Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010

By Carol Benedict | Go to book overview

Epilogue
Tobacco in the Peoples Republic of China, 1949–2010

Tobacco’s centuries-long career in China sheds light on many themes: the history of Chinese material culture, China’s long-standing participation in transregional and international trade, and shifting patterns of popular and elite consumption, as well as the changing intersections of gender and consumption. Taking the long view, as I do in the preceding pages, not only allows for comparisons with other societies undergoing similar transformations in their own local cultures of tobacco consumption since 1550 or so; it also facilitates analysis of continuity and change in Chinese consumption practices across the late imperial-modern divide. Earlier chapters describe China’s dynamic culture of tobacco use from the late Ming period through the mid-twentieth century. It remains to bridge past and present by examining the most significant shifts that have occurred in Chinese tobacco consumption since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949.

Much about China’s particular smoking culture has changed over the past sixty years. Most notably, the machine-rolled cigarette has triumphed. Whereas in the 1930s, only 15 percent of total tobacco consumption was in cigarette form, filtered cigarettes now constitute 95 percent of the domestic market.1 Hand-rolled cigarettes, long-stemmed pipes, and water pipes remain prevalent only in certain regions, particularly in the Northeast and Southwest. Snuff has largely fallen out of favor altogether, though in recent years flavored smokeless tobacco has made a comeback among hip young urbanites.2

Tobacco remains an essential part of the Chinese economy; indeed, its importance has only increased over time. The People’s Republic of China is now the world’s leading producer and consumer of tobacco. Chinese farmers grow a third of the world’s tobacco crop, and China’s state-run tobacco industry produces in excess of

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