Lin Zexu was, famously, imperial commissioner of the port of Canton (Guangdong) during the First Opium War. He was charged with combatting the importation of opium into China, and his efforts are generally said to have played a major role in spurring the outbreak of war with Britain.
Prior to his appointment to Canton, Lin served as Governor-General in Hunan and Hubei provinces. His campaigns against opium in those regions earned him a reputation as an upright and competent administrator.
He was then appointed imperial commissioner of Canton in 1838, and soon afterwards confiscated and destroyed several million pounds of opium from Western merchants. War ensued between China and the United Kingdom, ending in the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, which embarrassed the Qing Court, opened five Chinese ports to Western trade & settlement, and involved a number of other significant concessions.
Blamed for his role in sparking the conflict, Lin was appointed Governor-General of Ili, in Xinjiang, effectively an exile to China's remotest region. He was, however, permitted to return to Beijing prior to his death.
- Kate Lingley, The Reformer's Brush: Modernity and Traditional Media in China, University of Hawaii Art Gallery (2011), 39.