The Steampunk Opium Wars belly of the beast

Steampunk Opium Wars Anna Chen John Crow Paul Anderson Royal Greenwich Maritime Museum

THE STEAMPUNK OPIUM WARS – Premieres 16 February 2012

Marking the opening of the new Traders Gallery at the Royal National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

A musical written and produced by Anna Chen
Debuts at the Royal National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 16th February 2012
After Kipling: Apology for the First Opium War by John Constable AKA John Crow
The Case For Free Trade by Paul Anderson
The Royal War Decree by Louise Whittle
The Case Against The First Opium War by John Paul O’Neill
Lin Zexu – Just Say No! by Anna Chen

MUSIC by Anna Chen and Charles Shaar Murray with Marc Jefferies

… a novelty in politically charged entertainment, defies easy analysis. … not so much political entertainment as politicising entertainment. … You can’t really ask for more.” Ben Chacko in the Morning Star

“Invigorating, engrossing, witty, passionate and righteous – they should put Anna Chen’s The Steampunk Opium Wars on the school history curriculum.” Ben Chu of the Independent ”

Creation of a market

What do the humble cup of tea and the opium poppy have in common?

When King George III sent Lord George Macartney to China in 1792-4 in search of trade, all he had to offer was clockwork doodads and scratchy wool. Neglecting to to pay respect to the emperor in his own palace by refusing to kow tow resulted in a complete misunderstanding & antagonism of the Chinese they were courting. Macartney left in a hurry without his deal

However, the British merchants of the East India Company still had to satisfy their customers back home with the Chinese goods that fed the burgeoning middle-classes with their new wealth and taste: namely tea, silk, spices, porcelain, furniture, lacquerware and cinnabar.

Britain’s craving for chinoiserie in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in a trade imbalance that threatened to empty the treasury. It was made worse by the Chinese demand to be paid in silver, not gold bullion, which entailed the markup of middlemen.

To acquire the silver to pay for the tea, silks, spices and porcelain we liked so much, the East India Company created an opium market that devastated an entire nation. By forcing enormous quantities of cheap, mass-produced Bengal-grown opium onto China at military gunpoint, they turned an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction.

Carve-up of a nation

The rationalising narrative is that the merchants were only satisfying a need. However, before Britain used industrial revolution methods of mass production, opium was too expensive for most Chinese. The profits from the opium trade made fortunes for the narco-capitalists, earned revenues for the British government, paid for the administration of the Empire in India and even financed a large slice of Royal Navy costs.

When the Chinese tried to halt the import of the drug, the drug merchants persuaded Foreign Secretary Palmerston and Lord Melbourne’s government to go to war in 1839. The first of the Opium Wars, lasting a bloody three years, resulted in the coerced Treaty of Nanking and the transfer of territory including Hong Kong to British rule. 

Theft of an industry

Britain not only brought China to its knees by turning it into a nation of addicts. In possibly the greatest case of industrial espionage and IP theft, around 1845, the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune used the recently invented Wardian case terrarium to steal Chinese tea plants and seeds for the East India Company. He smuggled them to them to British-owned stolen Bengal which soon became the largest tea producer in the world.

Satire and narco-capitalism

The Steampunk Opium Wars brings you an evening of satirical illumination about China, Britain, imperialism and drug dealing in the 19th century.

A dastardly tale of imperialism, drugs and warfare, the story of this dark episode in British history is told in The Steampunk Opium Wars, a revue written and hosted by Anna Chen inside the belly of the beast, the heart of Empire, the Royal National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, the home of the British navy.

Government narco-capitalists and Chinese law-enforcers slug it out in verse, and members of the audience have the chance to write and take part in a Farrago Poetry History Slam.

With music from legendary writer Charles Shaar Murray and The Plague’s Marc “The Exorcist” Jefferies; former Flying Lizards singer Deborah Evans-Stickland singing her mega-hit “Money”; DJ Zoe “Lucky Cat” Baxter of Resonance FM; and Gary Lammin of The Bermondsey Joyriders in the weirdest tea ceremony you’ve ever seen.

Featuring Paul Anderson, John Crow Constable, Neil Hornick, John Paul O’Neill, Hugo Trebels, and Louise Whittle. 

The Steampunk Opium Wars (2012): Sir Jardine-Matheson (Paul Anderson) makes “The Case for Free Trade”
British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston (John Crow) and narco-capitalist Sir Jardine-Matheson (Paul Anderson) hammer out the importance of Commodities and Trade, Supply and Demand, Opium and Silver.
Gary Lammin performs the sacred Hackney Tea Ceremony at The Steampunk Opium Wars, Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich 2012
Hugo Trebells as Lin Zexu & Anna Chen as the Narrator

The Camellia and the Poppy

The Camellia and the Poppy
Were walking out in style,
Camellia said to Poppy, “I can get you high.
“Camellia Sinensis sharpens your senses,
“Stimulates up your thinking with a little bit of drinking,
“Focus you, wake you up, look pretty in a china cup.
“If you’re looking for a perfect cup of tea
“Look at me, me, me.”
Gonna get you high, high, high
Gonna get you high
Lordy, lordy laudanum, getting stroppy with the poppy

Poppy looked at Cami, shook the sleep from her eyes,
“A word to the wise I’ll have you flying in the sky
“Hey, Cami, take a tea-leaf from my book. “It ain’t a sin if you cut my skin
“Mother’s milk, soft as silk”
“I take my powers from the moon
“Been round twice as long as you
“And at three thousand years old
“You ain’t no spring chicken.
“This Poppy rose with the error of the tongues
“Poppy’s seen the ancient times
“I’ll show it to you if you care to sup
“Suck it up, suck it up, suck it up, up, up.”
Gonna get you high, high, high
Gonna get you high
Lordy, lordy, laudanum, getting stroppy with the poppy

“Poor, poor kid, a cup of cha is all you are
“I’ve been around six thousand years
“Camped out in this Vale of Tears
“I’ve seen it all. You call that high?
“I get to change worlds in here and out there
“I give you opium dreams. I bring you pleasure
“I rid you of pain I gift you with treasure
“People have always wanted to get high
“Altered states has always been the way.
“Want to soar in the sky Want to fly, fly, fly
“Shaman see visions, a poet state of grace,
“Celestial incisions, touch God’s face,
“Ride on a moonbeam, take a wormhole into space
“To the beginning, into time,
“Into the atom, into the lap of Buddha”
Gonna get you high, high, high
Gonna get you high
Lordy, lordy, laudanum, getting stroppy with the poppy

“I got a bummer for you Cami, forgot to mention,
“The light that shines so brightly burns half as long.
“Delight brings decay, entropy,
“You would do it in a trice if it didn’t have a price
“Your pretty face won’t look so pretty in the day
“In the glare of the sun, it ain’t such fun
“I bring riches, I bring envy,
“I bring a sickness, they call it war”

Poppy looked at Cami, Cami looked at her.
“Hey Cami, buddy. What time d’you make it?”
“I make it British Empire o’clock, Poppy.
“About half past East India Company opening time.”
“Oh, you just know they’re gonna fight over us?”
“C’mon, let’s watch.”

VIDEO: Lin Zexu Just Say No!: The Steampunk Opium Wars on YouTube

Lin Zexu Just Say No! More about The Steampunk Opium Wars

The Opium War by Julia Lovell: Smoke and mirrors – review essay by Anna Chen 17 May 2012

Shakedown: America’s 21st century war on China. The Opium Wars on steroids

Anna’s YouTube channel

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