History : Dec 2015-Jan 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 11 by mixing opium resin with the likes of henbane, musk, and amber. From then on opium’s reputation grew, noted as an almost miraculous medicine that not only cured illnesses but also gave a wonderful sense of well-being. Although the drug could be taken as a pill, sweetened to disguise its natu- ral bitterness, the most popular form of laudanum was to dissolve it in alco- hol and drink it. Through the 16th and 17th centuries this became a favorite medicine of the upper classes, its ex- clusivity preserved by the expensive ingredients used in its elaboration. Great Britain, History’s Biggest Drug Dealer IN THE 18TH CENTURY, England had a significant trade deficit with China, and English silver flowed east to pay for imported tea, silks, and porcelain. The only other Western commod- ity that China was interested in trading for was opium. The British East India Company pro- duced opium in India and exported it to China in large quantities, despite its rulers having outlawed its con- sumption and even its cultivation. In 1729 this contraband trade totaled a ton and a half of opium, and by 1838 it had risen to around 2,000 tons. That year China’s trade balance tipped into a deficit with the West. China confronted Great Britain, call- ing for an end to the export of opium that was harmful both to its citizens and to its economy. The growing antagonism led to two Opium Wars, in which Britain won trade rights and territory from China, including the port of Hong Kong.