Frank Dikötter cached version 08/02/2019 21:07:21 en Unravelling the myth of China’s 'Opium Plague' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The image of China as an opium slave was the starting point for an international ‘war on drugs’ which, over a century later, is still being fought today.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href=""><img src="// (1).jpg" alt="wfd" width="460px" /></a></p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//,_Opium_smokers_by_Lai_Afong,_c1880.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Opium smokers, China, c.1880. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain."><img src="//,_Opium_smokers_by_Lai_Afong,_c1880.JPG" alt="Opium smokers, China, c.1880. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain." title="Opium smokers, China, c.1880. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain." width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Opium smokers, China, c.1880. Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.</span></span></span>Last month, the United Nations General Assembly held a Special Session to review its current drug control system. But few people realise that the system actually has its origins in China, over a century ago. In 1909, an international conference proposing to prohibit opium and its derivatives was convened in Shanghai. Three years later, the first drug control treaty was signed at the International Opium Convention of the Hague. It was the cornerstone of a global ‘war on drugs’ which is still unfolding today.</p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">At the time of the 1912 Convention, China was widely understood to be fighting a huge addiction problem, caused by an obnoxious trade in opium started by Britain during the 'Opium Wars' in the middle of the nineteenth century. China was seen as 'Patient Zero', an ancient civilisation in the grip of a drug plague that threatened to contaminate the rest of the world. China became the founding case for concerted international efforts to enforce increasingly draconian measures not only against opium, but against all illicit drug use in America, Europe and Asia.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">To this day, China remains the single most important example in history of a culture commonly claimed to have been 'destroyed' by an intoxicant other than alcohol. I would like to question this image, which underpins much of the legitimacy of today's ‘war on drugs’.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The first step in dismantling the opium myth is to underline the lack of any medical evidence about the impact of the substance on the health of consumers – bar mild constipation. In nineteenth-century England, where opium was chewed and eaten in tiny portions or dissolved in tinctures by people of all social backgrounds, frequent and chronic users did not suffer any detrimental effects: many enjoyed good health well into their eighties. In south Asia, opium pills were commonly taken without creating serious social or physical damage, in contrast to the strong spirits imported from abroad in the face of opposition from both the Hindu and Muslim communities.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Opium is portrayed in narco-phobic discourse as a drug which produces an irresistible compulsion to increase both the amount and frequency of dosage, although the historical evidence shows that very few users were 'compulsive addicts' who 'lost control' or suffered from a 'failure of will'. Consumers want reliable, not infinite supplies. Like nicotine, opium is a psychotropic which is generally taken in determined amounts rather than ever-increasing ones. Opium smokers in China could moderate their use for personal and social reasons and even cease taking it altogether without help. In the late 1930s, when opium prices soared in Canton, most smokers halved the amount they used to make ends meet: few would rigidly hold on to their usual dose.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Another element of the opium myth is the refusal to accept that most of its consumption in Europe, the Middle East and Asia was rarely problematic. The existence of a class of occasional, intermittent, light and moderate users was one of the most controversial issues in the opium debate in the late nineteenth century. Yet there is abundant evidence that many users only resorted to the paste on special occasions. To take an example from nineteenth-century China, the official He Yongqing exclusively smoked opium to treat diarrhoea, while countless others smoked no more than a dozen grams a year strictly for medical purposes. Many were intermittent smokers, drifting in and out of narcotic culture according to their personal and social requirements. Many people would smoke a pipe or two at popular festivals and religious ceremonies several times a year without ever becoming regular users.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Another problem is the demonisation of 'opium' into a single and uniform substance. The paste varied immensely in strength and quality, while many consumers in China were connoisseurs who could distinguish between a large variety of products, ranging from expensive red Persian opium to qualitatively poor local produce. Opium is an extremely complex compound containing sugars, gums, acids and proteins as well as dozens of alkaloids which varied in proportion and content. General statements about the purported effects of 'opium' are thus as vague as blanket condemnations of 'alcohol': a world of difference existed between weak home-brewed beers in medieval Europe and strong spirits in Victorian England.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Most of the imported paste from India and the locally cultivated opium in China had a very low morphine content, on average 3 or 4%. On the other hand, the opium imported every year into nineteenth-century England from Turkey in thousands of tonnes was very rich in morphine, ranging from 10 to 15%. Furthermore, smoking was generally acknowledged to be more wasteful than ingestion, although the morphine content reached the bloodstream more quickly and caused a rush: 80 to 90% of the active compound was lost from fumes which either escaped from the pipe or were exhaled by the smoker.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Researchers working on 'drugs' have often focused exclusively on issues related to production and distribution, replicating the conventional wisdom that supply determines demand. But when we look more closely at consumption in the case of opium, it becomes quite clear that smokers in China were not so much 'addicts' in the grip of an 'addiction' but users who made their own choices for a whole variety of different reasons. Expensive opium imported from India was initially an object of connoisseurship for wealthy scholars and rich merchants, who carefully prepared the substance in intricate and complex rituals. But as the poppy was increasingly cultivated in China and smoking progressed down the social scale during the second half of the nineteenth century, it became a popular marker of male sociability.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Even among the less privileged, the example of the 'lonely smoker' was eschewed: smoking was a collective experience, an occasion for social intercourse, a highly ritualised event which set strict parameters for the consumption of opium. In a culture of restraint, opium was an ideal social lubricant which could be helpful in maintaining decorum and composure, in contrast to alcohol which was believed to lead to socially disruptive modes of behaviour.</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center" style="line-height: 1.5;">But most of all opium was a medical panacea.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">But most of all opium was a medical panacea. The main reason for smoking opium in China was to reduce pain, fight fever, stop diarrhoea and suppress a cough. The lowering of the cost of opium in the nineteenth century allowed ordinary people to relieve the symptoms of endemic diseases such as dysentery, cholera and malaria and to cope with fatigue, hunger and cold. Nothing was more effective than opium in treating pain. Even with the gradual spread of more modern medical facilities in the first half of the twentieth century, opium often remained the cornerstone of self-medication in the absence of effective and affordable alternatives. There are millions of individuals who suffer from chronic and debilitating pain in Europe today, never mind China a century ago, and they are rarely offered adequate treatment, as medical science has yet to discover a drug capable of matching the analgesic qualities of opium.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">If opium was medicine as much as recreation, there is abundant evidence that the transition from a tolerated opium culture to a system of prohibition in China from 1906 onwards produced a cure which was far worse than the disease. Tens of thousands of ordinary people were imprisoned and died from epidemics in crowded cells, while those deemed beyond hope of redemption were simply executed. Opium smokers also died in detoxification centres, either because the medical authorities failed effectively to treat the ailments for which opium was taken in the first place or because replacement treatments were poorly conceived and badly administered.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Plenty of archival evidence exists to illustrate how opium smokers died within the first few days of treatment. In 1946, to take but one example, 73-year-old Luo Bangshi, who had relied on opium to control severe gastro-intestinal problems, was ordered by the local court in Jiangsu province to follow detoxification treatment. He died in hospital on the second day of his replacement therapy.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Official attempts to police the bloodstream of the nation engendered corruption, a black market and a criminal underclass. They also accelerated the spread of morphine and heroin. Both were widely smoked in the first decades of the twentieth century, although some of the heroin pills taken for recreational purposes contained only a very small amount of alkaloids and were often based on lactose or caffeine. Morphine and heroin had few concrete drawbacks, and a number of practical advantages which persuaded many opium smokers to switch under prohibition: pills were convenient to transport, relatively cheap, odourless and thus almost undetectable in police searches, and easy to use since they no longer required the complicated paraphernalia and time-consuming rituals of opium smoking.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Where opium was suppressed the use of heroin went up. The National Anti-Opium Association of China noted in 1929: “We are quite taken by surprise by the fact that inversely as the evil practice of opium smoking is on the decrease through the united effort of the people, the extent of illicit trade in, and use of, narcotic drugs, such as morphine, heroin and cocaine, is ever on the increase.” As one government official noted in 1935, “by enforcing drastic measures against the use of opium the Chinese government would run the risk of increasing the number of drug addicts”.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Some of the morphine and heroin sold on the black market hardly contained any alkaloids, but the needles shared by the poor were rarely sterilised. They transmitted a range of infectious diseases and caused lethal septicemia. Wu Liande, a medical expert based in Harbin in the 1910s, observed how thousands of morphine victims died every year of blood poisoning resulting from dirty needles.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Ironically, the only region where the syringe failed to displace the pipe was the British crown colony of Hong Kong. As a result of colonial commitment to a government monopoly over the sale and distribution of opium from 1914 to 1943, the paste remained more cost-effective and convenient than heroin on the black market. After the colonial authorities were no longer in a position to withstand American opposition to the opium trade and were obliged to eliminate their state monopoly, many opium smokers switched to injecting heroin within less than ten years.</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">Even without prohibition, opium consumption would probably have eroded over time. Antibiotics appeared in the 1940s and were used to treat a whole range of diseases which had previously been managed with opiates: penicillin took over the medical functions of opium. On the other hand, the social status of opium was already on the decline in the 1930s, abstinence being seen as a mark of pride among social elites. Jean Cocteau put it succinctly: “Young Asia no longer smokes because "grandfathers smoked".”</span></p> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The image of China as an opium slave was the starting point for an international ‘war on drugs’ which is still being fought today. But official attitudes towards psychoactive substances have all too often been based on narcophobic propaganda which disregards the complex choices made by human beings and instead portrays 'drugs' as an intrinsic evil leading to certain death. Prohibition fuels crime, fills prisons, feeds corruption, endangers public health, restricts the effective management of chronic pain and produces social exclusion. The best way to win the 'war on drugs' may well be to stop fighting it.</span></p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; margin-left: 14px; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">This article is published as part of an editorial partnership between openDemocracy and <a href="">CELS</a>, an Argentine human rights organisation with a broad agenda that includes advocating for drug policies respectful of human rights. The partnership coincides with the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/drugpolicy/gabriela-kletzel-luciana-pol/where-do-we-go-from-here-drug-policy-debate-continues">Where do we go from here? The drug policy debate continues</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> drugpolicy Frank Dikötter Wed, 18 May 2016 06:37:51 +0000 Frank Dikötter 102155 at Frank Dikötter <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Frank Dikötter </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Frank </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Dikötter </div> </div> </div> <p>Frank Dikötter is chair professor of the humanities at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of <em>Mao's Great Famine</em>, and <em>Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China</em>.</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Frank Dikötter is a lecturer in the Anthropology Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and a specialist in Chinese culture. </div> </div> </div> Frank Dikötter Fri, 30 Apr 2010 15:25:18 +0000 Frank Dikötter 54014 at Bring out the beast: body hair in China <p>In his landmark study, <i>Soulstealers</i> (1990), Philip Kuhn offered a riveting account of several cases of sorcery, which shook Chinese society in the second half of the eighteenth century. </p><p> Under the prosperous reign of the Qianlong emperor, sorcerers roved the country, clipped off men&#146;s queues (long braids or pigtails), and chanted incantations over them to steal the souls of their owners. Fear of sedition lay behind the emperor&#146;s prosecution of the soul-stealers, as the queue was a political symbol of allegiance to the ruling dynasty. The symbolic significance of hair on top has been widely recognised by historians of China, but can we find politics in body hair? </p><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="hair cutting" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">LEFT:Cutting off the Pigtail, oil on canvas by <a href=";page=1" target="_blank">Han Wu Shen</a> (b. China, 1950) <br /> RIGHT: 19C images of Chinese emigrants to the US. The Cartoon at bottom right refers to an ordinance passed in San Francisco in 1873, forcing men who were imprisoned to have their queue cut. In practice, this violated the law of the imperial government of China which required men to wear a queue. A man with short hair would have trouble returning to China.</span></p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="" alt="baboon" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>Illustration of a baboon from a late imperial encyclopaedia.</i></span> </div>If a plurality of ambiguous and often contradictory meanings was ascribed to hair in late imperial China, body hair most commonly symbolised the fragile border separating the human from the beast. As in Christian countries up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, boundaries between man and ape were blurred in imperial China: learned literature, to take one example, compared &#147;red-bearded&#148; Europeans to monkeys, or &#147;macaques&#148; (<i>mihou</i>). <p> Some animals living within the realm of the empire, on the other hand, were described as wild men with a long tail: although orang-utans (<i>xingxing</i>) and baboons (<i>feifei</i>) were covered in black hair, they were sometimes held to speak human language. </p><p> &#147;Hairy men&#148; (<i>maoren</i>) were also reported in the imperial annals. From 1555 onwards, the local gazetteer of Fang county in Hubei province repeatedly mentioned people from the mountains covered in long hair; these reports inspired several vernacular stories by the eighteenth-century poet Yuan Mei. </p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src=",macaques.jpg" alt="red beards, macaques" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption"> Trading faces: a case of mistaken identity? Rufus-bearded westerners were nicknamed "macaques". But which is which? Mirror, mirror... </span></p></div>Where earlier versions in the Daoist tradition saw the acquisition of body hair as a step towards immortality, most of Yuan Mei&#146;s accounts presented excessive hair growth as a transformation away from &#147;civilisation&#148;. Comparable to the myth of the wild man in Europe, the hairy man was located beyond the limits of the cultivated field - in the wilderness, the mountains and forests, the border of human society: he hovered on the edge of bestiality. <div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="yetis" width="555" border="0" /><br /></p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="battery operated yeti" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">On the edge of bestiality, or beyond the limits of belief? Yetis come in all shapes and sizes, but do they actually exist? The abominable truth is out there (snowmen-builders beware)</span></p></div>Interest in body hair as a marker of civilisation was reinforced by the use of evolutionary theories from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. Anthropologists and sociologists in China started to divide humanity into different stages of &#147;racial development&#148;. <p> The &#147;raw&#148; barbarian (<i>shengfan</i>), coated with thick hair, and an inhabitant of the dark forests of the mountains, became a symbol for the lowest stage of evolution. A development away from the lower furry species, &#147;half-civilised races&#148; (<i>ban kaiming minzu</i>) were thought to have attained the second level of evolution. </p><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="barbarella and furry freaks" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">The stoned and the beautiful? The Immac conception played out on Jane Fonda's pins. Barbarella meets the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. So who's hairy now?</span></p></div><p> In anthropological discourse, the &#147;civilised races&#148; (<i>kaiming minzu</i>) were confined to the English and Chinese, spearheads of the evolutionary process: authors frequently noted that both &#147;races&#148; had patches of body hair only on the chest and legs. </p><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="" alt="Ainu" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>A picture of an Ainu, a member of the indigenous population of Japan, alleged to be covered in hair.</i></span> </div>Chen Yinghuang, the first professor of physical anthropology at Beijing University, gave examples of &#147;races&#148; that had never evolved beyond the ape-man stage: the overdeveloped hair system of the Ainu, a minority from the Japanese northern island of Hokkaido, became a common illustration of racial regression. A line drawing in Chen Yinghuang&#146;s book represented a naked Ainu, heavily bearded and covered with hair from top to toe. <p> <b>Wild men and monsters</b> </p><p> In an age spellbound by the implications of evolution, reports about &#147;monsters&#148; covered with hair appeared regularly for the amazement of the public. As in modern Europe, malformations and so-called &#145;freaks&#146; had a popular appeal, shared by different levels of society, and were exhibited on fairground stalls and offered to the public gape. In 1921, a certain Miss Wang gave birth to a hairy baby, later exhibited in the Agricultural Experimental Ground of Beijing. The same year, photographs of Chinese &#147;hairy man&#148; Li Baoshu were put on display in the capital&#146;s zoo. </p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="The cock-pit by Hogarth" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">Making a spectacle of ourselves. A variant of the crowd-puller: if it moves, watch it &shy; and cast your votes.<br /><i>The Cockpit, 1759, engraved etching by <a href="" target="_blank">William Hogarth</a></i></span></p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="" alt="Li Baoshu" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>Hairy man Li Baoshu, put on display in Beijing's zoo during the 1920s.</i></span> </div><p> From the imperial reports about hairy men to the popular exhibitions in Republican China, the fascination with the abnormal was localised and domesticated in the construction of the &#147;monster&#148;. Representations of the &#147;hairy monster&#148; came most clearly to express the fear of physical disintegration and racial reversion back into the darkness of time. </p><p> Fascination with body hair did not disappear after the victory of the communists in 1949. &#147;Hairy men&#148; in particular became objects of marvel during the 1970s and &#146;80s. A collection of photographs of thirty-two cases from China was even published in 1982. The greatest part of the book focused on Yu Zhenhuan, a stunning case of hypertrichosis whose development had been closely charted by a team of scientists. Covered with long hair on most parts of the body, Yu Zhenhuan was taken as the most pristine example of a &#147;racial reversion&#148;. </p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">LEFT:Chinese <a href="" target="_blank">propaganda poster</a> from 1986: "study diligently, observe discipline"<br /> RIGHT:<i>The hairy child Yu Zhenhuan, national symbol of a "racial" reversion.</i></span></p></div>Yu Zhenhuan rapidly became an object of marvel and wonder: news on television, reports in the official press, feature articles in more popular magazines brought images of the &#147;hairy child&#148; to the general public. A widely distributed work, <i>Mysteries of the human body</i> (1989), to take but one instance, reported in compelling detail the story of Yu Zhenhuan. <p> Officially sponsored research into the &#147;mystery of the wild man&#148; also became prominent in the 1980s. Most noticed were reports about the &#147;wild man&#148; (<i>yeren</i>) from Shennongjia in Fang county, Hubei province, a place were hairy creatures had been sighted since the Ming dynasty. If the hairy barbarian of imperial knowledge had been a spatial notion projected onto the periphery of civilisation, modern versions presented the wild man as the repository of a lost phylogeny, the &#147;missing link&#148; between the ape and the human: hair had become a symbol of borders in time. </p><p> Represented as the vessel of evolutionary traits, which had disappeared with civilisation, the scientific analysis of the wild man&#146;s hair was thought to reveal prehistoric conditions of life. The findings of a tuft of brown hair in 1980 and remains of more than 3000 &#147;red hairs&#148; of the &#147;wild man&#148; from Shennongjia were scrutinised. A research team concluded that its hair was structurally comparable to that of humans: &#147;We infer that the hair from these &#145;wild men&#146; could belong to an as yet unknown higher primate&#148;. </p><p> Reports about the wild man also became rife in the popular press during the 1980s, one example being a daily newspaper&#146;s article about a girl abducted by a wild man who later escaped back to &#147;civilisation&#148; with her two shaggy children. In 1986, the Science Evening Paper even brought to the attention of the public a &#147;wild boy&#148; coated with hair recently discovered near the Himalayan mountains and kept hidden in a military hospital of Shaanxi province as a living fossil. Illustrations of the &#147;wild man&#148;, based on &#147;scientific data&#148;, became an intrinsic part of popular urban culture by the end of the 1980s. </p><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="Wolfmen and werewolves" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">The stages of man? Charles Le Brun's 18C wolfmen, to schlock-horror werewolves.</span></p></div><div><div class="pull_quote_image"><img src="" alt="wild man" border="0" /><span class="image_caption"><i>Artist's impression of the wild man from Shennongjia.</i></span> </div><p> <br /><br /><br /> From a symbol of the geographically remote barbarian hovering on the edge of civilisation in the imperial period, body hair now represents a racial atavism, a throwback to distant stages of evolutionary development long transcended by a superior socialist nation. </p><p> <br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /></p></div><div class="full_image"><p><img src="" alt="chinese long hair" width="555" border="0" /><br /><span class="image_caption">Tie a red ribbon: a thing of beauty, or an act of sedition? The story of hair just keeps on growing... <br /><b>Any thoughts on hair? please send them to <a href=""></a></b></span></p></div> Culture arts & cultures people asia & pacific hair china Frank Dikötter Original Copyright Wed, 04 Dec 2002 00:00:00 +0000 Frank Dikötter 811 at