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Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952 (review)

From: Journal of World History
Volume 15, Number 2, June 2004
pp. 269-271 | 10.1353/jwh.2004.0022

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Journal of World History 15.2 (2004) 269-271

Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952. Edited by Timothy Brook and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.444 + xiv pp. $60.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper).

In May 1997, an international group of scholars gatheredinToronto for a groundbreaking conference on opium in East Asia jointly sponsored by the University of Toronto and York University. The organizers of the conference, Timothy Brook and Bob TadashiWakabayashi, came up with the idea after discovering that opium was not only a topicof mutual interest, but also that it was the focus of an emerging body of scholarship, for the most part still at the dissertation level at that time. Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839-1952, edited by Brook and Wakabayashi, is a collection of seventeen of the papers presented at that extraordinarily productive conference.

Traditionally, scholarship on opium, whether focusing on the (usually failed) efforts of governments to prohibit it, on the harmful effects of its abuse, or on the economic impact of its distribution and sale, has tended to treat the drug as unitary and unchanging over time. In their far-ranging introduction, however, Brook and Wakabayashi point out that opium meant different things to different people: it was, all at the same time, a medicine, a drug used for recreational purposes, a commodity handled by wholesalers and retailers, or a symbol of moral decay at the individual or even national level. Given the complexity of the opium trade in East Asia, with its political, economic, and sociocultural ramifications, Brook and Wakabayashi have chosen to center this volume around the examination of the broadly conceived concept of "opium regimes," which they define as "system[s] in which an authority declares its right to control certain practices, and develops policies and mechanisms to exercise that right within its presumed domain" (p. 4). Thus, the various opium regimes examined by the authors include not only governments, but also international organizations (most notably, the League of Nations), corporations such as the British East India Company, and public organizations such as the National Anti-Opium Association in China.

Opium Regimes is divided into four sections. In Part 1,"The International Context," Gregory Blue traces the origins of the British opium regime in Asia in the nineteenth century, which developed into a vast multinational enterprise binding together Indian growers, the British colonial government, and Chinese consumers and merchants. As Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi notes in his article, nineteenth-century Japan, which managed to avoid being drawn into the British opium regime, eventually established its own predatory opium regime in China.

Part 2, "Distribution and Consumption," focuses on China. Carl Trocki examines the pivotal role of Singapore, where local Chinese merchants played a major role in facilitating the India-China opium trade. Christopher Munn focuses on Hong Kong, where British colonial officials turned over control of the opium monopoly to local Chinese merchants because they were able to make it profitable. Such activities were not, however, confined to southern coastal cities. As David Bello points out, Chinese merchants and Muslim suppliers connived in a thriving opium trade on China's western borders in the nineteenth century, and Kobayashi Motohiro's article on Tianjin reveals that Japanese opium traffickers established themselves in China's northeast. The establishment of such lucrative and sophisticated international trading networks would not have been possible without a market, and as Alexander des Forges shows in his article, opium became the focus of a "culture of consumption" by the leisured Chinese upper class in Shanghai.

The chapters in Part 3, "Control and Resistance," show the important relationship between opium control and state building in modern China. R. Bin Wong explores this relationship at work in the 1906 anti-opium campaign by the Qing dynasty, which was an integral part of a larger political restructuring effort by the Qing. Articles by Judith Wyman and Joyce Madancy examine the interplay between central government officials and local elites the 1906 campaign in Sichuan and Fujian, respectively. This relationship remained important during the Republican period. Edward Slack's paper illustrates the contentiousrelationship between the National Anti-Opium Association, a private Chinese activist group, and the...

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