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The Opium Wars

China is at war with the West, in general — and the United States in particular. It has been aggressively stealing technology from other countries for decades. It’s built a cyber army that, according to the Department of Defense, is targeting our aviation and anti-submarine warfare technologies, among other things. Through the use of technology (much of it stolen), China has gained nearly complete control over its population, redefining “Big Brother state.” China has built a system of “vocational education and training centers” that are nothing more than internment camps for dissidents, mainly Uyghur Muslims now, but could easily accommodate anyone who gets in their way. These camps are operated outside China’s captive legal system.

China has made no bones about the fact they intend to be a military superpower by 2049. But first they have to neutralize the world’s current superpower.

As the mainstream media continues to distract us with their constant chorus line of, “Russia, Russia, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, impeachment, impeachment, impeachment,” here’s a newsy tidbit that may have escaped your attention in all the political madness. In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security seized the equivalent of 1.2 billion lethal doses of fentanyl entering the U.S. illegally — enough to kill every American four times over. Despite this victory in our never-ending War on Drugs, 32,000 of our children and grandchildren, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and friends still died from fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances that same year. This ugly synthetic stepsister of heroin is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. The most prolific manufacturer and exporter of illicit fentanyl is killing us off on our own turf and we, the people, don’t even know it.

What’s most disturbing about this silent declaration of war on America is that the Chinese don’t use warships and warplanes to deliver their deadly payloads. They don’t have boots on the ground across the North American continent or Chinese terrorists slipping in to the country on student visas to plot our demise with bombs. In addition to the tried-and-true method of using human mules to cross the Mexican border, they’re using a sophisticated delivery system for their weapons of mass destruction called FedEx, UPS, Amazon and the United States Postal Service. That’s so ingenious it takes my breath away.

But payback’s a … well, you know.

Perhaps a little historical hindsight is in order. Americans aren’t sitting around their dinner tables these days discussing the Opium Wars waged between the British and China in the mid-19th century. Ask American high schoolers or college students about the Opium Wars and you’ll discover that, for the most part, their knowledge of these important historical events falls somewhere between little and none. Their contemporaries in China know everything about the Opium Wars, chapter and verse, as if they happened last week. The bitterness over their “Century of Humiliation” is baked into the DNA of the citizenry of the People’s Republic of China and they’ve spent the last 160 years plotting their revenge.

The political landscape that resulted in the first Opium War that waged from 1839 to 1842 is complicated, as lead ups to wars tend to be. Allow me to convey a few highlights — a kindergarten’s version of events, if you will — to make a point.

In the years leading up to the first Opium War, the people of Great Britain had been over-indulging in luxury goods from China, namely silk, porcelain and tea. The Brits were so addicted to China’s black tea that they were spending five percent of their annual income on it. The demand for these goods, coupled with China’s restricted trade policies, resulted in a trade imbalance between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty. Great Britain’s coffers were nearly empty due to their massive expenditures on their other projects around the world, so they came up with a plan to have their tea and drink it, too.

Great Britain began growing opium poppies in India and allowing private British merchants to smuggle opium into China illegally. (America’s involvement in this scheme was limited.) Sure enough, the trade imbalance quickly reversed itself in favor of the Brits and China was left with a massive addiction problem on its hands. The emperor was not amused.

First, the Chinese government implemented a “just say no” campaign of sorts to educate its population about the negative effects opium had on citizens’ health and that it was immoral, to boot. That didn’t work.

Second, they established sanitariums to provide addicts an opportunity to escape their addiction. That didn’t work.

Third, they cracked down and forced addicts into “collective responsibility units.” That didn’t work.

Fourth, the Chinese government cracked down on Chinese dealers. That didn’t work.

(Does any of this sound even vaguely familiar?)

When nothing they tried worked, the emperor politely asked the Brits to knock it off. The Brits refused.

Finally, the Chinese government stormed the warehouses in their own port city of Canton and destroyed the British opium. The empire was not amused.

Negotiations between the militarily powerful Great Britain and the naïve and unprepared nation of China quickly broke down and war broke out. China lost big time. The terms of defeat included, among other things, the ceding of Hong Kong to the British for forever and a day and that British “luxury items” (opium) would continue to flow into China.

In 1856, the second Opium War broke out, a replay of the first, only bigger and badder, resulting in more enduring humiliation heaped upon the collective Chinese psyche. The West ultimately moved on. The Chinese remembered.

The East Asian dragon is alive and well and it’s coming for us. It’s spent the last 160 preparing, meticulously plotting its revenge on the West.

China has learned its lessons well. The once naïve, introspective nation that only wanted to be left alone is methodically transforming itself into THE world’s superpower. While China has always believed it was the center of the universe and given a few more years of unchecked aggressions, it’s going to prove it to the rest of the world using the more historically established approach that it learned as victim more than a century and half ago.

Patra Taylor has been a columnist and features correspondent for the Charleston Mercury since 2002. Please visit her website at

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