Has the opium myth gone up in smoke? [also intro to Fu Manchu]

Elmer Elevator bobmer.javanet at rcn.com
Fri Dec 12 06:46:10 EST 2003

Like wow, somebody from Asia (Singapore, as a matter of fact) saying nice things about opium and nasty things about the United Interglobal Perpetual Zero Tolerance War on All Narco Drugs.

First of all, I would also like to say something nice about opium: 


By the 17th century, there was a huge merchant trade between Western Europe and East Asia, and clearly it was only going to get bigger and more profitable. There was only one problem with it. England, the major merchant buyer, and other European merchant nations produced nothing which the Chinese wanted or needed. So Europe had to trade hard silver and gold currency for the Chinese silks and ceramics which Europeans were buying like crazy. This was creating a huge and mounting trade deficit.

England's solution was to invent and supply a commodity which the Chinese wanted to buy: opium. The British established huge poppy plantings in their colony of India (and what's now Pakistan), and began importing shipments of wooden chests of opium (black gooey spheres about the size of softballs or soccer balls) to the few ports where China permitted a limited trade with Europeans.

Until this European trade, traditional Chinese society did not use opium, either for recreation or for traditional medicine. Chinese doctors had long recognized opium's medical uses, but called it "Arab medicine" and only used it sparingly. (As the Straits Times guy suggests, it's a powerful and effective cure for diarrhea.)

The Chinese Imperial government quickly recognized the negative social and economic aspects of this new trade in opium, and began several centuries of initiatives, diplomatic and military, to limit or curtail it. The diplomatic initiatives were all ignored, and when China dared to try to ban or limit the importation of opium with its disorganized and pathetic military, the British Navy blasted the crap out of the Chinese forces. The two most famous exchanges, which firmly established by treaty Europe's right to enforce annual importation quotas of opium into China, are the Opium Wars.

I strongly urge everybody to read Jack Beeching's "The Chinese Opium Wars." It's simple, straightforward, clear, intelligent -- and fills a huge void. Every Chinese adult knows all about this miserable history as well as Americans know about the Civil War. But in the West, we really don't have a clue what China and opium were all about.

A pal of mine teaches Chinese History at a nearby ritzy college. About 20 years ago when he went before a committee for his final interrogation to get his Ph.D., he almost crapped himself at the first question they asked him: "What was Sax Rohmer's real name?" It was sort of like going for a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine and being asked the names of Donald Duck's nephews. Fortunately my pal knew the answer (Arthur Sarsfield), and after answering some easier questions, including some in Chinese, that he had spent his life studying, he got his doctorate.

Why did they ask him this whack bogus question? Sax Rohmer, of course, was the author of the wildly popular Fu Manchu novels of the 1920s, 30s, 40s and I think he was still cranking this lurid stuff out into the 1950s. Fu Manchu is an evil Chinese genius who is about 200 years old and is the head of the worldwide Chinese conspiracy to destroy and enslave the white race. He is seven feet tall and has really long fingernails and is unbelievably sneaky, and employs Thuggis and Dacoits to sneak around in the bushes at night and shoot poison blowdarts at people and kidnap young attractive white virgins -- I mean, this guy is like your basic Total Fiend.

Sarsfield was a Cockney journalist whose expertise on matters Oriental extended to one honeymoon tour-bus trip to Egypt, and a couple of quick visits to London's Limehouse district, its Chinatown, with some pals to eat some Chinese food. He had the standard Brit-o-centric prejudices of his times, but very cleverly knew how to make a mint off exploiting them. His English-language readers couldn't get enough of Fu Manchu. 

Does there exist a secret Chinese conspiracy to enslave all white Europeans and North Americans? Probably not, but that didn't stand in the way of Sarsfield grinding out dozens of these lurid ripping yarns and penny dreadfuls. In these weird books and movies (starring Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee as F.M.), the only thing standing between us nice decent upstanding clean white people and "The Yellow Peril" was a sort of Sherlock Holmes-y guy named Sir Dennis Nayland Smith, and his sort of Watson-y sidekick, Dr. Petrie. At the end of each book, they absolutely certainly certifiably kill Fu Manchu, and at the beginning of the next book, Fu's up to his old fiendish tricks again.

Oh, by the way, Fu has one weakness: Like all Chinese weaklings and perverts, he's an opium addict. (Sax leaves out the part where Fu has to buy the stuff from the Englishmen who grow it -- Fu may be a user, but his drug dealer's an Englishman.)

And that's why they asked my pal what Sax Rohmer's real name was (and that's why my pal knew). Because in the West, most of what everybody knows about China and the Chinese people and culture and history and opium comes from the Fu Manchu novels and movies of Sax Rohmer. And that's pretty much true to this day.

Beeching's book is like a real wake-up antidote to Sax Rohmer. When I read it, for the first time I understood why the Communist Chinese government was so hostile to the West all my lifetime. They have really good historical reason to be hostile. We used the world's most powerful gunboats to force their people to buy tons of opium, and then we created a lurid fantasy and mythology that blamed everything on the evil, fiendish, perverted Chinese. (America -- merchant ports like Boston -- was also a major player in the opium trade.)

But I doubt if Beeching's readership will ever rival Sax Rohmer's. There just aren't any attractive white young virgins tied to chairs while 200-year-old Chinese fiends drool over them and menace them with long fingernails in Beeching's book. Lots of fiends alright, but they're white guys in business suits, merchants, investors, financiers, diplomats.


-----Original Message-----
From: Preston Peet <ptpeet at nyc.rr.com>
To: ibogaine at mindvox.com <ibogaine at mindvox.com>; drugwar at mindvox.com <drugwar at mindvox.com>
Date: Friday, December 12, 2003 4:02 AM
Subject: [drugwar] Has the opium myth gone up in smoke?

>Has the opium myth gone up in smoke?
>LONDON - British Home Secretary David Blunkett has reclassified cannabis to
>the lowest grade on the scale of controlled substances. The British
>government - and others including Canada and several US states - are
>re-evaluating their narcophobic views which took root a century and a half
>ago in China and led to the Opium Wars.
>Governments are realising that not all drugs are an unmitigated evil and a
>difference is being drawn between synthetic hard drugs that threaten society
>and purified natural substances with medicinal values and a place in Asia's
>traditional cultures.
>The war that Western imperialism forced on the decaying Qing empire, and
>which identified China as the original victim - Patient Zero - of a global
>drug plague, actually coincided with the conviction among both the Chinese
>and British governments that drugs were bad and required suppressing.
>Understandably, the opium trade has been called 'the most long-continued and
>systematic international crime of modern times' perpetrated by the West on a
>vulnerable Asian nation. But what exactly was the effect of this supposedly
>pernicious substance?
>Opium's impact on health has been dramatised. Medical evidence points to
>only one effect - mild constipation. In Britain, frequent users did not
>suffer any detrimental effects. On the contrary, they enjoyed good health
>into their eighties.


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