Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China

Article excerpt

Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China Frank Dikoetter, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun University of Chicago Press, 2004

As a result first of the ardor of nineteenth century English missionaries in China, and then of anti-imperialist publicists keen to find evidence of ill deeds committed by the British East India Company and other British traders, most people who have heard of Chinese "opium dens" blame British merchants for the extensive use of narcotics in late Imperial China. However, Narcotic Culture, a new and carefully documented work, reveals this image as a fabrication. It is true that British merchants sought to sell goods to China so that they could purchase Chinese goods to be sold in Europe at a profit sufficient to cover the costs and risks of trans-oceanic trade. But the authors of Narcotic Culture claim that the truth behind the opium myth stops there, and that the idea that British merchants were responsible for introducing opium to China, and turning large numbers of Chinese into cadavarous drug addicts, is without foundation.

Frank Dikoetter, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun document a long history of opium use in China, where it was held to have medicinal value as a panacea for many forms of sickness. They claim also that when used rationally opium has few if any ill effects, and that the British merchants were merely supplying China's established market for opium by hauling it to China from countries where it was more cheaply available.

We are told that it was the Quaker religious lobby in England, acting on the advice of missionaries who regarded any form of drug use as immoral, who were at least partly responsible for the decline of China into a nation stupefied by narcotics. …

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