The one-sided trade between Britain and China was a big strain on the finances of Britain. The East India Company which held the monopoly of British commerce at Canton felt greatly about it and was keen to attain more equitable balance of trade.
As China had been importing opium from the west for the purpose of medicine the East India Company tried to increase the export of opium to China. In course of time the Chinese got addicted to opium and its demand increased many fold. As against 400 chests of opium imported in 1750 it rose to 40,000 chests in 1839.
As most of the addicts of opium were from the official classes, the government’s attention to the evil was aroused. But what was considered more important than the evil social effects was the strain on the Chinese finances.
During the third and the fourth decade of the nineteenth century the imports of China exceeded her exports and silver started flowing out of the country. This was chiefly due to growing imports of opium. This naturally alarmed the government and it decided to prohibit the import of opium.
Emperor Tao Kaung, who since the assumption of throne in 1821 had issued a number of decrees against the use of opium (most of these failed to produce the desired results), realized the urgency and seriousness of problem and issued a special decree to curb the import of opium. However, before issuing the decree he circulated a memorial to all governors of provinces to solicit their views.
In view of the initiative on the part of the Emperor, by and large even those persons who had vested interests at stake; tended to favour restrictions, although there were still persons like Kishna, the Manchu governor general, who vehemently opposed the restrictions on the import of opium. On the other hand, there were ardent supporters of this policy like Lin Tse-hsu, the Governor-General of the two central provinces of Hupei and Hunan, who had already taken measures to curb the growing consumption of the opium through numerous measures.
He strongly endorsed the need of strict measures. He strongly endorsed the need of strict measures to curb the import of opium into China and wrote to the Emperor:
The sellers of opium at present protected by a number of smokers in government offices, although there is a law providing that a man who keeps an opium den should be strangled, we never hear that a charge has been brought, let alone that a sentence has been executed. It may indeed seen reasonable to direct all our severity against the dealers and treat smokers with leniency, but the result is that the law as a whole becomes a dead, letter.”
In view of the firm views of Lin Tsu-hsu, the Emperor entrusted the responsibility of carrying out the policy to him and appointed him as the Imperial Commissioner at Canton.