As a self-given “modern-history lover”, my interest on foreign historical materials1I mean, other than Chinese.has grown during the last year, especially when it comes to those written by the English. Chronologically speaking, the English was among the first to meet and interact with the Empire of China, with lots of records left, among which official ones, due to the comparatively more advanced government system, are more thorough and reliable than those recorded by the Chinese authority, while private records, written by those who have personally experienced the incidents, having less oppotunity of being merely a rumour. In short, if conditions permit, it would be very useful to research on those materials.

Recently, when I was reading a book written by J.Elliot Bingham, I came cross to these words:

…the traders at Lark’s Bay, where the opium traffic had been long established, in 1794 loaded one of their vessels exclusively with that drug, and fearlessly moved up to Whampoa… 2 See: J.Elliot Bingham, Narratives of the Expedition to China, Page 4

When I first saw the word “Lark’s Bay”, I was puzzled: what is Lark’s Bay? The only thing I can get from the passage, is that it was connected with the opium trade. So, I searched on the Internet, but there’re only a few results, both Chinese and foreign ones.

Although it seemed to be useless to dig into it, being puzzled is distasteful. After days of looking into materials, I finally reached a tentative conclusion, which is as follows: 

1. Location of Lark’s Bay

There’re several books that have mentioned about Lark’s Bay, among which a representative one is Narrative of the Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, written by Amasa Delano, which says: 

…Lark’s Bay, a small harbour formed in one of the islands lying three or four leagues southwest of Macao… 3 See: Amasa Delano, Narrative of the Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Page 43

So we have acquired a vague location of Lark’s Bay. According to this, I began searching for old maps describing Macao and its surrounding areas, and eventually found the mark for “Lark’s Bay”. Let us see two of them: 

The left was published in 1834 by the French. The peninsula at the center-up is Macau, while Lark’s Bay is marked as “L.B.”, located at the left-bottom.4The original is from Library of Congress. See: https://www.loc.gov/item/2002624006/

The right was made by the Portuguese, probably in 1923. The positions are about the same as the left, while in this map marking Lark’s Bay as “Bª.Lark”.5Got from a personal blog. See: https://nenotavaiconta.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/leitura-atlas-de-geographia-de-1923/

You may have recognized, that Lark’s Bay belongs to an island named “Montanha”, what is that? Well, “Montanha” is the Portuguese for “Mountain”, and this island, in fact, is now known as “Dahengqin”, belonging to Guangzhou. 

Hengqin Island was then a land of the Empire of China, so no doubt that it owned a Chinese name. I once found an article of Mr. Jin Guoping (金國平), in which he also researched on Lark’s Bay.6See: Jin Guoping, The Impact of the Western Modern Hydrological Data on Macau Chronicles, Jounal of Macau Studies, Vol 54 Through his research on offical documents of the Empire of China, Mr. Jin concluded that the Chinese name of Lark’s Bay is “Da Jing (大井)”, also referred as “Waters of Da Jing”.7Note: There’s now a place on the land of Hengqin Island, named as “Da Jing Jiao (大井角)”, which is not the same as I referred above.

Despite Mr. Jin’s study, I found a 1956 map from Harvard Library: 8See: https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/ids:2401161

Comparing this to the maps above, it seems that Lark’s Bay is marked as “Shen-ching”, which is obviously not “Da Jing”. As for in Chinese, it might be “深井”.9There’s now a place in Hengqin Island named “Shen Jing Village (深井村)”, whose location is very close to “Shen-ching”. So I made the judgement.However, as it differs in time, it is hard to judge whether the name was followed or newly-given. Anyway, I’ll keep my opinion.

2. Opium trade in Lark’s Bay

The reason for this research was not only for the beautiful name, but for the opium trade hiding behind it. According to the materials I have found, in 1780s and 90s, Lark’s Bay was indeed a opium base running by the English. It’s said in The Chinese Repository that: 

…Before the year 1767, says an Indian journalist,” the import of “ this pernicious drug ” into China, rarely exceeded 200 chests: that year it amounted to 1000; at which rate it continued for many years, in the hands of the Portuguese. In 1773, the British East India Company made a small adventure of opium from Bengal to China.About 1780, a depfit of this article was established by the English, on board of two small vessels, stationed in a bay to the southward of Macao, called Lark’s Bay… 10 See: The Chinese Repository, Vol V, Page 547

So the thing is: due to geographical advantage, the Portuguese had long been taking control of the opium trade. The English, however, want a share, and they chose Lark’s Bay as the opium base for its ideal location.

Furthermore, Lark’s Bay owned another advantage. Due to its remote location from the mainland, the Chinese authority had little control on this place, just like what Amasa Delano pointed out: 

…The object of this was to save the payment of duties on their cargos, as the bay was out of the reach of Chinese authority at that time… 11 See: Amasa Delano, Narrative of the Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, Page 43

So, how profitable is opium trade? If you are a history-lover, I’m sure you have more or less heard about it. But now, let me show a figure: 

…they often sold their opium for 500 or 600 dollars, the price in Bengal being about 500 rupees per chest… 12 See: The Chinese Repository, Vol V, Page 547; The so-called “dollar”, might refer to the Spanish dollar, as it used to be a universal currency.

Roughly speaking, one dollar consisted of 24.5 grams of silver13See: Spanish dollar, Wikipedia, and one rupee consisted of 11.5 grams14See: Indian 1-rupee coin, Wikipedia. So, the profit of one chest was about 6.5 to 7.8 kilograms of silver. Considering that one opium vessel usually carried hundreds of such chests, and the thousands of chests imported into China every year, the amount of silver flowing away from this empire would be tremendous. 15Note: The method I used to illustrate the figure is only for reference, and might be unable to show the real value of the currency.

However, opium trade based on Lark’s Bay didn’t last for many years. Eventually, the Chinese authority caught sight of this place, along with English traders being annoyed by the pirates and the Portuguese, causing them, in 1794, to give up this place and drive straight up to Whampoa, where the trade carried on for decades. 16See: The Chinese Repository, Vol V, Page 547-548

3. Conclusion

Time went on. Today, we might never be able to see Lark’s Bay–since 1970s, local government has been carrying out land reclamation, making Dahengqin and Xiaohengqin jointly form the Hengqin Island, 17See: Hengqin, Wikipediaand Lark’s Bay was therefore disappeared. But, just like what I have mentioned, we study history, for we want to dig into it and find out things lying below.

It is known that the earliest law concerning opium trade was an edict announced by Yongzheng Emperor, which was followed by Jiaqing Emperor and Daoguang Emperor. 18See: 1840年以前清代制作、 私贩、买食鸦片罪的法制研究,黄丹 (only available in Chinese)By then, Hengqin was under the management of the Empire of China, so the Chinese authority must be condemned for the prevailing of opium trade. To say the least, Hengqin was isolated and out of control, but when traders went to Whampoa, it was indeed that they broke the law just before the eyes of Chinese officials. However, the most curious thing, is that the difference in distance didn’t seem to make Chinese officials feel uncomfortable–opium trade carried on, and huge amount of silver flowed into the pocket of the English.

You may know the reason: bribery. If it is impossible to do things privately, then just bring them all out. Officals at the customs and the hong-merchants acting as intermediators were all bribed, and those remote from the scene of smuggling also received an annual fee for overlooking the violation of law. As for the so-called “anti-opium operation”, was just a show playing for the emperor sitting inside the Forbidden City.

Truths made me thinking: Opium traders are evil, but the real problem is the ossified and backward government system of the Empire of China, under which bribery would never be stopped, and officials cheated on each other, thus forming huge special interests, who would say no to any reform, even it was from the emperor. As for the tragedies experienced by this empire following on, were all deserved.

4. Others

This is a time for the Internet. Today, many historical materials have been uploaded to the Internet, making more and more history-lovers able to do their own research, and this article is indeed an act of experiment: is it possible to reach a convincing, reliable and testable conclusion based on materials entirely from the Internet? The answer…well, I’ll leave you to judge!

To be continued.

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