What I am reading… Karl Gützlaff, missionary, drug dealer

From Platt, Imperial Twilight, comes the story of Karl Gützlaff who was a German Lutheran missionary who yet could pass himself off as a native Fujian Chinese trader. He made the trip that broke the shackles on European trade to China, and convinced Britain’s mercenary merchants, Jardine and Matheson, that China was a market of opium addicts to exploit. Despite his proselytising, his adventures compromised him.

And so in 1833, failing any other means of travel, and giving the lie to every moral complaint he had ever made about the curse of opium in China, Karl Gutzlaff went to work for William Jardine. He agreed to ride Jardine and Matheson’s smuggling ships and do their interpreting, and to sweeten the pill, they agreed to help underwrite the cost of his Christian publications. Displaying a stunning willingness to use any means necessary to pursue his “higher” calling, Gutzlaff was soon comfortably employed as Jardine and Matheson’s chief interpreter, escorting their opium ships up and down the coast as they peddled their poisonous wares, handing out his little biblical tracts along the way.”

From Stephen Platt, Imperial Twilight: the Opium War and the end of China’s Last Golden Age (2018), p 281

Image credit: George Chinnery, Gutzlaff dressed as a Fukien 1835

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s