The other day some men passed through several towns, on the way to the capital, carrying three coffins. In the first was a corpse, the other two were packed with opium. Being suspected at Yuen-nan-fu, the first coffin was opened, and the carriers, making as much row as they could because their coffin had been burst open, secured a fair “squeeze” to hold their tongues, and the second and third coffins were passed unexamined. Quite common is it for men to travel in armed bands from the province of Kwei-chow, traveling by night over the mountains by lantern-light, and hiding by day from any possible official searchers.
Opium, which is and always has been so heavily taxed, does not in general follow the ordinary trade routes on which likin stations are numerous, but is carried by these armed bands over roads where the native Customs stations are few, and so poorly equipped as to yield readily to superior force, where the men are compelled to accept a composition much below the official rate.
Opium smoking is still common in Western China among people who can afford it. At the time of the crusade against it, wealthy people laid in stocks enough to last them for years; and, so long as there is smuggling from other provinces, which do grow it, into those which do not, there will be no danger of the absolute extermination being carried successfully into effect. Kwei-chow, in common with the western provinces, has undeservedly secured the credit for having practically abolished the poppy; but at the present moment (December, 1909) she is at a loss to know what to do with her supply, and that is the reason why people of Yuen-nan are making bargains in opium smuggled over the border. Much has yet to be done. To prevent the growth of a plant which has been in China for at least twelve centuries, which has had medicinal uses for nine, and whose medicinal properties have been put in the capsule for six, is not an easy matter, far more difficult, in fact, than the average Englishman and even those who rant so much about the whole business upon little knowledge can imagine. Opium has been made in China for four centuries, and although used then with tobacco, has been smoked since the middle of the seventeenth century.[M]
A few years ago Yuen-nan had only two articles of importance with which to pay for extra provincial products consumed, namely, opium and tin. The latter came from a spot twenty miles from Mengtsz, and the value of the output now runs to approximately three million taels. Opium came from all parts of the province and went in all directions, that portion sent to the Opium Regie at Tonkin sometimes being close to three thousand piculs, and the quantity going by land into China being very much greater. Yuen-nan opium was known at Canton and Chin-kiang in 1863. In 1879, the production was variously estimated at from twelve thousand to twenty-two thousand piculs; in 1887 it had risen to approximately twenty-seven thousand piculs, and since then to the time of the reform no less certainly than thirty thousand piculs.