Scots Running Amok

[From the sci-fi blog: some sci-fi bits snipped.]

An interesting Imperial-minded article:

Scots running amok: As loan sharks, drug smugglers, generals and plant hunters, Scots played a central role in expanding the British Empire

So, some quotes and comments:

Scotland’s long tradition of migration and soldiering, its poverty and uncertain harvests, encouraged many young Scots to set sail for the East Indies. As far back as the Middle Ages, Scots were an unusually outward-looking group, travelling and settling across Europe, from the Netherlands to the Baltic. For centuries, they exported their martial expertise to Irish chiefs, English kings and European monarchs. By the 18th century, civil war and languishing family fortunes, as well as the promise of new ones, added urgency to the exodus of Scots out of north Britain. They left home very young, often as teenagers, to pursue new economic opportunities made possible by the East India Company’s conquests in India and its growing tea trade with China.

Soldiers & penniless second sons: gone Travelling to win their fortune.

Towards the end of the 18th century, English observers commented, with a parochial dose of hyperbole, that everyone in India was either Scotch or Irish, or that you seldom saw more than five English to 20 Scotch in India; English traders complained about their clannishness, partiality to their own countrymen and national pride.


With money accumulating in private British hands in India, Scots quickly got to work, tapping into their network of friends, kin and countrymen in India and Southeast Asia to move commodities and capital across the Indian Ocean.

I always liked those innovative, commercial minorities: Scots, Jews, Armenians, Dutchmen. A people to look up to and imitate, at least during their prime.

(The Orthodox Jews still believe in four kids per family, still retain a fear of a supernatural Lord, still believe in sharp business practices… and still have a future. These facts are not unconnected. Hint, hint.)

In an effort to encourage local authorities to assist them in recovering their money, Scottish brokers and their clients bribed two Royal Navy admirals stationed near Madras to dispatch a warship to Canton in 1779 and 1780. One broker went so far as to confiscate and occupy the warehouses and property of several Chinese merchants with a small private army of Indian soldiers. Six decades before the First Opium War, Scottish brokers and merchants flirted with war in China.

“The Imperial Navy exists to be used, no?”

Jardine and Matheson ultimately got their war. But, interestingly, the Treaty of Nanjing that ended the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-42) – or the First Opium War as it was called by its critics in Britain – never mentioned the substance that had sparked the conflict. The legality of the opium trade remained unaddressed until 1856 when the British government used an obvious pretext – the boarding and arrest by Qing officials of the British-flagged Chinese smuggling ship, the Arrow – to declare war on China and negotiate more favourable commercial terms from the Chinese government. The Second Opium War (1856-60) and the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin opened China’s borders to two foreign ‘opiates of the masses’: opium and Christianity, by forcing the Chinese government to allow Indian opium and Protestant missionaries to enter China legally.

Every empire loves a pretext to get a highly profitable war going!

Opium/drug use is unwise, but I wouldn’t ban it myself: no biblical grounds. Even so, drugs are definitely destructive to the user, and it shows not love but hatred to your neighbour to sell him such poisons. Not all sins are crimes… but they are sins even so, and invite punishment from On High.

Certainly, Christianity as defined today by our seminary-gelded, power-pleasing preachers and theologians is of little worth: worthless salt (or delusional opium, or Rapture-escapist fantasies, depending on your metaphors), fit only to be ground under the feet of men. Exactly as is happening today.

And rightfully so.

As for a Christianity that does not seek to escape the world, but to change it? It’s coming, and I can assure you, the enraged Establishment (Christian and Secular) will do its level best to dispose of it. Preferably using non-violent means.

After all, Imperial Rome (…and modern secularists…) never had any problem with just another escape-reality pie-in-the-sky mystery religion. Do as much witchcraft or indulge in mindful meditation or read as many horoscopes as you please: the Emperor and the Right Sort could hardly care less.

But insist that the Emperor’s authority is but a temporary grant of a Superior King, or that Imperial Law comes second in to Divine Law, and discover for yourself what Elite Hostility and Imperial Wrath is really all about.

As usual, the majority of Christians — and ALL the Christian Establishment leadership — will cringe in fear before the wrath of their Betters.

I’d rather look for five smooth stones and a sling.

(Well, their modern equivalents anyways. After all, what can give more pleasure than toppling an entire hostile Ruling Class?)

Between the two Opium Wars, another Scot, Robert Fortune, was making his own mark on the history of the British empire and China. A botanist turned plant hunter, Fortune was sent to China on a secret mission by the East India Company. The aim was to free Britain from its commercial dependence on China. In 1848 and again in 1849, Fortune travelled in full disguise, including the traditional Qing dynasty hairstyle with a shaved hairline and long braid, deep into the countryside of Zhejiang, Anhui and Fujian provinces. He was searching for the finest tea plants in China. Having acquired thousands of specimens and seeds, he shipped them all, carefully packed in airtight glass cases, from Hong Kong to the East India Company’s Botanical Gardens in Calcutta. From there, they went further, to the Company’s gardens in the Himalayas. Fortune also arranged for Chinese tea growers and artisans to follow these seeds to India and work on the new tea plantations in Assam. In 1865, only 3 per cent of the tea consumed in the United Kingdom came from India; just over 20 years later, it claimed 41 per cent of the market, and Scottish planters cultivated most of it. This was import substitution on a massive scale. The seeds sewn through the botanical espionage of this Scot with a green thumb helped to launch Britain’s tea industry in India and establish commercial independence from China.

People curse China today for their unconcern for patent law. They weren’t the first to go that route… and they won’t be the last.

The historians Frank Dikötter, Lars Laamann and Xun Zhou have recently questioned the addictiveness of opium and its destructiveness to the Chinese state, society and economy. But there is no question that the wars fought over the drug led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in China and have had profound effects on modern Chinese politics. Not because the wars were particularly transformative at the time – only with the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5 did it become painfully clear to many that the Qing dynasty would not survive – but rather because for almost a century the Communist Party has been using the Opium Wars to justify its power. In the Communist telling, the Opium Wars were a turning-point in Chinese history, when Scottish capitalist imperialists, such as Jardine and Matheson, poisoned China with a noxious drug and the Communists emerged to save China.

Well, perhaps.

My own suspicion is that the Chinese Empire – like many others – require an Evil Other to keep the population properly unified and stifle/distract internal challengers.

This narrative of Chinese humiliation at the hands of British opium smugglers is still powerful: in 2010, when the then UK prime minister David Cameron and his delegation to China wore their Remembrance Day poppies (the flower from which opium is made) on their lapels, Chinese officials requested that they remove them. Cameron, who coincidentally is Scottish on his father’s side, refused.

Poppies symbolize more than one thing.

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