OPIUM AND ILLEGAL DRUGS IN CHINA
19th century opium smoker China has a local tradition of drug use. Heroin, opium and hashish are cheap in some places. The Chinese government estimates that there are between 2 million and 3 million drug users in China.
When Mao came to power in 1949 there were an estimated 20 million drug users in China. Using harsh methods, including executions, the Communists were able to rid China of its drug problem almost over night. But in the 1980s when China opened up more and eased its border controls drugs began flowing into the country and more people began using them, with drug use really taking off in the 2000s. The manager at one drug rehab center told the Washington Post, “It just boomed. Yesterday, no drugs This morning, all over the place."
China has tough drug laws. Getting caught dealing or trafficking even small amounts of drugs can bring someone a death sentence.
Drug use is increasing rapidly in China, especially among migrant workers. Explaining why the director of a drug rehabilitation center in Kunming told the Washington Post, “Each year, farmers who lose their land come to the city for jobs, but they can’t cope with the changes. People all over China want a better life, but they feel lost. They cannot hold their families together, and in frustration they turn to drugs. White-collar workers like to go to discos and use ecstacy. They like to use the new drugs and follow the latest fashions."
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; 2007 Sina.com article sina.com : Hashish China Not so Special blog china.notspecial.org ; We Be High.com webehigh.com ; Cannabis History walnet.org/rosebud : Heroin Heroin Addiction in Chinese Villages heroinaddiction2.com ; New York Times on Heroin and Aids iht.com ; Flying Carpet smugglers China Post ; Opium Opium Trade in China druglibrary.org ; Links in this Website: SMOKING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ILLEGAL DRUGS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OPIUM WARS PERIOD factsanddetails.com/china ; ALCOHOLIC DRINKS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WINE AND BEER Factsanddetails.com/China
Marijuana in China
Chinese weed In the province of Ningxia marijuana grows wild everywhere. Government officials deny that people smoke it although western observers have smelled it on the trains. Marijuana is also abundant in the Yunnan Province where some ethnic minorities smoke it. Some Turkic-speaking Uygurs in Xinjiang smoke hashish. Much of the hashish sold in Beijing and Shanghai originates with the Uighar community in Western China.
As early as 10,000 B.C. the Chinese used cannabis in fabrics and foods. In 2000 B.C., it was purportedly used in herbal remedies devised by the legendary emperor Shen-Nung. Later, cannabis was prescribed as a treatment for female weakness, gout, malaria and absentmindedness by in Chinese doctors.
Some young people who don't smoke hashish say they would like to but can't because it is too expensive.
In March 2009, a Nigerian man who arrived at Beijing airport with a suitcase packed with 87 kilograms of marijuana got spooked by “tight security” and failed to pick up the suitcase in the baggage claim area but was arrested the next day when he showed up to claim the bag. It was the largest bust so far that year.
Many of the drug dealer that operated in the Sanlitun area of Beijing before the Olympics were Nigerians, They would approach potential customers with the offer, “He, bro, You want some stuff?” In a pre-Olympics crackdown in the neighborhood in September 2007, police blocked each end of the main street and searched or hauled in every black person they could find. Many were beaten and arrested. Most had nothing to with drugs.
Methamphetamines, Ecstacy and Other Party Drugs in China
buying drugs in China Police seizures of party drugs such as ecstacy, methamphetamines (“ice”) and ketamine doubled in 2007. Police detained 60,000 suspects and seized 2 million Ecstacy tablets, 6.2 tons of methamphetamines and 5.2 tons of ketamine.
Ecstacy is known as yaotou (“shake-head drug.” or "head-rocking pill”). It is a popular club drug. One Shanghai disc jockey told the Independent, "People work hard these days, so they want to play hard. Why not? Dancing to your favorite music and feeling high, that’s the happiest thing in life."
Chinese gangsters are trafficking ecstacy and other synthetic hallucinogens.
The use of amphetamines and ecstacy is mushrooming throughout Southeast Asia and Eastern Asia. By some accounts half the people who abuse amphetamines worldwide are in East and Southeast Asia. More than 80 percent of global seizures of amphetamines in 2000 were in Asia.
Ephedrine, a drug used to make methamphetamine and treat asthma and lower blood pressure, comes from China. The drug's source, the green-stemmed Ephedra sinica plant, was mentioned in a 52 volume medical guide in 1590.
In August 2006, Chinese and U.S. drug agents seized a record 142.7 kilograms of cocaine being smuggled from Columbia to China.
Opium and the Opium Poppy
Opium is an addictive narcotic made from the dried, bitter, thickened latex of the seed pod a certain kinds of poppies. Used as a medicine and painkiller and for recreation, it can be smoked, eaten, drunk or made into more powerful drugs such as morphine and heroin. About 10 kilograms of opium produces one kilogram of morphine which yields one kilogram of heroin.
There are numerous species of poppies, including the corn poppy, the Oriental poppy and the California poppy (California's state flower), but only two varieties of poppies (Papaver somniferum and
Believed to be native to the Mediterranean area and sometimes raised as a garden plant, Papaver somniferum produces lovely flowers that vary greatly in size and come in a variety of colors, including white, pink, red, and purple. Papaver somniferum comes in dozens of varieties, adapted to different climates and soils. The dried seed cases are sometimes used for decorations and the seeds can be used as a flavoring for cakes and bread.
The opium poppy produces a number of alkaloids. Morphine is the most prevalent, making up 10 to 16 percent of raw opium. There are lesser amounts of codeine, a narcotic alkaloid that is milder than morphine.
In a Chinese supermarket Opium is believed to have first been used in the Mediterranean because that is where opium is thought to have originally come from. The oldest known opium cultivators were people who lived around a Swiss lake in the forth millennium B.C. Traces of opium have been excavated from archeological sites there.
The first written record of opium use comes from a 5,400-year-old Sumerian description of the cutivation of a “joy plant” in lower Mesoptamia. Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian texts refer to the medicinal uses of opium. A 9th century B.C. bas-relif from the Assyrian city of Nimrud shows King Ashymasirpal II holding a bouquet of opium capsules.
The ancient Egyptians took opium for pleasure and as a sedative. Hieroglyphics describe the cultivation of opium poppies during the reigns of Thutmose IV, Akhenaton and King Tutankhamen; the use of poppy extract to quiet crying children; and detail the opiums trade between the Egypt and Greece and Europe.
Ancient people are believed to be have taken opium, mostly in the form of tea or dissolved in other drinks. Opium-capsule-shaped ceramic jugs, dated to 1,500 B.C., have been unearthed in Cyprus. They featured stylized incisions and are believed to have held opium dissolved in wine. Surgical-quality knives used to harvest opium have been found in Cyprus.
Opium Heads East
Some scholars believe that opium was brought to China by returning sailors or Tibetan Buddhist priests from Africa or India as the early as the first century B.C. Others say that opium more likely was carried east by Arabic traders to India and then China between A.D. 400 and A.D. 900.
By the reign of Kublai Khan (1279-94) opium was widely used as a medicine. In India, it was eaten and drunk by all classes of people and taken as a household remedy for a variety of maladies. Between 1000 and 1500 the Chinese graduated from consuming poppy seeds to taking raw opium from the capsules and refining it into high quality opium. In southern China hill tribes began raising opium as a way to pay taxes to the Han Chinese.
In the Mogul Empire, war elephants and soldiers were given opium to give them courage, calm them before battles and make them feel less pain when injured. Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, drank opium with his wine and decorated the tomb of his beloved wife with poppies. Under the Moguls opium agriculture organized and the sale of opium became a state monopoly.
Until the practice of smoking tobacco was introduced to Europe and Asia from the Americas in the 16th century, opium was mostly eaten or drunk. Opium smoked in the 17th and 18th century was mostly in the form of a mixture of opium and tobacco called madak. Smoking pure opium only became popualr in China after madak was banned there.
History of Opium in China
Opium Wars sea battle Opium has long been used in China and the Far East to stop diarrhea and treat other medical problems. The quality of the opium produced in China was inferior to the opium brought from India by the British.
In the 1600s, the habit of smoking opium became popular in Formosa (now Taiwan) after Dutch sailors introduced tobacco smoking and residents of the island mixed tobacco and opium. The Formosans introduced the custom to the mainland, where tobacco was abandoned and opium was smoked alone.
Isabel Hilton wrote in The Guardian, “Opium had been consumed in China since the eighth century and several emperors had sung its praises. It began to be smoked with the introduction of tobacco in the late 16th century, turning its consumption from a medicinal to a social habit. By the 1830s, China was producing large quantities of opium domestically, though the imported drug was judged superior. The British traders argued, disingenuously no doubt, that they were merely supplying an existing demand, delivering the opium to a network of Chinese traders who distributed it across the empire. “[Source: Isabel Hilton, The Guardian, September 11, 2011]
The British-supplied opium was very popular in China. Rich and poor Chinese alike gathered in opium dens called divans to smoke the dreamy drug, and millions of Chinese—government officials, merchants, court servants, sedan bearers—became addicted and subdued. The opium trade significantly ate into the China's foreign trade reserves. By 1836, it transformed a huge trade surplus into huge trade deficit.
Opium Wars, See 19th Century History.
After the Opium Wars, the British aggressively marketed opium in China. The result: lots of addicts. Some smoked the drug in opium dens. Others took opium pills. Cheap pills known as pen yen gave rise to the expression have a "yen" for something.
Chinese who came to the United States in the 19th century to work as laborers brought opium smoking with them. Opium dens opened in San Francisco and towns where Chinese railroad workers stayed. By 1890, there were a number of "smoke houses" in the basements in back-ally buildings in New York. The customers included prostitutes, showgirls, businessmen and tourists as well as Chinamen.
Opium became widely associated with dark, smoky opium dens. The custom made its way to Europe from China via the United States.
Shanghai opium smoker in the 1920s The smoking of opium does not involve burning as is the case with cannabis or tobacco. Rather prepared opium is indirectly heated to temperatures that cause the active alkaloids, chiefly morphine, to vaporize. Opium users in much of the world have traditionally “smoked” the drug in specially-designed pipes with a long bamboo stem and a glass, porcelain or metal bowl. Users usually have taken the drug while laying on their side because the nature of the high discourages people from standing up or even sitting down. Those that try to sit up often just slump over.
To prepare the tar-like opium for consumption it is first heated and softened and rolled into a pea-size ball, enough for a single dose for one individual. Users seem take great pleasure going through the preparation process. The ball is then stuck on the bowl and heated indirectly by heating the bowl not than opium itself with a candle or lamp. Sometime users blows through the pipe to heat a piece of glowing charcoal to increases the heat. When the opium begins to vaporize the smoker inhales.
Often it takes two people to smoke opium: one person to smoke it and another person to heat the opium ball with a flame and make sure it releases the drug without being sucked into the pipe. Pipes were often designed with a rounded cross section that allowed the bowl to be rotated into the heat source and roated back into an upright position. Chasing the dragon (inhaling a drug vaporized on a piece of alumuninum foil with a straw) works with opium. In a conventional marijuana pipe opium often slides down the bowl before it fully vaporizes.
While it is being inhaled, opium gurgles, fizzes and hisses and slithers down the pipe like black mercury. Opium balls are smoked slowly and carefully lit and nurtured so they aren't sucked quickly into the pipe. The heated vapor is easily absorbed by the body. When the ball is finished, the smoker relaxes and spaces out. He usually doesn't have much to say, doesn't want to do much except lay there, and is quite happy being left alone with his happy thoughts.
Description of an Opium Addict
Describing her opium addict grandfather, a gainfully-employed mason in Singapore, Lavinia Chang told Time, "Nearly everything he earned was spent on feeding his habit. When he had money, he would smoke better-grade opium; when funds were low, he would buy the poor-grade pellets that he swallowed several times a day. With no savings, there were times in between jobs when he could not even afford the pellets. That is when withdrawal symptoms kicked in."
"It would start off like a cold, with teary eyes and a runny nose, followed by involuntary twitches in the face. His hands would start to shake, so he could not even have a drink without spilling it. At the full-blown 'cold turkey' stage, he would lock himself in his room and push the key out from under the door. We could hear his desperate groaning from within but knew there was nothing we could do to help. I don't know how long he stayed locked up; it seemed like a very long time."
There were bad memories of "him shivering under a blanket at midday, with mucous dripping from his nose and saliva drooling from his opened mouth into a perspiration-soaked pillow...When he became quiet again, my mother or one of my aunties would go in and help him out of bed...Though he seemed barely conscious, I knew he was fully aware of his suffering. Watching we suffered too. That's one of the most cruel side effects of substance abuse. It produces a host of silent victims: parents, siblings, partners, children, grandchildren and friends."
When she was 12 her grandfather told her, "I was foolish and I thought I was buying a happier life. It was an escape. Twenty cents a day helped me get through the horrible working conditions. I thought if I worked harder and longer, I would earn more for my family. But the price shot up once I became dependent. It has cost me my life. I never thought I would become addicted."
End of Opium Use by the Communists
In 1940 it was estimated that there were 40 million opium smokers in China. In 1941 Chiang Kai-shek ordered the complete suppression of the poppy and laws were passed that meted at the death penalty for anyone cultivating the poppy, manufacturing opium or offering it for sale.
The Communist took this policy a step further by executing dealers, declaring that anybody found using drugs would be put to death. and providing immediate cold turkey treatment for addicts. In Canton in 1951, 27,000 pounds of opium was publicly burned and 37 addicts were executed. In this way the Communist virtually wiped out drug use and brought the opium problem to a quick end.
Even so, while fighting the Kuomingtan, the People's Liberation Army, operating under the front of the Daguang Soap Factory, grew opium to raise money in the early 1940s apparently with Mao's approval.
In teh 1990s, the Yves Saint Laurent perfume Opium was banned because is name "humiliates Chinese dignity." The ban was imposed after shoppers complained that the perfume "created spiritual pollution for the youngest.”
In the early 2000s, hot-pot restaurants in Shanghai were accused of adding opium to their dishes in an effort to get repeat customers.
Image Sources: Normal Opium Museum and Wason Collection; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ; You Tube
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011