Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Role of Opium Smoking on Daily Lives in Imperial China

Info: 5234 words (21 pages) Essay
Published: 8th Feb 2020 in History

Reference this

How did the role opium-smoking played in the daily lives of the common people change throughout imperial China, and what contributed to these changes?

Introduction

The role opium played in the daily lives of commoners within imperial China changed partially due to political determinants. This essay aims to analyse these roles opium played from different historical angles, to better understand the evolution of the role of opium in the lives of commoners following shifting political stances towards opium-related activities. Furthermore, this essay also aims to determine the correlations between these political stances and the commoner’s perception of the social and cultural importance of opium to gain a balanced view of how the Chinese government contributed to these perceptions.

How did the common people respond to the political stance the Chinese government had towards opium-consumption during the Tang and Ming dynasty?

Tang

According to Dikotter et al., since opium was first introduced to China during the Tang period (618 – 907) by Arab traders as a medicinal drug, the Chinese government held no political stance to criminalise the consumption of this substance that was believed to better the health of Chinese society. [1] Lu et al. states that during this period, opium was purely seen as medicine in the eyes of the commoners – often used in its raw form for relieving the pain from hunger, as well as combatting other sicknesses like cholera, diarrhea and sunstroke. [2] Due to its novelty and low availability, neither elitists nor commoners could perceive opium as anything other than of medicinal value.

Ming

During the Ming period which ruled China from 1368 to 1644 A.D., where no regulations existed regarding opium-consumption, opium remained a medicinal drug in the eyes of commoners. Zheng found that following great demand for erotic literature around 1483[3], the use of opium transitioned from yao (medicine)to chunyao (aphrodisiac).[4] However, since only small quantities of opium was imported during this period, opium was perceived a symbol of power – and only used as a recreational sex drug for the royal family and wealthy families to enforce their social status.[5] Therefore, opium played little to no recreational role for the commoners of Ming China.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

During the late Ming period, the Chinese government supported opium-consumption, even seeing it as a source for financial revenue and military expenditures by listing it as a taxable commodity. Dikotter et al. notes that it was the government’s brief illegalisation of tobacco during this period of 1630’s to 1640’s China that drove the commonization of recreational opium consumption.[6] At the time, tobacco was widely used by commoners for medicinal purposes and was seen as a leisure activity, as a result, its illegalisation drove many commoners to turn to opium as its replacement. Gradually, as the wealthy increased their visits to opium dens, peasants and farmers also started to participate in the consumption of this drug by smoking the ashes and residue of previously consumed opium in these dens.[7] Therefore, it was during these late Ming periods, that the perception of opium to the commoners was starting to transition from medicinal to recreational use.

How did these responses to the political stance the Chinese government had towards opium-consumption change following the Qing dynasty? (1644 – 1912)

Following many years of supporting its consumption, the government changed their stance towards opium activities in the Qing dynasty. This section looks into these changes and the effects it had on the role opium played for the commoners.

Entering into the Qing period, political attitudes towards opium-consumption did not change, which initially led to more and more demand for foreign imports of opium following the tobacco bans, and more commoners realising the recreational role opium can play in their lives. In addition, Lu et al. gathered that during the early Qing period, The Dutch East India Company who dominated the India-China trade, introduced the smoking method of opium, which would’ve slightly increased commoner consumption following more wealthy people frequenting opium dens.[8] It is important to note that despite the increase in opium-consumption during the Tang and early Qing dynasties, in the eyes of commoners it was still perceived as a foreign luxury product and frequent use was not cemented in their everyday lives.

During the late 1700’s, following increased demand for opium, concerns regarding opium’s potential destruction of Confucian values and family structures were becoming more apparent.[9] These concerns resulted in the Qing government doubling taxation on opium imports in attempts to holt its recreational consumption.[10] Despite these increased taxes, imports of opium continued to increase, which drove the government to explicitly oppose the importation of smoking of opium with the first imperial edict that criminalised importation of opium in 1729.[11] However, according to Lin, the common Chinese population did not in anyway stigmatise the use of opium as a medicinal drug as the government still enforced the use of opium for its medical properties.[12]

Even though the illegalisation of opium importation during this period still saw illegal smuggling of opium, it also gradually increased domestic cultivation of opium, which increased its availability to peasants and farmers. Lu et al. states that around the time of 1830, half of the opium supply in China was cultivated domestically[13], resulting in almost everybody using opium.[14] In fact, during this period, opium use was six times the amount of that of 1920.[15] However, these domestic cultivations were often of a lower quality due to technology restrictions for opium harvesting.[16] Nonetheless, it still meant opium was becoming more widely available and its recreational use was being normalised, taking a bigger role in the lives of peasants.

The Chinese government’s continued stance against the importation and use of opium for recreational purposes sparked the First Opium War[17], to which they lost in 1842 and resulted in opium taking on a deeper social role in the lives of commoners.[18] Despite China enforcing the importance of an opium ban, their defeat in the opium war resulted in five trading ports being opened along coastal cities by British consuls, which surged opium importation and consumption.[19] An increased in supply pushed down the price of opium and allowed for lower class to indulge in recreational smoking.[20] Newman suggests that since the apparatus for opium-smoking was expensive at the time, it was most likely that peasants and farmers would share pipes as they couldn’t afford their own.[21] Opium was used at these smoking gatherings not only as a social lubricant, but a relaxant after a long day of work.[22] During these periods, the commoners of imperial China were used to the idea of opium being a social stimulant and relaxant.

The failure of the treaty to satisfy British goals of improved trade and diplomatic relations led to the Second Opium War (1856–60), which saw all previous prohibitions against opium trade removed, and opium smoking becoming a very staple part of the lives of those within popular China.[23] Lu et al. found that since the Qing government could no longer enforce the prohibition of opium imports and use, they decided to support the domestic cultivation of opium and control its consumption through tax.[24] Technological innovation also meant that during the 1860’s more premium opium could be produced, resulting in opium becoming a major cash crop throughout rural China.[25] Newman noted that in places, poppy was even grown as a substitute to food grains, and was seen as just another agricultural product.[26] Lin  found that many of these peasants only relied on opium profits for food, clothes and to support their family.[27] Furthermore, since domestic cultivations could produce high quality opium that had a high value in relation to its bulk, demand for domestic cultivated poppy increased and rural farms started to export to different provinces and spread its use across China.[28] Therefore, post the second opium war, the opium poppy was not only a normalised agricultural product often consumed, it also represented the bread for rural peasants and farmers.

Newman found that following the second opium war, the surge in opium supply normalised the recreational consumption of opium. Opium dens opened up everywhere, from villages, to cities, and different dens accommodated for different people, all in all, opium was available to those from all types of different social backgrounds and everyone smoked opium for leisure.[29] However, Newman also notes that the extent opium played as a recreational substance for commoners varied across China. Imperial China saw a prevalence of epidemics across districts, specifically villages around Shansi, where the lands were very susceptible to famines.[30] In these regions, opium would be used more frequently as medicine to treat hunger pangs, diseases of malnutrition, and pain from disease.[31] Therefore, despite opium largely possessing a recreational role in the lives of commoners, depending on their needs, it also continued to play a medicinal role.

The first decade of the 20th century saw the only successful opium eradication campaign for imperial China, which greatly impacted the consumption and social and cultural role opium played in the lives of the commoners.[32] This poppy prohibition included closing down dens, banning its cultivation, and treatment of poppy intoxication caused by addiction, meaning commoners lost their agricultural supplies of opium, which was their mains means of income, medical treatment and recreational relief.[33] Newman argues that for the vast majority of the common population, giving up opium smoking was not that difficult as they were mainly occasional or light smokers that had no physical reliance on the drug.[34]

However, Lin provides a different insight, suggesting that opium was substantially difficult for the common population to give up as it played a vital role in their lives and they relied on it for survival. Lin notes how the common people did not see opium in the same demeaning manner as the bureaucrats had, they saw it as their means of living.[35] In provinces like Yunnan, opium alleviated widespread poverty by providing them with enough profits for survival.[36] When poppy seedlings were rooted by Chinese officials, this led to widespread deficits and famine of the common people.[37] Riots were common during the time of this campaign, Lin describes cases where soldiers sent to root poppies were beaten to death by peasants and local thugs also grouped together as resistance leagues to prevent the eradication of poppy cultivation.[38] Even though these rebel movements were all eventually supressed by the government, it’s clear that opium played a primary role in providing for the population and the only way the government could suppress its use was through brute force.

What made the attempts in the first decade of the twentieth century to eradicate opium consumption successful?

One of the main reasons these latter attempts of opium prohibition were successful was vastly due to the decrease in foreign illegal imports of opium making it easier to control domestic consumptions of opium. After cultivation of domestic opium poppies reached a premium standard, native opium was demanded over foreign imports, leading to foreign countries looking for other sources of revenue.[39] With there being no foreign supply of opium, the government could successfully decrease consumption by diminishing domestic supply by closing opium dens and rooting opium poppies.

Another factor that attributed to the eradication campaign’s success is that unlike previous attempts, this campaign was supported by the younger generation of wealthy families and scholars who deemed opium smoking as unpatriotic and demeaning.[40] As the commoners tend to mimic the behaviours of the elitists, anti-opium propaganda supported by wealthy families greatly influenced the common population’s perception of opium.[41] As Paules notes, it is the successful demonization of opium that eventually brought its demise.[42]

Conclusion

By looking the role opium played within the lives of those that lived in Tang, Ming and Qing China, it becomes clear that there were some political influences. Gradually, throughout history, opium went from a medicinal product to a recreational product that farmers and peasants depended on for income. With the government’s support for domestic cultivation, opium consumption and production blossomed. However, the government had much less luck when they attempted to eradicate opium importation and consumption pre-1901. As analysed in the previous section, this failure to eradicate opium is due to the government not receiving any support from the elitist classes pre 1901, and foreign businesses moving their opium imports to other countries.

References

  • Bello, David. “The Venomous Course of Southwestern Opium: Qing Prohibition in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou in the Early Nineteenth Century.” The Journal of Asian Studies 62, no. 4 (November 2003): 1109–1142.
  • Brook, Timothy, and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, eds. Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. Univ of California Press, 2000.
  • Dikotter, Frank, Laamann, Lars, and Zhou, Xun. “Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China.” The British Journal of Criminology 42, no. 2 (April 1, 2002): 317–336. http://search.proquest.com/docview/199342405/
  • Howard, Paul Wilson. “Opium suppression in Qing China: Responses to a social problem, 1729–1906.” (1998).
  • Lin, Man-Houng. “Late Qing Perceptions of Native Opium.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 64, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 117–144.
  • Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  • Madancy, Joyce. “Unearthing Popular Attitudes Toward the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Late Qing and Early Republican Fujian.” Modern China. 27, no. 4 (2001).
  • Meng, Qingyue. “China’s Drug Practices and Policies: Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context.” Asian Journal of Criminology 7, no. 1 (March 2012): 99–100.
  • Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.
  • Paules, Xavier. “Anti-Opium Visual Propaganda and the Deglamorisation of Opium in China, 1895 1937.” European journal of East Asian studies. 7, no. 2 (2008).
  • Paules, Xavier. “The successful demonization of opium during the 1920’s and 1930’s in China and the end of opium culture.” zeitenblicke 8, no. 3 (2009).
  • Zheng, Yangwen. “Opium in China.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Oxford University Press, March 28, 2018.

Screenshots of readings (numbers correspond to the footnotes)

  1. Dikotter et al. (2002)

  1. Lu et al. (2009)

  1. Zheng, 2003

  1. Lu

  1. Lu

  1. Dikotter

  1. Lu

  1. Lu

  1. Meng

  1. Lu

  1. Howard

v

  1. Lin

  1. Lu

  1. Newman

  1. Howard

  1. Lu

  1. Bello

  1. Zheng

  1. Lu

  1. Madancy

  1. Newman

  1. Lin

  1. Lu

  1. Lu

  1. Lu

  1. Newman

  1. Lin

  1. Newman

  1. Newman

  1. Newman

  1. Newman

  1. Dikotter

  1. Lu

  1. Newman

  1. Lin

  1. Lin

  1. Lin

  1. Lin

  1. Madancy

  1. Newman

  1. Paules

  1. Paules


[1] Dikotter, Frank, Laamann, Lars, and Zhou, Xun. “Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China.” The British Journal of Criminology 42, no. 2 (April 1, 2002): 317–336. http://search.proquest.com/docview/199342405/

[2] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[3] Zheng, Yangwen. “Opium in China.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Oxford University Press, March 28, 2018. http://asianhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277727-e-149.

[4] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[5] Ibid

[6] Dikotter, Frank, Laamann, Lars, and Zhou, Xun. “Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China.” The British Journal of Criminology 42, no. 2 (April 1, 2002): 317–336. http://search.proquest.com/docview/199342405/

[7] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[8] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[9] Meng, Qingyue. “China’s Drug Practices and Policies: Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context.” Asian Journal of Criminology 7, no. 1 (March 2012): 99–100.

[10] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[11] Howard, Paul Wilson. “Opium suppression in Qing China: Responses to a social problem, 1729–1906.” (1998).

[12] Lin, Man-Houng. “Late Qing Perceptions of Native Opium.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 64, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 117–144.

[13] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[14] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[15] Brook, Timothy, and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, eds. Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. Univ of California Press, 2000.

[16] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[17] Bello, David. “The Venomous Course of Southwestern Opium: Qing Prohibition in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou in the Early Nineteenth Century.” The Journal of Asian Studies 62, no. 4 (November 2003): 1109–1142.

[18] Zheng, Yangwen. “Opium in China.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Oxford University Press, March 28, 2018.

[19] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[20] Madancy, Joyce, “Unearthing Popular Attitudes Toward the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Late Qing and Early Republican Fujian.” Modern China. 27, no. 4 (2001).

[21] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[22] Lin, Man-Houng. “Late Qing Perceptions of Native Opium.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 64, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 117–144.

[23] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[24] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[25] Ibid

[26] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[27] Lin, Man-Houng. “Late Qing Perceptions of Native Opium.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 64, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 117–144.

[28] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid

[32] Dikotter, Frank, Laamann, Lars, and Zhou, Xun. “Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China.” The British Journal of Criminology 42, no. 2 (April 1, 2002): 317–336. http://search.proquest.com/docview/199342405/

[33] Lu, Hong, Miethe, Terance D., and Liang, Bin. 2009. China’s Drug Practices and Policies : Regulating Controlled Substances in a Global Context. Farnham: Routledge. Accessed May 1, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[34] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[35] Lin, Man-Houng. “Late Qing Perceptions of Native Opium.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 64, no. 1 (June 1, 2004): 117–144.

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid

[39] Madancy, Joyce, “Unearthing Popular Attitudes Toward the Opium Trade and Opium Suppression in Late Qing and Early Republican Fujian.” Modern China. 27, no. 4 (2001).

[40] Newman, R. K. “Opium Smoking in Late Imperial China: A Reconsideration.” Modern Asian Studies 29, no. 4 (October 1995): 765–794.

[41] Paules, Xavier. “Anti-Opium Visual Propaganda and the Deglamorisation of Opium in China, 1895 1937.” European journal of East Asian studies. 7, no. 2 (2008).

[42] Paules, Xavier. “The successful demonization of opium during the 1920’s and 1930’s in China and the end of opium culture.” zeitenblicke 8, no. 3 (2009).

 

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: