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Rapping Bamboo Poles

In the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1821-1851) of the Qing Dynasty, there was a flourishing opium trade controlled by Western merchants. Lin Zexu (1785-1850), the head of a group of Chinese court officials, vehemently opposed this notorious and illegal trade that was ruining many Chinese people. He won the support from the monarch to suppress trafficking. Lin sent soldiers to all ports to prevent opium from entering into China. The Chinese customs officials patrolled and searched all wharves in an effort to stop the trade and hunt down the traffickers.

On one occasion, a man shouldering a bundle of bamboo poles boarded a boat. Then he put down the bamboo poles and sat on the top of the pile. An elderly country bumpkin also decided this would be a good place to sit and smoke his pipe.

A team of customs officers boarded the boat, scrutinizing the luggage and cargo on the boat. The bamboo pole carrier instantly showed signs of fear on his face.At that moment, the bumpkin finished with is smoking and rapped the ashes on the bamboo to clean his pipe. Seeing this, the man suddenly became very anxious. He took out some money from his pocket and surreptitiously handed it to the bumpkin. The bumpkin was still a little baffled, but the man insisted that he should accept the money. And when he did, the man seemed relieved and sat back on his bamboo poles, and when the officers left the boat he completely regained his composure.

Obviously, the bamboo was full of opium. The bumpkin was an unwitting receiver of the bribe money. The trafficker thought that he had learned his secret and so gave him money to keep his mouth shut.

By and by, "rapping bamboo poles" came to symbolized extortion. That is the fleecing of money from someone who, being in a perilous position, has to pay money to cover himself.

(Compiled by Shen Jun and Ma Hanmin)

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