Soul of China

Bravery even in the line of fire

Bo Wen Wei (柏文蔚)

Opium was never totally banned in China even after China’s national hero Lin Ze Xu (林則徐) burned and destroyed in 1839 all the opium to be shipped to Britain at Hu Men (虎門), Canton (Guangzhou).
The first Opium War (1840-1842) that followed led to the signing of the Nanking Treaty between China and Britain. But opium continued to poison the Chinese people even through the early period of the Republic of China.
One day in October 1912, the police of An Hui province tracked down and seized voluminous opium from a British merchant ship. The next day, a British gunboat anchored in the middle of the river aimed its cannons at An Qing (安慶) City.
At the same time, the consul of Britain filed “serious protest” against the governor of An Hui, directing him to return the opium within 24 hours and apologize.
At the time, Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) was propagating railroad construction and an open-door policy in places along the Yangtze River, and happened to be near An Qing.
The governor of An Hui, Bo Wen Wei (柏文蔚), took a speed boat to welcome Sun Yat-sen and seek his advice in dealing with the British.
At noon that day, the governor instructed his people to prepare firewood and kerosene to be used on the opium seized from the British. Bo Wen Wei also announced that Sun Yat-sen would be in An Qing to deliver a speech in time for the burning.
News of Sun Yat-sen’s scheduled visit spread like wildfire. More than 10,000 Chinese soon gathered on both banks of Yangtze River.
Sun Yat-sen arrived in An Qing at 1 p.m. He went straight to the stage and delivered his speech. He recounted and accused the British of the crime of imperialism, using opium to hurt and destroy the Chinese people for more than 70 years.
His impassioned speech moved the audience to tears.
At this time, the British gunboat raised its cannons and appeared ready to fire, leaving the crowd in fear. But Sun Yat-sen remained calm and composed. His voice in fact grew louder; this lifted the spirit of the crowd.
As Sun Yat-sen ended his speech, Bo Wen Wei gave the signal. The opium was set ablaze. The sky soon lit up in flames and was draped in smoke. The crowd on the riverbanks broke into thunderous applause.
In the face of defiance, the British held their fire and sailed away.