Lin Zexu: “Moral Advice to Queen Victoria”

(1839)

Lin Zexu’s “Moral Advice to Queen Victoria” was a letter written on behalf of China’s Qing emperor Daoguang that essentially presented an ultimatum to the English monarch, delivering the unmistakable message that the emperor and the Qing government were determined to ban the selling and smoking of opium once and for all and at any cost. In 1839, in light of the growing level of opium addiction in China under the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Daoguang sent Commissioner Lin Zexu to Guangzhou (also called Canton), Guangdong Province, and ordered him to stop the smuggling and sale of opium in China by Western, especially British, merchants. While negotiating with Charles Elliot, the British superintendent of trade, for his cooperation, Lin wrote a letter in the traditional “memorial” form to the ruler of Britain expressing China's desire for peaceful resolution of the opium trade. He used what limited—even mistaken—knowledge he had newly acquired about his adversary in the hope of...

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Portrait of the young Queen Victoria by Frans Xavier Winterhalter (Yale University Art Gallery)

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