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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Where the Strange Trails Go Down » CHAPTER III "WHERE THERE AIN'T NO TEN COMMANDMENTS"
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Until I went to British North Borneo I had considered the British the best colonial administrators in the world. And, generally speaking, I hold to that opinion. But what I saw and heard in that remote and neglected corner of the Empire disclosed a state of affairs which I had not dreamed could exist in any land over which flies the British flag. It was not the iniquitous character of the administration which surprised me, for I had seen the effects of bad colonial administration in other distant lands—in Mozambique, for example, and in Germany's former African possessions—but rather that such an administration should be carried on by Englishmen, by Anglo-Saxons. Were you to read in your morning paper that an ignorant alien had been arrested for brutally mistreating one of his children you would not be particularly surprised, because that is the sort of thing that might be expected from such a man. But were you to read that a neighbor, a man who went to the same church and belonged to the same clubs, whom you had known and respected all your life, had been arrested for mistreating one of his children, you would be shocked and horrified.

[51]Save on the charge of indifference and neglect, neither the British people nor the British government can be held responsible for the conditions existing in North Borneo, for strictly speaking, the country is not a British colony, but merely a British protectorate, being owned and administered by a private trading corporation, the British North Borneo Company, which operates under a royal charter. But the idea of turning over a great block of territory, with its inhabitants, to a corporation whose sole aim is to earn dividends for its absentee stockholders, is in itself abhorrent to most Americans. What would we say, I ask you, if Porto Rico, which is only one-tenth the size of North Borneo, were to be handed over, lock, stock and barrel, to the Standard Oil Company, with full authorization for that company to make its own laws, establish its own courts, appoint its own officials, maintain its own army, and to wield the power of life and death over the natives? And, conceiving such a condition, what would we say if the Standard Oil Company, in order to swell its revenues, not only permitted but officially encouraged opium smoking and gambling; if, in order to obtain labor for its plantations, it imported large numbers of ignorant blacks from Haiti and permitted the planters to hold those laborers, through indenture and indebtedness, in a form of servitude not far removed from slavery; if it authorized the punishment of recalcitrant laborers by flogging with the cat-o'nine-tails; if it denied to the natives as well as to the imported laborers a system [52]of public education or a public health service or trial by jury; and finally, if, in the event of insurrection, it permitted its soldiery, largely recruited from savage tribes, to decapitate their prisoners and to bring their ghastly trophies into the capital and pile them in a pyramid in the principal plaza? Yet that would be a fairly close parallel to what the chartered company is doing in British North Borneo. As I have already remarked, North Borneo is a British protectorate. And it is in more urgent need of protection from those who are exploiting it than any country I know. But the voices of the natives are very weak and Westminster is far away.

With the exception of Rhodesia, and of certain territories in Portuguese Africa, North Borneo is the sole remaining region in the world which is owned and administered by that political anachronism, a chartered company. It was in the age of Elizabeth that the chartered company, in the modern sense of the term, had its rise. The discovery of the New World and the opening out of fresh trading routes to the Indies gave a tremendous impetus to shipping, commercial and industrial enterprises throughout western Europe and it was in order to encourage these enterprises that the British, Dutch and French governments granted charters to various trading associations. It was the Russia Company, for example, which received its first charter in 1554, which first brought England into intercourse with an empire then unknown. The Turkey Company—later known as the Levant [53]Company—long maintained British prestige in the Ottoman Empire and even paid the expenses of the embassies sent out by the British Government to the Sublime Porte. The Hudson's Bay Company, which still exists as a purely commercial concern, was for nearly two centuries the undisputed ruler of western Canada. The extraordinary and picturesque career of the East India Company is too well known to require comment here. In fact, most of the thirteen British colonies in North America were in their inception chartered companies very much in the modern acceptation of the term. But, though these companies contributed in no small degree to the commercial progress of the states from which they held their charters, though they gave colonies to the mother countries and an impetus to the development of their fleets, they were all too often characterized by misgovernment, incompetence, injustice and cruelty in their dealings with the natives. Moreover, they were monopolies, and therefore, obnoxious, and almost without exception the colonies they founded became prosperous and well-governed only when they had escaped from their yoke. The existence of such companies today is justified—if at all—only by certain political and economic reasons. It may be desirable for a government to occupy a certain territory, but political exigencies at home may not permit it to incur the expense, or international relations may make such an adventure inexpedient at the time. In such circumstances, the formation of a chartered company to take over the desired territory [54]may be the easiest way out of the difficulty. But it has been demonstrated again and again that a chartered company can never be anything but a transition stage of colonization and that sooner or later the home government must take over its powers and privileges.

The story of the rise of the British North Borneo Company provides an illuminating insight into the methods by which that Empire On Which the Sun Never Sets has acquired many of its far-flung possessions. Though the British had established trading posts in northern Borneo as early as 1759, and had obtained the cession of the whole northeastern promontory from the Sultan of Sulu, who was its suzerain, the hostility of the natives, who resented their transfer to alien rule, was so pronounced that the treaty soon became virtually a dead letter and by the end of the century British influence in Borneo was to all intents and purposes at an end. Nor was it resumed until 1838, when an adventurous Englishman, James Brooke, landed at Kuching and eventually made himself the "White Rajah" of Sarawak. In 1848 the island of Labuan, off the northwestern coast of Borneo, was occupied by the British as a crown colony and some years later the Labuan Trading Company established a trading post at Sandakan. In an attempt to open up the country and to start plantations the company imported a considerable number of Chinese laborers, but it did not prosper and its financial affairs steadily went from bad to worse. As [55]long as the company kept its representative in Sandakan supplied with funds he managed to maintain a certain authority among the natives. But one day he received a letter bearing the London postmark from the company's chairman. It read:

"Sir: We are sorry to inform you that we cannot send you further funds, but you should not let this prevent you from keeping up your dignity."

To which the agent replied:

"Sir: I have on a pair of trousers and a flannel shirt—all I possess in the world. I think my dignity is about played out."

Another syndicate for the exploitation of North Borneo was formed in England in 1878, however, to which the Sultan of Sulu was induced to transfer all his rights in that region, of which he had been from time immemorial the overlord. Four years later this syndicate, now known as the British North Borneo Company, took over all the sovereign and diplomatic rights ceded by the original grants and proceeded to organize and administer the territory. In 1886 North Borneo was made a British protectorate, but its administration remained entirely in the hands of the company, the Crown reserving only control of its foreign relations, though it was also agreed that governors appointed by the company should receive the formal sanction of the British Colonial Secretary. To quote the chairman of the board of directors: "We are not a trading company. We are a government, [56]an administration. The Colonial Office leaves us alone as long as we behave ourselves."

The government is vested primarily in a board of directors who sit in London and few of whom have ever set foot in the country which they rule. The supreme authority in Borneo is the governor, under whom are the residents of the three chief districts, who occupy positions analogous to that of collector or magistrate. The six less important districts are administered by district magistrates, who also collect the taxes. Though there is a council, upon which the principal heads of departments and one unofficial member have seats, it meets irregularly and its functions are largely ornamental, the governor exercising virtually autocratic power. Unfortunately, there is no imperial official, as in Rhodesia, to supervise the company's activities. As was the case with the East India Company, the minor posts in the North Borneo service are filled by cadets nominated by the board of directors, a system which provides a considerable number of positions for younger sons, poor relations and titled ne'er-do-wells. Most of the officials go out to Borneo as cadets, serve a long and arduous apprenticeship in one of the most trying climates in the world, are miserably paid (I knew one official who held five posts at the same time, including those of assistant magistrate and assistant protector of labor and who received for his services the equivalent of $100. a month), and eventually retire, broken in health, on a pension which permits them to live in a Bloomsbury [57]lodging-house, to ride on a tuppenny bus, and to occasionally visit the cinema.

There is no trial by jury in North Borneo, all cases being decided by the magistrates, who are appointed by the company and who must be qualified barristers. Nor are there mixed courts, as in Egypt and other Oriental countries, though in the more important cases five or six assessors, either native or Chinese, according to the nationality of those involved, are permitted to listen to the evidence and to submit recommendations, which the magistrate may follow or not, as he sees fit. Neither is there a court of appeal, the only recourse from the decision of a magistrate being an appeal to the governor, whose decision is final.

The country is policed by a force of constabulary numbering some six hundred men, comprising Sikhs, Pathans, Punjabi Mohammedans, Malays, and Dyaks, officered by a handful of Europeans. Curiously enough, the tall, dignified, deeply religious Sikhs and the little, nervous, high-strung Dyak pagans get on very well together, eating, sleeping and drilling in perfect harmony. Though the Dyak members of the constabulary are recruited from the wild tribes of the interior, most of them having indulged in the national pastime of head-hunting until they donned the company's uniform, they make excellent soldiers, courageous, untiring, and remarkably loyal. Upon King Edward's accession to the throne a small contingent of Dyak police was sent to England to march in the coronation procession. When, owing to the serious [58]illness of the king, the coronation was indefinitely postponed and it was proposed to send the Dyaks home, the little brown fighters stubbornly refused to go, asserting that they would not dare to show their faces in Borneo without having seen the king. They did not wish to put the company to any expense, they explained, so they would give up their uniforms and live in the woods on what they could pick up if they were permitted to remain until they could see their ruler.

Though the Dyaks make excellent soldiers, as I have said, they are always savages at heart. In fact, when they are used in operations against rebellious natives, their officers permit and sometimes actively encourage their relapse into the barbarous custom of taking heads. An official who was stationed in Sandakan during the insurrection of 1908 told me that for days the police came swaggering into town with dripping heads hanging from their belts and that they piled these grisly trophies in a pyramid eight feet high on the parade ground in front of the government buildings. Imagine, if you please, the storm of indignation and disgust which would have swept the United States had American officers permitted the Maccabebe Scouts, who served with our troops against the insurgents in the Aguinaldo insurrection, to decapitate their Filipino prisoners and to bring the heads into Manila and pile them in a pyramid on the Luneta!

Though the term Dyak is often carelessly applied to all the natives of North Borneo, as a matter of [59]fact the Dyaks form only a small minority of the population, the bulk of the inhabitants being Bajows, Dusuns and Muruts. The Bajows, who are Mohammedans and first cousins of the Moros of the southern Philippines, are found mainly along the east coast of Borneo. They are a dark-skinned, wild, sea-gipsy race, rovers, smugglers and river thieves. Though, thanks to the stern measures adopted by the British and the Americans, they no longer indulge in piracy, which was long their favorite occupation, they still find profit and excitement in running arms and opium across the Sulu Sea to the Moro Islands, in attacking lonely light-houses, or in looting stranded merchantmen. It is the last coast in the world that I would choose to be shipwrecked on.

The Dusuns and the Muruts, who are generally found in widely scattered villages in the jungles of the interior, represent a very low stage of civilization, being unspeakably filthy in their habits and frequently becoming disgustingly intoxicated on a liquor of their own manufacture—the Bornean equivalent of home brew. A Murut or Dusun village usually consists of a single long hut divided into a great number of small rooms, one for each family—a jungle apartment house, as it were. These rooms open out into a common gallery or verandah along which the heads taken by the warriors of the tribe are festooned. It is as though the tenants of a New York apartment house had the heads of the landlord and the rent-collector and the janitor swinging over the front entrance. I [60]should add, perhaps, that the practise of head-hunting of which I shall speak at greater length when we reach Dutch Borneo is fostered and encouraged by the unmarried women, for every self-respecting Bornean girl demands that her suitor shall establish his social position in the tribe by acquiring a respectable number of heads, just as an American girl insists that the man she marries must provide her with a solitaire, a flat and a flivver.

Though the chartered company has ruled in North Borneo for more than forty years, it has only nibbled at the edges of the country. The interior is still uncivilized and largely unexplored, the home of savage animals and still more savage men. Though a railway has been pushed up-country from Jesselton for something over a hundred miles, both road and rolling-stock leave much to be desired, the little tin-pot locomotives not infrequently leaving the rails altogether and landing in the river. Some years ago an attempt was made to build a highway across the protectorate, from coast to coast, but after sixty miles had been completed the project was abandoned. It was known as the Sketchley Road and ran through a rank and miasmatic jungle, it being said that every hundred yards of construction cost the life of a Chinese laborer and that those who were left died at the end. Today it is only a memory, having long since been swallowed up by the fast-growing vegetation.

The company has taken no steps toward establishing a system of public schools, as we have done in the [61]Philippines, for it holds to the outworn theory that, so far as the natives are concerned, a little learning is a dangerous thing. Perhaps the company is right. Were the natives to acquire a little learning it might prove dangerous—for the company. There are a few schools in North Borneo, but they are maintained by the Protestant and Roman Catholic missions and are attended mainly by Chinese. Whether they have proved as potent an influence in the propagation of the Christian faith as their founders anticipated is open to doubt. When I was in Sandakan I made some purchases in the bazaars from a Chinese lad who addressed me quite fluently in my own tongue.

"How does it happen that you speak such good English?" I asked him.

"Go to school," he grunted, none too amiably.

"Where? To a public school?"

"No public school. Church school."

"So you're a good Christian now, I suppose?" I remarked.

"To hell with Clistianity," he retorted. "Me go to school to learn English."

The chartered company maintains no public health service, nor, so far as I was able to discover, has it adopted the most rudimentary sanitary or quarantine precautions. It is, indeed, so notoriously lax in this respect that when we touched at ports in Dutch Borneo, the Celebes, and Java, the mere fact that we had come from British North Borneo caused the health [62]officers to view us with grave suspicion. When we were in Sandakan the town was undergoing a periodic visitation of that deadliest and most terrifying of all Oriental diseases, bubonic plague. As it is transmitted by the fleas on plague-infested rats, we took the precaution, when we went ashore, of wearing boots and breeches or of tying the bottoms of our trousers about our ankles with string, so as to prevent the fleas from biting us. It being necessary to go alongside the coal-wharves in order to replenish the bunkers of the Negros, orders were given that rat-guards—circular pieces of tin about the size of a barrel-top—should be fixed to our hawsers, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for rats to invade the ship by that route, while sailors armed with clubs were posted along the landward rail to despatch any rodents that might succeed in gaining the deck. As the native and Chinese laborers had fled in terror from the wharves, where the dreaded disease had first manifested itself through the deaths of several stevedores, the authorities offered their freedom to those prisoners in the local jail who would volunteer for the hazardous work of cleaning up the wharves and warehouses and sprinkling them with petroleum. Six prisoners volunteered, but they might better have served out their terms, for the next day four of them were dead. Though the stout Cockney, harbormaster, known as "Pinkie" because of his rosy complexion, was pallid with fear, the other European residents of Sandakan seemed utterly indifferent to the danger to which they were exposed. But [63]life in a land like Borneo breeds fatalism. As an official remarked, with a shrug of his shoulders, "After you have spent a few years out here you don't much care how you die, or how soon. Plague is as convenient a way of going out as any other."

The greatest obstacle to the successful development of Borneo's enormous natural resources is the labor problem. The truth of the matter is that life in these tropical islands is too easy for the natives' own good. In a land where a man has no need for clothing, being, indeed, more comfortable without it; where he can pick his food from the trees or catch it with small effort in the sea; and where bamboos and nipa are all the materials required for a perfectly satisfactory dwelling, there is no incentive for work. It being impossible, therefore, to depend on native labor, the company has been forced to import large numbers of coolies from China. These coolies, whom the labor agents attract with promises of high wages, a delightful climate, unlimited opium, and other things dear to the Chinese heart, are employed under an indenture system, the duration of their contracts being limited by law to three hundred days. That sounds, on the face of it, like a safeguard against peonage. The trouble is, however, that it is easily circumvented. Here is the way it works in practise. Shortly after the laborer reaches the plantation where he is to be employed he is given an advance on his pay, frequently amounting to thirty Singapore dollars, which he is [64]encouraged to dissipate in the opium dens and gambling houses maintained on the plantation. Any one who has any knowledge of the Chinese coolie will realize how temperamentally incapable he is of resistance where opium and gambling are concerned. This pernicious system of advances has the effect, as it is intended to have, of chaining the laborer to the plantation by debt. For the first advance is usually followed by a second, and sometimes by a third, and to this debit column are added the charges made for food, for medical attendance, for opium, and for purchases made at the plantation store, so that, upon the expiration of his three-hundred-day contract, the laborer almost invariably owes his employer a debt which he is quite unable to pay. As he cannot obtain employment elsewhere in the colony under these conditions, he is faced with the alternative of being shipped back to China a pauper or of signing another contract. There is no breaking of the law by the planter, you see: the laborer is perfectly free to leave when his contract has expired—as free as any man can be who is absolutely penniless.

Let me quote from a letter from the former Assistant Protector of Labor of British North Borneo. From the very nature of his duties he knows whereof he speaks:

"One sees a large number of healthy, able-bodied Chinese coming into the country as laborers and, at the end of a year or two, instead of going back to their homes with money in their pockets and healthy [65]with outdoor work, they go back as broken beggars, pitifully saturated with disease or confirmed drug fiends. It is really sad to see some of them return home after a struggle of four or five years to save money—a struggle not only against themselves and their acquired opium habit, but against the numerous parasites which always fatten on laborers."

During the term of his indenture the laborer is to all intents and purposes a prisoner, his only appeal against any injustices practised on the plantation being to the Protector of Labor, who is supposed to visit each estate once a month. In theory this system is admirable, but in practise it does not afford the laborer the protection which the law intends, for it frequently happens that laborers who have been brutally mistreated have been coerced into silence by the plantation managers by threats of what will happen to them if they dare to lay a complaint before the inspecting official. Moreover, many of the plantations are so remotely situated, so far removed from civilization, that a manager can treat his laborers as he pleases with little fear of detection or punishment. If negroes are held in peonage, flogged, and even murdered on plantations in our own South, within rifle-shot of courthouses and sheriffs' offices and churches, is it to be wondered at that similar conditions can and do exist in the world-distant jungles of Borneo. Mind you, I do not say that such conditions exist on all or most of the estates in British North Borneo, but I have the best [66]of reasons for believing that they exist on some of them.

One of the most serious defects in the labor laws of North Borneo is that trivial actions or omissions on the part of ignorant coolies, such as misconduct, neglect of work, or absence from the estate without leave, are punishable by imprisonment. As a result, the illiterate and incoherent coolie does not know where he stands. He can never be sure that some trivial action on his part, no matter how innocent his intent, will not bring him within reach of the criminal law. He is, moreover, denied the right of trial by jury, his case usually being decided off-hand by a bored and unsympathetic magistrate who has no knowledge of the defendant's tongue. Moreover, the company's laws permit the punishment of unruly laborers by flogging, with a maximum of twelve lashes. In view of the remoteness of most of the estates, it is scarcely necessary for me to point out that this is a form of punishment open to the gravest abuse.

Although, as I have shown, the British North Borneo Company permits the existence of a system not far removed from slavery, a far more serious indictment of the company's administration lies in its systematic debauchery of its laborers by encouraging them to indulge in opium smoking and gambling for the purpose of swelling its revenues. Nor does its heartless exploitation of the laborer end there, for when a coolie has dissipated all his earnings in the opium dens and gaming houses, which are run under government[67] concessions, he can usually realize a little more money for the same purpose by pawning his few poor belongings at one of the pawnshops controlled by the company. In other words, from the day a laborer sets foot in Borneo until the day he departs, he is systematically separated from his earnings, which are diverted, through the channels provided by the opium dens, the gambling houses and the pawn shops, into a stream which eventually empties into the company's coffers. For, mark you, the chartered company did not go to North Borneo from any altruistic motives. It is animated by no desire to ameliorate the condition of the natives or to increase the well-being and happiness of its imported laborers. It is there with one object in view, and one alone—to pay dividends to its stockholders. As the chairman of the company said at a recent North Borneo dinner in London: "They have acted the parts of Empire makers and yet they are filling their own pockets, for the golden rain is beginning to fall."

Let me show you where this "golden rain" comes from. The two principal sources of revenue of the British North Borneo Company are opium and gambling. Suppose that you come with me for a stroll down the Jalan Tiga in Sandakan and see the gaming houses and the opium dens for yourself. Jalan Tiga (literally "Number Two Street") is a moderately broad thoroughfare, perhaps a quarter of a mile in length, which is solidly lined on both sides with gambling houses, or, as they are called in Borneo, gambling [68]farms, the term being due to the fact that the gambling privileges are farmed out by the government. There may be wickeder streets somewhere in the East than the Jalan Tiga, but I do not recall having seen them. It, and the thoroughfares immediately adjoining, in which are situated the opium dens and the houses of prostitution, form a district which represents the very quintessence of Oriental vice. Over virtually every door are signs in Chinese, Malay and English announcing that games of chance are played within. Such resorts are not camouflaged in Borneo. They are as open as a railway station or a public library in the United States. From afternoon until sunrise these resorts are crowded to the doors with half-naked, perspiring humanity, brown skins and yellow being in about equal proportions, for the Malay is as inveterate a gambler as the Chinese. The downstairs rooms, which are frequented by the lower classes, are thickly sprinkled with low tables covered with mats divided into four sections, each of which bears a number. A dice under a square brass cup is shaken on the table and the cup slowly raised. Those players who have been lucky enough to place their bets on the square whose number corresponds to the number uppermost on the dice have their money doubled, the others see their earnings swept into the lap of the croupier, a fat and greasy Chinaman, usually stripped to the waist. In this system the chances against the player are enormous. The play is very rapid, the dice being shaken, the cup raised, the [69]winners paid and the wagers of the losers raked in too quickly for the untrained eye to follow. The players seldom quit as long as they have any money left to wager, but as soon as one drops out there is another ready to take his place. The upstairs rooms, which are usually handsomely decorated and luxuriously furnished, are reserved for the wealthier patrons, it being by no means uncommon for a player to lose several thousand dollars in a single night. Here cards are generally used instead of dice to separate the players from their money, fan-tan being the favorite game. I was told that the monthly subsidy paid by the British North Borneo Company to the Sultan of Sulu, who comes over from Jolo with great regularity to collect it, never leaves the country, as he invariably loses it over a Sandakan gaming-table. Gambling is a government monopoly in Borneo, the company farming out the privilege each year to the highest bidder. In 1919 the gambling rights for the entire protectorate were sold for approximately $144,000.

Crossing the Jalan Tiga at right angles and running from the heart of the town down to the edge of the harbor is the street of the prostitutes. It is easy to recognize the houses of ill-fame by their scarlet blinds and by the scarlet numbers over their doors. Should you stroll down the street during the day you will find the sullen-eyed inmates seated in the doorways, brushing their long and lustrous blue-black hair or painting their faces in white and vermillion preparatory to the evening's entertainment. Probably four-[70]fifths of the filles de joie in Sandakan are Chinese, the others are products of Nippon—quaint, dainty, doll-like little women with faces so heavily enameled that they would be cracked by a smile. When a Chinese merchant wants a wife he usually visits a house of prostitution, selects one of the inmates, drives a hard bargain with the hard-eyed mistress of the establishment, and, the transaction concluded, brusquely tells the girl to pack her belongings and accompany him to his home. I might add that the girls thus chosen invariably make good wives and remain faithful to their husbands.

Running parallel to the Jalan Tiga is another street—I do not recall its name—in which are the opium farms. Far from being veiled in secrecy, they are operated as openly as American soda fountains. A typical opium farm consists of a two-story wooden house, one of a long row of similar buildings, containing a number of small, ill-lighted rooms which reek with the sickly sweet fumes of the drug. The furniture consists of a number of so-called beds, which in reality are wooden platforms or tables, their tops, which are raised about three feet above the floor, providing space on which two smokers can recline. Each smoker is provided with a block of wood which serves as a pillow and a small lamp for heating his "pill." The number of patrons who may be accommodated at one time is prescribed by law and rigidly enforced, signs denoting the authorized capacity of the house being posted at the door, like the signs in elevators and on ferry-boats in America. For example, the door [71]of one farm that I visited bore the notice "Only fifteen beds. Room for thirty persons." Over-crowding is forbidden by the authorities, not, as in the case of elevators and ferry-boats, for reasons of safety, but for financial reasons. The more opium farms there are, you see, the greater the company's profits.

The opium is purchased by the chartered company from the Government of the Straits Settlements for $1.20 a tael (about one-tenth of a pound troy) and, after being adulterated with various substances, is sold to the opium farmers, nearly all of whom are Chinese, for $8.50 a tael, the company thus making a very comfortable margin of profit on the transaction. The opium farmers either keep opium dens themselves or sell the drug to anyone wishing to buy it, just as a tobacconist sells cigars and cigarettes. The sale of the opium privilege in Sandakan alone nets the government, so I was informed, something over $500,000 annually.

Now, iniquitous and deplorable as such a traffic is, the British North Borneo administration is not the only government engaged in the sale of opium. But it is the only government, so far as I am aware, which virtually forces the drug on its people by insisting that it shall be purchasable in localities which might otherwise escape its malign influence. A planter who, actuated either by moral scruples or by a desire to maintain the efficiency of his laborers, opposes the opening of an opium farm on his estate, might as well sell out and leave Borneo, for the company will [72]promptly retaliate for such interference with its revenues by cutting off his supply of labor. It will defend its action by na?vely asserting that, as the coolies would contrive to obtain the drug any way, the planter, in refusing to permit the opening of an opium farm on his property, is guilty of conniving at the illegal use of the drug!

The British North Borneo Company professes to find justification for engaging in the opium traffic by insisting that, as the Chinese will certainly obtain opium clandestinely if they cannot obtain it openly, it is better for everyone concerned that its sale and use should be kept under government control. The fact remains, however, that China, decadent though she may be and desperately in need of increased revenues, has succeeded, in spite of the powerful opposition of the British-owned Opium Ring, in putting an end to the traffic within her borders, while Siam, likewise under Oriental rule, is about to do the same. It is a curious commentary on European civilization that this vice, which the so-called "backward" races are vigorously attempting to stamp out, should be not only permitted but encouraged in a country over which flies the flag of England. Its effects on the population are summed up in this sentence from a letter written me by a former high official of the chartered company: "Fifty per cent of the thefts and robberies committed during the period that I was magistrate in that territory can be directly traced to opium and gambling."

[73]There is held each year, at one of the great London hotels, the North Borneo Dinner. It is one of the most brilliant affairs of the season. At the head of the long table, banked with flowers and gleaming with glass and silver, sits the chairman of the chartered company, flanked by cabinet ministers, archbishops, ambassadors, admirals, field marshals. The speakers work the audience into a fervor of patriotic pride by their sonorous word-pictures of England's services to humanity in bearing the white man's burden, and of the spread of enlightenment and progress under the union Jack. But the heartiest applause invariably greets the announcement that the North Borneo Company has declared a dividend. Whence the money to pay the dividend was derived is tactfully left unsaid. The dinner always concludes with the singing of the anthem Land of Hope and Glory. Yet they say that the English have no sense of humor!


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