1800 - 1830 CE
Opium: a force of destruction in China?

Opium becomes identified with illegal trade, criminal activity and official corruption. The imperial court and provincial officials issue a stream of edicts prohibiting importation, cultivation, sale and use of opium. They increase the harshness of penalties to include execution. They make examples of Chinese merchants, corrupt officials and users. They put pressure on foreign traders, closing access to ports and restricting their ability to live in China.

The foreign traders flood the market using off-shore locations to transfer the opium from their clipper ships to small well-armed Chinese boats called “fast crabs” or “scrambling dragons” that take the product ashore. The price of opium drops.

Smoking opium spreads from the coast, along the rivers and into the cities. Men aged 20-55 are the principle users with government workers and soldiers heavily represented. Opium is reported to be demoralizing people, sapping the energy of the army and corrupting local officials and the police.

Source: Austin, A.A. (1978). Perspectives on the History of Psychoactive Substance Use. NIDA.

Drugs: Opium (morphine, heroin, opioids)
Regions: China
Topics: Cultivation, production and trade, Health and social problems, Prohibition