Charming Asia Tours, leading American tour operator to Hong Kong presents a history lesson for Hong Hong tourists. During the Brittish occupation, one of the main points of contention was whether they needed a base that they could call their own or not, I mean the ultimate objective was simply to get rid of the Canton system and to enjoy free trade throughout China, no one was dead set on acquiring any land, I mean that really meant a whole new set of headaches for the British government and they weren’t too keen on taking that on. Lord Napier he had his sights set on Hong Kong until he met his premature demise. The idea of a permanent British base of operations situated on some off-shore island but within close proximity to China, was banded about. They were all in agreement, the current system in Canton had become too unbearable, that had to go, all were in agreement on this point.
After taking stock of the whole situation, the general feeling was that the only way Britain was going to get what it wanted was by force, this meant some sort of naval operation needed to be carried out. The British obtained sovereignty over Singapore in 1824 and already, a decade later, the benefits to having this kind of base of operations were immediately felt, and if this base near Canton had a British flag flying over the government house, all the better, the traders could speak with the entirety of the British government backing them up rather than simply some superintendent of trade that was toothless when it came to enforcing anything or speaking out on behalf of the traders, you know how the British were with their insisted on some law and order. Laws which regulated trade and made it free and fair could only be enforced with the might of the British Empire behind it. Therefore they needed an island of some sort to plant the flag and make it official.
In 1838 the Dongguan Emperor empowered Lin Zexu to go down to the south and force these foreigners to get with the program, and as the well-known story goes, Lin Zexu went down to Guangdung province arriving March 10th, 1839, and on March 18th he gave an order to all foreigners, every one, they all had to sign this opium bond which in so many words made the signatory swear never to deal in the opium business again in China, plus they had to hand over all their stocks of opium to be destroyed. And to show he meant business, Lin Zexu had everyone placed under kind of a house arrest for two months, everyone was confined to Canton. The one in charge back then was Captain Charles Elliot, RN, who was First Superintendent in the British Trade, he had served under Lord Napier previously, and from his perch in Macau, Elliot took stock of the situation and told the British merchants to do as the Chinese say and whatever losses there were, the British Crown would back them up with whatever losses the traders incurred. This amounted to two/two and a half million Pounds Sterling of which Her Majesty’s government later only ponied up 1,281, 211 Pounds. Captain Elliot did this under duress because, well, to have argued with Lin Zexu at a time when Lin had the home-field advantage, so to speak, would have been suicidal.