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The Opium

  • Opium was one such commodity that they could sell in China.

Opium Fields


"Opium is a narcotic formed from the latex released by lacerating (or "scoring") the immature seed pods of opium poppies (Papaver somniferum). It contains up to 16% morphine, an opiate alkaloid, which is most frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade. The resin also includes non-narcotic alkaloids, such as papaverine and noscapine. Meconium historically referred to related, weaker preparations made from other parts of the poppy or different species of poppies. Modern opium production is the culmination of millennia of production, in which the source poppy, methods of extraction and processing, and methods of consumption have become increasingly potent."

  • The Portuguese had introduced opium in China.
  • Initially it was used for its medicinal value.
  • The Chinese were aware of the opium addiction, so Emperor had forbidden the sale of opium.
  • But western merchants began an illegal trade in opium.
  • It was unloaded in many sea ports.
  • While the English cultivated a taste for Chinese tea, the Chinese became addicted to opium. 

Where did Opium come From?


This is were the Indian peasants come into the story.

  • When Bengal was conquered, the British took effort to produce opium there.
  • As the market for opium expanded in China, it started flowing out of Bengal ports.
  • Supplies of opium had to be increased to feed the increase in demand.

Difficulty Faced by the Cultivators in Growing Opium

  • The crop can be grown only on the best of lands, which were well manured.
  • Generally these fields were used for growing pulses.
  • If opium was planted on these lands, then pluses could not be grown there.
  • The rent charged on the good land near the villages, were very high.
  • The cultivation of opium was a difficult task.
  • The cultivators had to spend long hours nurturing it.
  • Last but not the least, the price the government paid for the opium was very low.
  • It was not profitable for the cultivators to grow opium at that price.



How Were Unwilling Cultivators made to Produce Opium?

  • In rural areas of Bengal and Bihar, there were a large number of poor peasants.
  • Survival was difficult for them.
  • They always found it difficult to pay rent to the landlords, to buy food and clothing.
  • In the 1780s, these peasants found their village headmen giving them money to grow opium.
  • When offered the peasants were tempted to accept it.
  • But these loans tied the peasants to the headmen and  through the headmen to the government.
  • In 1773, British government in Bengal established monopoly in the production of opium.
  • No one was allowed to trade in opium.
  • Opium was also being produced in Rajasthan and Central India, which was not under the British rule.


  • In these states local traders were offering a much higher price to the peasants and exporting the opium.
  • So the British stopped opium production in the other states, stating that it was illegal.
  • All the crops in the other states were destroyed. 

The conflict between the British government, peasants and local traders continued as long as opium production lasted.


In this chapter we saw how rural areas in different parts of the world changed during in the modern period. We can conclude that the pattern of life, their struggle and, the achievements of farmers and peasants were not the same in England, USA and India. All section of the rural people did not face the same problems. Their story of modernization was not that simple, it dealt with growth and development.

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