drugs and drug consumption


drugs and drug consumption
Opium (yingsu or yapian) has been imported for medicinal purposes since the seventh century, mainly by Arab maritime traders. Opium became popular as a panacea against illnesses such as dysentery and malaria and also as a general tonic. Its reputation for improving sexual intercourse and for curing venereal diseases and urological disorders furthered its popularity among men. Opium smoking owed its origins to the tobacco smoking culture of the late imperial period. Tobacco was first introduced during the 1570s and quickly integrated into the existing tea and alcohol cultures, despite official bans. Men, women and children of all social classes partook in the habit, paving the way for opium, which was at first smoked as tobacco soaked in opium solution (yapianyan). Known as madak in seventeenth-century Java and Sumatra, the mixture developed sufficient popularity in southern China to be outlawed in 1729. The edict, however, explicitly allowed the trade in medicinal opium.
The smoking of pure opium can be traced to the early 1770s, with first detailed accounts of the concoction process and of recreational smoking dating to just before 1800. While madak smoking continued well into the 1800s, increasing numbers of smokers developed a taste for the unadulterated product—probably due to a drastic improvement in the quality of Patna opium. While the official Canton trade respected the ever stricter edicts (1796, 1800 and 1820), the illegal opium trade attracted contraband merchants from all continents. Spreading quickly throughout Chinese society, only the poorest would be unable to offer opium to their guests. The wealthy prepared opium in intricate rituals, accompanied by delicacies, while their smoking utensils were made of silver, ivory or precious wood. Among the less privileged, smoking was an occasion for social intercourse and leisurely conversation. Opium houses generally provided a pleasant environment, one of the few public spaces available in late imperial society.
After intellectuals and missionaries demonized opium as a symbol of moral decay and national backwardness, the Qing government banned poppy cultivation in 1906, while Britain agreed to cease all Indian exports within ten years. The Hague Convention (1912–14) and subsequent international agreements extended the anti-narcotic policy to other opiates. Ironically, the obsessive search for ‘opium cures’ fuelled the spread of other narcotics, in particular morphine. This ‘modern’ injectable narcotic was more effective than opium, while its price decreased dramatically until taxed in 1909. Pharmacies amplified their profits by adulterating morphine with sand, dross or animal matter, while dates and raisins could be added for flavour. International restrictions after 1914 were easily circumvented, especially since mass-produced morphine had become indispensable for the treatment of soldiers. Countries such as Japan and Switzerland profited from the confusion caused by the World War by smuggling ‘medicinal’ morphine to China and Manchuria.
The contraband traffic also spawned the proliferation of other narcotics, from heroin preparations to cocaine, codeine, noscapine, papaverine, thebaine and fully synthetic drugs. The Opium Suppression Act of 1929 and the Six-Year Opium Suppression Plan of 1934 were easily subverted since the new drugs were easy to conceal and because they were marketed as so-called opium replacement cures. These were easier to smoke than opium, no longer requiring any laborious preparation or paraphernalia. Red Pills (hongwan) typically consisted of heroin, strychnine or morphine, as well as caffeine or quinine, embedded in sugary starch and occasionally scented with rose or jasmine essence. Red Pills spread swiftly and even became an export item. When the relatively innocuous Red Pill was prohibited, heroin preparations such as the Golden Elixir (jindan), White Pills (baiwan) or White Powder (baimian) took its place. As a conceptual blend of Western medicine and Daoist alchemy, the new heroin products proved immensely popular. Other ‘opium cures’ available in Republican China, smoked or injected, were codeine, dionine, eukodol, novocaine, pantopon, papaverin and pavinol. Addiction to such replacement drugs constituted a serious obstacle to the government’s suppression plans. Lack of hygienic understanding, furthermore, led to the spread of syphilis, pneumonia and septic infections. Cocaine and cannabis, meanwhile, enjoyed only marginal popularity, mainly within Shanghai’s red light areas and among medical professionals.
Although the Republican legislation signalled a departure from uncompromising prohibition, emphasizing instead detoxification and moral reform, over-zealous implementation helped create a black market dominated by gangsters and disease. The government’s most useful ally may have been the cigarette—exotic in appearance, yet filled with ‘patriotic’ Chinese tobacco. The Nanjing authorities’ policy of utilizing the cigarette as an informal opium replacement tool was even more successfully applied after 1949. Both Nationalists and Communists regarded opium as a symbol of China’s backwardness and foreign exploitation, and yet both managed profitable poppy cultivations during the civil war. After the creation of the People’s Republic, the Communists were determined to eliminate all recreational use of opiates. Executions, mass campaigns and public immolations of impounded narcotics figured prominently. During the Korean War, the anti-drugs campaigns were curiously absent from the country’s media. Even the printing of propaganda materials was prohibited, lest the image of Communist China as a ‘drug-free’ society was challenged abroad. Whatever the full truth, official campaigns and the provision of affordable alcohol and tobacco greatly decreased the demand for narcotics.
This began to change with the reform policies of Deng Xiaoping. Increased contact with the outside world and an upsurge in the heroin production in the Golden Triangle forced the authorities to resort to methods not seen since the early 1950s, with routine destruction of intercepted drugs and executions of smugglers and dealers. The current campaigns are, however, highly publicized, often citing the Opium War official Lin Zexu as a patriotic role model. Initially treated as a local problem affecting the southwest of Yunnan, heroin spread into the southern provinces along the international route from the Golden Triangle to Hong Kong and beyond. The well-documented case of Baoshan illustrates the pace of drug abuse in modern China: whereas in 1985 the city counted a mere handful of ‘addicts’, this figure had risen to more than 2,500 within five years. While in the southern border regions heroin continues to be trafficked, urban China is experiencing the proliferation of narcotics such as methamphetamine (‘ice’). The spread of ‘ice’ was ironically a consequence of a Korean crackdown against drugs during the Seoul Winter Olympics of 1988. The Korean methamphetamine reappeared instantaneously in Taiwan, and found its way to Taiwanese businesses in Fujian. Equally worrying to the PRC as the loss of its ‘clean’ reputation abroad and the social problems connected with the abuse of drugs, is the fast proliferation of HIV/AIDS (see HIV/AIDS and STIs). Drug consumption appears socially equally spread, although the ethnic composition of the border regions, which often act as contraband corridors, has meant that a disproportionate percentage of users belong to ethnic minority groups (Miao, Hui, Zhuang, Tai). The proliferation of drug use during the 1990s has, however, readjusted the ethnic ratio towards the majority of Han Chinese. The message of the day is prohibition and punishment, policies which in the past led to criminalization and contraband. At present, the authorities seem unprepared to experiment with more holistic approaches.
Ch’en, Yung-fa (1995). ‘The Blooming Poppy under the Red Sun: The Yan’an Way and the Opium Trade’. In Tony Saich and Hans van de Ven (eds), New Perspectives on the Chinese Communist Revolution. New York: Sharpe, 263–98.
Dikötter, Frank, Laamann, Lars and Zhou, Xun (2002). ‘Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China’. British Journal of Criminology 42.2:317–36.
Slack. E.R. (2000). Opium, State and Society: China’s Narco-Economy and the Guomindang, 1924–1937. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Yao, Jianguo (1991). ‘Yunnan: China’s Anti-Drug Outpost’. Beijing Review 26 (August): 20–5.
Zhou, Yongming (1999). Anti-Drug Crusades in Twentieth-Century China: Nationalism, History, and State-Building. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
LARS LAAMANN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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