Opium pipe with ivory mouthpiece

Opium pipe, China, late 19th century, Lacquer, ivory, metal.
Private collection

China always wanted cash (usually silver) for silk, tea and porcelain. There were hardly any Western products for barter. One exception was opium, a narcotic that enjoyed great popularity among the elite. When the British imported more and more opium from their crown colony India, the emperor put a stop to the trade. Western “free traders” in Canton (the port of entry) ignored this import ban. When Chinese troops then seized and destroyed entire cargoes of opium, the British declared this a cause for war. They sent their navy to attack Canton and other coastal cities. This began the First Opium War (1839 – 42), which ended with a Chinese defeat. As a result of the war, the Western powers were able to establish trading bases (so-called “treaty ports”) on Chinese territory and dictate the terms of trade according to their own convenience and advantage.
The opium pipe is a souvenir from the Boxer Rebellion. Like the pewter beaker, it belongs to the household of the great-grandson of a North German naval officer (Oberbottelier).