Tuesday, December 29, 2009


China to execute a British drug smuggler

That was the big news this morning (December 28, 2009) on the radio. European countries that no longer use the death penalty, including England, have denounced the Chinese for the death sentence and have urged the Chinese not to carry it out. The convict is a British subject. There is general outrage in Europe. (I have not heard any outrage from Americans, who still favor the death penalty for particularly heinous or disgusting crimes.)

I believe the Chinese are motivated in part by a desire for pay-back or revenge. The offence is the Opium Wars, conducted by the English against the Chinese in the early 19th century to force China to permit the importing of opium and the creation of addicts to use it. The opium was a solution to a commercial problem. China was a source of many fine and desirable products, from tea to exquisite porcelain. China was happy to sell the British traders these products, but the government wasn't willing to open China to imported goods from Europe. The traders, and consequently the British, would have to use money to buy the Chinese products but would have no source of revenue to replenish the money. The solution was opium. The plan was to get part of the population of China hooked. Then it would be possible, with or without the permission of the Emperor, to export opium to China and sell it to the addicts.

The Chinese, naturally, didn't like this arrangement and tried to stop the trade in opium. That led to war. The Chinese lost. Eventually the Chinese government became too weak to enforce the no-import rule and the British and other Europeans were able to sell other goods to China.

It seems to be a rule that the winners of a war tend to have short memories. After a generation or two they have forgotten what the war was all about and in another generation or two they have forgotten the war itself. The losers have long memories. For generations they mark time for the moment when they can take revenge and get even for having suffered a disgraceful defeat. China remembers the Opium Wars. I doubt that one Brit in ten knows that they occurred or what they were all about.

In our own country, the losing South remembered for a century the loss of the "war between the States." We Northerners did not have such a long memory. To this day we don't understand the "states' rights" argument that Southern politicians drag out to vote against proposed laws that we think are fair, beneficial, and just. In Iran, people remember the shame of letting a foreign power (the U.S.) dictate that the democratically elected leader, Mossadegh, should leave the country and that the Shah should be imposed as the leader in his place. Since it was a CIA operation, many Americans do not know about it to this day. We wonder why many Iranian leaders seem to hate us.

Blowback occurs. China's execution of a British subject is just an example.

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But, is this treatment of the British drug smuggler any different from the treatment of Chinese nationals?
I don't know enough about China to know. It is not uncommon for European countries to protest an execution anywhere in the world, especially Texas. The Pope routinely condemns executions. Also, this smuggler was alleged to suffer from mental problems and may not have been aware of the gravity of what he was doing. It may even be, as he claimed, that he knew nothing about the drugs and that they were placed in his luggage without his knowledge.

The European protest was that the Chinese court refused to consider his mental condition. However, I believe that Chinese law does allow a court to do just that in deciding whether to have a trial and whether to execute. I suspect, but can't prove, that the Chinese were more strict with this particular smuggler than they would have been if he were Chinese.
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