VIDEO: Lord Palmerston’s Apology for the First Opium War

by John Crow

Commodities and trade – by such was Empire made
To bring New Order to Old Worlds – with rules, to be obeyed.
With dividends and bribes and coolies’ pittance to be paid,
There must be no impediment to commodities and trade!

For, in Bengal, Bengali maidens labour late beneath the moon,
A-milking of the poppy for to feed the hungry spoon
Of a skinny Chinese coolie, staggering his load beneath,
Who stops by at the Opium Den for a little light relief.

But in Canton, an agent of the Ching, a certain “Lin Say Shoo”,
Has seized our chests of opium – and burned the buggers too!
Our trade impeded! Commodities seized! Something must be done.
Our coolies demand that Her Majesty’s Government do forthwith annex Hong Kong.

For your coolie’s as cool as any Cockney feller but if he don’t get him his pipe
There’ll be fire-works all over the Old Pearl river and Heaven knows what civil strife.
The Yellow Empire be washed away on a Red Tide of Revolution.
You mark my words, Master Lin! Then submit to a very British solution:

Supply and demand: the capitalist keys to control the desires of the human.
We supply the hard drugs. Your coolies do no more than simply demand and consume ‘em.
Everyone’s happy, don’t you see? You’ll no longer have to cajole ‘em.
All “chase dragon” in harmony – the perfect way to control ‘em.

But Lin Say Shoo makes a hullabaloo. He takes our best British O. and he burns it.
Well now it’s his turn: if there’s a lesson to learn, Lin Say Shoo is going to be the one what learns it.
O we know he don’t like how we British simply won’t kowtow
to “Confucius he say” Chinaman Law.
The Man’s beyond the pale. By God, we must not fail. Gentlemen… This is War!

“Lin Say Shoo”: Victorian Anglicisation of Li Xe-zu, commissioner of the Chinese Qing Emperor, who seized British opium at the port of Canton, precipitating the First Opium War (1839-42). The War ended in the Treaty of Nanking by which the Chinese ceded Hong Kong to the British.

Written for and first performed at Anna Chen’s Steampunk Opium Wars Extravaganza at the Trader’s Gallery, National Maritime Museum on 16th February 2012.

Video shot by Jeff Willis
Photo portrait of Lord Palmerston by Sukey Parnell

The Steampunk Opium Wars pages:
The Steampunk Opium Wars Home Page
The Company: who we are and how to find us.
Gallery: debut performance at the National Maritime Museum.
VIDEO: Lin Zexu Just Says No!
VIDEO: Sir Jardine-Matheson “The Case for Free Trade”
VIDEO: Britannia sings “Money”
VIDEO: Gary Lammin presents the Hackney Tea Ceremony
VIDEO: Anna Chen sings Anna May Wong Must Die!
VIDEO: Anna Chen sings The Camellia & the Poppy
What they said …

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