Sunday, March 20, 2016

Child of the Opium Wars,_Opium_smokers_by_Lai_Afong,_c1880.JPG

Tea and porcelain
Were not enough.
They wanted silk and nankeen,
A canvas for pillage and plunder.

While the British loved to drink their
High tea
Imported from China and India
Eat their scones on 
Fine porcelain,

The Chinese had no use for heavy British wool.

Now the Brits
Bedecked in luxurious silk and
Beautifully dyed nankeen cotton
Were worried
As they sipped their fine imported tea--
Too much silver drained from England.

They hungered after power.
Unfettered access to trade routes and
World-class ports most 
Lucrative to England.

Their solution:
Grown in Bengal
On conquered land 
Cheaply produced
Resold at a hefty profit.

They bribed Chinese officials
Distributed free samples
Far and wide
To unsuspecting victims.

Soon millions of Chinese
Were addicted to opium.

Her earliest memory was of playing
Next to the dead body of her mother.
Mother and daughter shared
The same bed.
Daughter was too young to know 
Her mother's spirit had departed
And what was left was a corpse
Still warm
As though sleeping.

At some point the adults found the child
Playing quietly next to her dead mother.
They told her to cry, cry for your mother, 
For she is dead.

Not long after playing next to the body of
Her dead mother
Her father sold her to relatives
For 5 silver coins.

He was an opium addict
Seeking his next high.
She never saw her father again.

The young child was my grandmother.

To read more about the Opium Wars, check out these sources:

  1. The First Opium War, by Peter C. Perdue
  2. The Opium War and Foreign Encroachment (Asia for Educators, Columbia University)
  3. The Opium War's Secret History, by Karl E. Meyer


  1. Wow. This line stood out:
    Her earliest memory was of playing
    Next to the dead body of her mother.
    Chilling. I hope your grandmother was able to write and share as you are - I can only imagine the effect this beginning had on her. You write beautifully. Share more!!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Maureen. My grandmother passed away two years ago at the age of 93. She was born in a time and place where only the daughters of the most well-off families received a formal education. Like many in her generation, my grandmother was illiterate. In the weeks before her death, she shared some stories with me that I had never heard before. I like to think she knew I'd write them down for her.

  2. Amazing slice Michelle! You told her story beautifully. If she told you this part of her life, I can only imagine others she had to share. I see she lived to 93, she must have been a survivor for sure!

  3. What a powerful piece. How wonderful that your grandmother shared stories with you. I am glad your are writing them down. Stories like this should never be forgotten.

  4. WOW. This is an amazing story and a tribute to the strength of your family and your grandmother. What a powerful legacy to pass down to the generations after you!

  5. Michelle, I love that you tried something different by writing poetry. This is beautiful and so powerful. The image of your grandmother playing next to the body of her mother...oh, my heart. You had inherited so much of her resilience. Thank you for sharing this amazing slice.

    1. In my grandma's telling of this story, the grown ups had to tell her to cry. She had no idea what was happening. She was so little. She might've said someone pinched her so tears would roll. She had no idea.

  6. This story is SO POWERFUL as a poem. The line breaks, the economy of language -- it's beautiful. I also love the way the tension builds in this piece until the reveal that this story is not imagined by from your own personal family history. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing!

  7. I read this and at first I thought I had the wrong blog. I was looking for Hagrid. And then there was this amazing story/poem. I want to know the end of this story.

  8. What a powerful story from your family's past. Will you write this book? It is a story that needs to be told.

  9. Oh, what a powerful historic and personal poetic testimony. You depict such a heavy issue with such poetic deft. Thank you for sharing this slice of history and its background causes. Wow! I am speechless. There are so many poignant verses to depict such a traumatic event for your grandmother. In all your blogs, you have captured her life in all its complexities. Thank you.

  10. Very poetic. I sense despite her hardship; she found happiness because after all you are here to write about her. I can't wait to read more. I hope you share more of her story. :)


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