal testimony to his position in this regard: Opium smokers should be strangled, while drug dealers and producers should be beheaded.

Special commissioner in Canton

In 1838, Emperor Daoguang sent Lin Zexu as a special commissioner to Canton in order to force the fight against the opium trade. First of all, Lin used educational campaigns to draw consumers' attention to the dangers of the drug and to ask them to surrender their stocks and the associated pipes within two months. He also asked for information on opium dealers and distributors - anonymously if desired, as well as suggestions on how to combat them. In addition, he had large sections of the population, especially exam candidates and members of the military, grouped into groups of five (so-called Baojia ) who had to monitor each other for any opium consumption and, if necessary, to denounce them to the authorities. The campaign was quite successful: by mid-July 1839, over 1,600 Chinese dealers had been arrested and 73,000 kg of opium and 70,000 opium pipes had been confiscated.

Lin Zexu's fight against the foreign opium merchants turned out to be more difficult, even under the leadership of the English superintendent Charles Elliot . These had increased the illegal opium market in China many times over since 1820. First, he appealed to the moral consciousness of foreigners: in a letter to Queen Victoria, for example, he referred to the opium ban that also existed in England and accordingly asked for exports to China to be stopped. In doing so, he overlooked the fact that the drug was ultimately only forbidden on paper in the mother country, but could be consumed in everyday life without any problems and was socially accepted to the same extent as alcoholic beverages. The British also pursued economic interests in smuggling opium. Due to the strong isolation of China at the time, western imports were severely restricted. This had a very one-sided trade balance according to which the West lost huge amounts of silver coins in exchange for China's treasures. The opium trade provided an excellent opportunity to shift the trade balance in favor of the British. Lin's reminders therefore met with little response, his letter to the Queen was not delivered and even after his letter was published in the Times, he received no reply.

Outbreak of the First Opium War

The situation then escalated: Lin demanded that the merchants surrender all opium stocks without compensation and that their colleague Lancelot Dent be handed over. After both had been refused, he had all trade with foreigners stopped, forced the Chinese in foreign service to terminate their contracts and on March 24, 1839, interned 350 foreigners in their factories .

In this way, after six weeks, Lin forced the return of 20,000 boxes (= 1.4 million kg) of opium. On June 3, 1839, near Humen , he had the drug flushed into the sea, not without asking the "Spirit of the South Sea" for forgiveness for such a tainting of his territory. In an astonishingly naive misunderstanding of the facts, Lin finally reported in a memorandum to Emperor Daoguang that the foreigners had seen their injustice and were now "deeply ashamed".

Instead, the British sent a navy to the Chinese coasts, opening the First Opium War , which would end in 1842 with a crushing defeat for China and the conclusion of the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing . The aftermath of the war was as beneficial to the British economy as it was to the Chinese economy.

Last years

Lin Zexu fell out of favor with the emperor, was relieved of his offices and sent into exile in the inhospitable region of Ili in the far north-west. Given his undeniable achievements, he was rehabilitated in 1845 and allowed to return to Beijing . After Daoguan's death in 1850, his successor Xianfeng commissioned him to fight the Taiping uprising . Lin could no longer fulfill this mission. He died on the way to Guangxi near the Thistle Mountains. Today there is a memorial in Fuzhou .

Culture of remembrance

Statue of Lin Zexu in Chatham Square, New York City, USA, 2009

His letter to the British Queen Victoria , which she never formally reached and in which Lin urged an end to the opium trade, found a wide readership in the British public after the war. The letter justified his later reception as a hero figure in Chinese history, which he did not reach in his life. His birthday is celebrated in Taiwan. In the Chinatown of New York City Lin Zexu dedicated a statue.


Web links

Commons : Lin Zexu  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Lin Zexu in Kimlau Square
  2. Christoph Driessen: Does everyone do drugs? The business with opium In: G / story 11 | 2014 Bayard Media, Augsburg 2014, ISSN  1617-9412 .
  3. Stephen R. Platt: Imperial Twilight - The Opium War and the End of China's Last Golden Age. New York, 2019, pp. 440– 443