THE COMMISSION assembled for the first time at i a.in, on the ist February, i9o9, in the Palace Hotel at Shanghai. His Excellency Tuan Fang, Viceroy of the Liangkiang, nominated by Imperial Rescript for the purpose, welcomed the delegates in an address, which was afterwards repeated in English by Taotai Wen Ping-chung.
The translation read was as follows:--
Gentlemen.—On the 2oth of September, 1906, an Imperial Edict was issued prohibiting the cultivation and use of opium throughout the Empire within the period of ten years. According to a Report from the Ministry concerned, the result of an inquiry into the question shows that up to the present progress has been made in reducing the area under cultivation of the poppy plant in the various provinces.
As a matter of fact, the area where the poppy has been cultivated in the Kiangnan portion of Kiangsu province, has been now reduced by eighty per cent, while it is on record that from the six provinces of Shansi, Ytinnan, Fukien, Anhui, Honan and Heilungkiang, or Northern Manchuria, memorials have been presented to the Throne reporting that the cultivation of the poppy will be entirely stopped by the winter of the present year. Even more than that, the gentry and merchants of the various provinces of the Empire have everywhere started societies to exhort and assist opium smokers to get rid of the baneful habit. For instance, we have an Association in Fukien province known as the "Anti-Poison Society " which has been making considerable progress in its campaign against the drug.
Indeed, from the present outlook, together with the state of Public Opinion throughout our Empire, there are great hopes that the consumption of opium can be stopped in its entirety before the end of the prescribed limit of ten years.
To-day it is my good fortune to be present at this International Conference, having been appointed by Imperial Rescript to open the proceedings, I am convinced that the countries of the world recognize the benevolence and philanthropy which have led to the gathering of the present Conference in the interests of civilization, and I may state that the people of our whole Empire are most grateful for it. It will need more eloquence than mine to fittingly express the cordial welcome with which our country hails the inauguration of this International Opium Conference, but I may take this opportunity, first, respectfully to tender the thanks of my Government and that of the people of this Empire to the American Government for initiating the movement which has brought about this Conference, and, next, to thank the Governments of the various countries here represented for so heartily joining in it.
As the Representative of the whole Empire, I beg leave to give this Conference some of our ideas on the subject in view.
I may be permitted to express my belief that this Conference will be principally guided by feelings of reason, benevolence and philanthropy in its desire to eradicate a poison and a bane to mankind. This being universally recognized, it becomes us to put aside all prejudices of nationality and race, and be guided solely by that world-wide philanthropy and enlightenment which have brought about this International Conference. For instance, the manner in which the Governments of the countries concerned have set about to stop the consumption of opium in their colonies and dependencies such as Formosa, Annam, the Philippine Islands, Java, etc., has been to undertake the monopoly of the sale of opium therein, a procedure which China alone has not yet put into actual force. As a matter of fact, the mere prohibition of opium without the Government having- the monopoly of the sale of the drug will prevent the Government from learning the number of persons suffering from the habit, nor can it put into effect any laws for the suppression of opium consumption. Mr. Leech, Councillor of the British Legation in Peking,, has stated—" Whether China can completely obtain the good she seeks, without government control of opium, both native-grown and imported, is somewhat doubtful," an opinion which gains my deep admiration for his wisdom and far-sightedness, and merits our sincere thanks for his warm sympathy in our endeavours. What, however, is to be apprehended is that Chinese merchants importing opium may claim that such a step will be contrary to former treaties and disadvantageous to their trade, and so oppose it, thereby preventing China from putting into effect a proper control over opium and the spread of the opium prohibition throughout the country. Thus not only will it not agree with the sincere intentions first expressed by the British Government to give every assistance to China but also be a hindrance to the movement initiated by the American Government ; nor will it enable the various countries represented in this Conference to show their unanimity in assisting this Conference to solve the questions before it. This is a matter to be regretted, indeed, and it is my earnest hope that this Conference will thoroughly go into this matter during its deliberations.
It was at first intended to limit the abolition of opium in the Empire to ten years, but the various provinces have been able so to reduce the cultivation of the poppy that it would seem that this cultivation may be entirely stopped within the next couple of years. Moreover the sale of prepared opium has also been rapidly reduced to over one-half, so that we may certainly be able entirely to stop the sale and consumption of the native-grown opium within the prescribed limit of ten years. With the complete stoppage of our native-grown opium it would follow that the importation of the foreign drug will also stop as a natural sequence. Such being the case the people of my country will have reason to c(mgratulate themselves on what has gone before, and this we will owe to the assistance given by the British Government, and to the labours of the American Government in initiating the moveinent which broug,ht about this Conference. On the other hand the attempts of this Govermnent to suppress opium are hampered by existing treaties. Should a way be found by which such clauses in the treaties that restrict the freedoin of my Government in its work of abolishing the consumption of the drug in the Empire may be got over, so that we may succeed in accomplishing our great and important task—fortunate indeed will it be for our Government and the people of this Empire. It is my earnest hope that this Conference will use its best endeavours to thresh out this question.
On the whole, since the main object of this Conference will be to consider the question of putting a stop to the consumption of opium, fortunate indeed will it be for the whole world if by the labours of the Conference a way be found to shorten the limit and bring about the abolition of opiuin at an early date. I do not think that national interests and division of races will be brought forward and produce difficulties between our countries, thereby hampering the work of opium abolition.
What is the meaning of the phrase " to seek for gain and yet fear to overcome difficulties"? The honourable gentlemen who are present this day as members of the Conference have all been selected by their respective Governments for their benevolence, philanthropy and fame. Since such is the case, I am certain that none amongst this distinguished assembly will act contrary to the benevolent and enlightened objects which have brought them together here. I will, therefore, be the first to declare to this Conference that the Government and people of my country are determined to succeed in their object and will not by any means turn aside from accomplishing the task before them.
As to the methods to be employed in accomplishing this end, the main idea will be to prohibit the cultivation of the poppy, the sale of the drug and the consumption thereof. It is only to be apprehended that in putting into effect the law for this prohibition it may conflict with certain clauses of the treaties. It is my hope that this Conference will carefullv investigate the matter beforehand so that there may be no misunderstandings in the future'. In this my speech I do not know whether I have been successful in gaining the approval of the honourable gentlemen of this distinguished assembly, but I am ready to receive such suggestions as may be instructive to me from this honourable assembly, whereby I shall indeed be fortunate. Therefore, I now declare this Conference open.
Immediately after the Viceroy's speech had been read, M. RATARD, Consul-General for and Senior Commissioner of the Delegation representing France, rose, and, addressing the Viceroy in French, preferred a request that French should be the official language of the Commission. He referred to a recent decision of the Waiwupu that the French tongue should be the official medium of diplomatic intercourse, and asked that, if not the language of the Commission, it should be placed on an equality with English in its deliberations.
M. KLEIMENOW, Consul-General and Delegate for Russia, stated that this proposal had his hearty support.
Monsieur Ratard's request was explained to the Viceroy, by one of his Secretaries, buf His Excellency appeared to be unwilling to express an opinion on the matter, and he almost immediately rose and left the room.
Following the Viceroy's departure the International Opium Commission held its first session, the public and Press being excluded.