What Hong Kong mo­nop­oly should I know about?

HK Magazine - - HOME -

As we’re talk­ing mo­nop­o­lies this week, there’s one mo­nop­oly that the govern­ment might rather wish you for­got: Hong Kong’s opium mo­nop­oly.

For al­most 100 years from 1845 on­wards, the govern­ment made a healthy profit from the sale of opium. It was in high de­mand, both from China and also from ex­ports to over­seas Chi­nese in Aus­tralia and Amer­ica. The govern­ment made its money from tax­ing the sale and pro­cess­ing of the drug, through a mo­nop­oly awarded to the high­est bid­der. At one point opium con­trib­uted up to 22 per­cent to­wards the govern­ment’s rev­enue.

Run­ning the en­tire thing via a mo­nop­oly meant that the colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tors didn’t have to get their hands dirty with each in­di­vid­ual opium-eater: They could just tax one mo­nop­oly-holder and be happy.

The city’s first opium mo­nop­oly went to two mer­chants, Ge­orge Dud­dell and Alexan­der Mathieson: You’ll rec­og­nize the for­mer’s name from the street named af­ter him. But the two didn’t get any­where, and the his­tory of the city’s opium mo­nop­oly is one of wheel­ing-and-deal­ing. In fact, the govern­ment’s mul­ti­ple at­tempts to put the opium mo­nop­oly out to ten­der to in­crease its own prof­its, reg­u­larly failed when all of the opium pro­ces­sors banded to­gether into a sin­gle car­tel, beat­ing the govern­ment at their own game.

The govern­ment fi­nally took over the opium mo­nop­oly in 1914, aim­ing to stamp out recre­ational opium use in the city—while still mak­ing a profit from its sale. But the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin didn’t come un­til De­cem­ber 25, 1941, when the Ja­panese in­vaded the city. The opium mo­nop­oly was left to drop af­ter the war: a relic of an­other, per­haps more gen­teel, time.

It’s in­ter­est­ing, though, that as opium prof­its dis­ap­peared, the govern­ment was able to turn to an­other source of rev­enue, once more cap­i­tal­iz­ing on high-priced sales to a small num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als: the city’s land. The opium mo­nop­oly tailed off, and the prop­erty mo­nop­o­lies ramped up­wards. Who needs opium when you can get ad­dicted to land in­stead?

Opium bros, do­ing their thing 1880-style

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.