Ideas of Beauty: Traditions of the Chinese Court Art of Asia Galleries

Couplet of Calligraphy in Running Script, Lin Zexu, 19th century.  Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Jeannette Shambaugh Elliott.

The large characters read: "Correctness in behavior is a precious quality; amiability in writing brings auspicious prospects."  In admiration of Lin Zexu's success in fighting opium addiction in the southern provinces, the Daoguang emperor appointed Lin as Imperial Commissioner with plenipotentiary powers to stem the illegal opium trade.  Commissioner Lin had previously confiscated opium pipes, arrested dealers and smugglers, and provided cures for addicts.  Now he confronted British opium traders at the port of Canton.  In 1839, Lin seized and destroyed nearly 20,000 chests of the illegal drug, rendering it harmless and letting it flow out to sea.  Although Lin's dramatic stand, explained in his letter addressed later that year to Queen Victoria, had been approved and encouraged by the Daoguang emperor, Lin was ultimately exiled, blamed for the increasing escalation of hostility which led to the Opium War of 1839-1842.  After exemplary government service during his three years of exile in Ili, a region now in Khazakstan, Lin was again rewarded by the throne, this time for improving relations between the Chinese and Muslim inhabitants of the region.