Section D: Fighting Opium Consumption

Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908 by Col. Baron Mannerheim

Pages 145-151

It is quite natural that the aspiration to renew the Chinese Empire and revive its population now demonstrated by the central government should address the problem of fighting opium abuse. The destructive effect of this vice involved greater and greater layers of the population of the Empire, and the authorities were encouraged by the example of the excellent results achieved by the Japanese who succeeded in eradicating opium smoking on the island of Formosa [Taiwan] using systematic draconian measures. The great social and economic importance of this issue is directly and closely connected with the foundation of an army strong both morally and physically, but is difficult to solve. I am prompted by these considerations to write several lines about what I witnessed on my travels.

In the second half of 1906, an Imperial edict, which seems to be inspired by the example of the Japanese, was issued to limit the further spread of opium manufacturing and smoking, and targeted at their removal from the Empire within ten years.

To summarize the measures of the ten articles of the Edict:

  1. To limit planting opium till it ceases completely within 10 years.
  2. To give a special license to allow one to smoke opium.
  3. To ensure forced reduction of doses for opium smokers with a gradual elimination within 10 years.
  4. To close all locations for opium smoking.
  5. To collect statistical data on establishments selling opium and their monitoring to allow a gradual reduction of their number.
  6. To increase the spread of anti-opium agents sponsored by state enterprises.
  7. To set up societies to fight opium abuse.
  8. To call on authorities and people to work out measures to fight opium abuse.
  9. To insist that state officials stop opium smoking within 6 months.
  10. To reach an agreement with foreign states on prohibition of opium and morphine imports.

As can be seen in the brief contents of the edict, the goal set is to eradicate any consumption of this harmful drug. The edict requires greater obedience and discipline from all layers of the population than has ever been attempted by the central government with respect to other such reforms. Successful implementation of the measures prescribed would no doubt surprise the entire world with the new authority of the government.

Only individuals over 60 are not obliged to observe the law, which hit officials and individuals with academic degrees with special force. The whole society was given over to the most efficient guardianship of mandarins who in turn were controlled by “incorruptible” official inspectors subordinate to the Imperial committee responsible for this specific task, consisting of honourable high officials close to the court who should be beyond any suspicion due to their high morals. Strict compliance to all the rules worked out was to be ensured by the practice of multiple punishments such as confiscation of plots of land, dismissal from posts, deprivation of academic degrees, prohibition to participate in various public activities, promulgation of names of individuals who continue opium smoking and many others.

The fight for implementation of the measures planned by the central government turned out to be not an easy one and in some localities it was even beyond the government’s power. There were protests by chronic opium smokers who made up a large part of the population and greedy officials who previously had favourable grounds for blackmailing related to taxation of opium business. In addition to lack of support from a great part of the society and secret resistance of mandarins, in many provinces opium-related fighting caused serious economic dislocation and the authorities of provinces were not ready or able to resolve this. In some localities opium was the only export product and its destruction would harm the everyday economic life of the population and at the same time result in a large deficit in the budget of the provinces. These facts could not but attract the attention of the authorities. They had to consider establishing new sources of income generation which would compensate for the loss to the treasury and population, and in the long run they had to use some reason to circumvent the letter of the government’s instruction. Those deviations were so great in some localities that they made it doubtful it would be possible to implement this edict which was too hasty and in fact too severe.

By the time of my arrival in Xinjiang province, i.e., by the second half of 1907, time was too short for the measures prescribed by the central government to notice any practical results. Only some preparatory work was being undertaken to draw up lists of smokers, poppy fields, shops where opium and similar substances were sold, etc.

In the poor and low cultural atmosphere of Gansu province the aspirations of the government were confronted by great difficulties related to the above economic problems. The main export item of the province, accounting for 50 percent of exports, is opium and tobacco for water pipes. The overall sum of all taxes collected is less than 2,500,00 to 3,500,00 lans and taxes from opium alone were more than 700,000-1,000,000 lans a year. According to a missionary who has been living here for a long time, out of the 6 to 8 million residents of the province not less than 50 percent of males smoke opium. In some localities they allot such large plots of land to cultivate poppies that the population has to buy bread from other provinces.

This information is enough to understand the scale of difficulties to be overcome for implementation of measures to fight opium consumption. Following the instructions by the viceroy an active public awareness campaign was undertaken through distribution of leaflets and the holding of public lectures on the harmful effects of the drug, but the only really effective measure was a substantial rise in taxation on opium-related production. The previous tax of 0.3 lan for the right to sow poppies on a plot of 1 mou (about 16/17 dessiatins (1 dessiatina = approx. 2 3/4 acres) was increased to 0.6 lan. The right to harvest crops on 1 mou is taxed separately at 30 lans and the sale of opium itself is taxed at 115 lans per 100 Chinese pounds. It is easy to see that the new taxation is extremely high if we note that the previous sale price of one Chinese pound of opium on site used to be 2.55 lans. A special management board was established in the capital of the province known as duyuzu which was responsible for

this and inventories and lists were compiled at sites already in early 1908. In order to give the population an opportunity to make up for the substantial losses incurred from rejecting profitable poppy cultivation, according to the viceroy’s command, successful experiments were carried out to sow beetroot and it was planned to build a sugar plant in Lanzhou. The only tangible result achieved by early 1908 was reduction of poppy plantations which in some localities were significant and done on the initiative of the population itself which was educated by leaflets. There was also some reduction of retail opium trading in districts headed by mandarins who supported the reform. In most cases, however, mandarins and the population went on smoking and only in newly formed army divisions was the harmful vice eradicated entirely.*

In Shanxi province, opium manufacturing plays an even greater role than in Gansu, being the main export item as it is in the latter. The success of measures undertaken to stop opium smoking was approximately the same as in Gansu and the only result achieved by the administration worth mentioning is a quite considerable but voluntary reduction in poppy fields.

By the summer of 1908, the reform entered quite a different phase in Henan province, although the level of its implementation was far from being the same everywhere and varied depending on the extent of support from local mandarins. Opium production has far lesser importance in the province in comparison to Gansu or Shanxi, and the number of opium smokers is said not to exceed 30 percent of the male population. The area of poppy fields was decreased by the authorities’ command by between one-tenth and one-third, but in many localities a worried population reduced the area even more than that by its own accord.

* Opium consumption was eradicated not only among all the troops of the Hutsun province visited by me, but also in many existing units of troops in all the provinces visited by me.

In a majority of towns, shops for smoking have already ceased to exist and smoking appliances are not sold. Now only a small number of shops have a right to sell opium. The period during which officials were expected to stop smoking was extended for several months twice but each time it was done under new terrible threats. I was witness to a scene where they examined suspected opium smokers in a railway carriage and confiscated the opium found. Such confiscation was also done in post offices. Anti-addiction organizations were opened in many places although the number of visitors is still insignificant.

Shanxi is taking the lead among provinces producing opium and Shanxi opium is considered to be the best in the Empire. Since the percent of smokers is very great here and it is most probable, it will be more difficult for the government to fight smoking there than in many other places. The rich bankers of Shanxi are known throughout the entire Empire for their admiration of opium as a means to pass on their fortunes to their heirs who live idle lives and drink alcohol as well. Each of them considers it a personal duty to develop an opium smoking habit in their sons.

The situation I saw in Shanxi was a convincing illustration of the extent of the direct dependence of the success of this or that reform on the commitment of the local authorities. All restrictions introduced quite soon after the Imperial edict had been made public were forgotten by the new governor appointed to the office prior to my arrival. Appliances for smoking were sold openly and there were no restrictions on opium trading. The orders to reduce the area of poppy fields introduced in some localities were abolished and it was only the lack of certainty of the population that prevented them from enlarging poppy plantations. As far as taxes are concerned, it should be stated that although they were a bit higher in comparison with the previous ones they have not reached the level established in Gansu. In contrast with the apathy and the fear to provoke the hostility of provincial authorities to the reform I saw, anti-addiction houses in many cities were launched using private funds, and in one district the mandarin who was an advocate of the reform issued an order to plough under poppy fields and sow them with other plants in order to eradicate poppy production.

As can be seen from the observations mentioned above, the implementation of this vital reform for the revival of the population of China is characterized by extreme inconsistency and indecisiveness. Undoubtedly, the reason for that is lack of support of the ruling class, which can be explained by the fact that opium smoking had been a hobby for a long time. Perhaps it would be easier and quicker to achieve the goal if they left adults alone and concentrated on the young generation. In the present state of affairs, it is difficult to predict the results of the fight to eradicate opium, but undoubtedly the population of the northern provinces has already managed to cope with their material losses incurred due to the forthcoming reform and they will obey its draconian measures without complaints on the day when mandarins move forward decisively on the road set out by the government.

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CITATION: Mannerheim, Col. C.G.E. (transl. Eric Walberg and Anatoli Koroteyev, and ed. Eric Enno Tamm) “Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908.” In Collection of Geographical, Topographical and Statistical Materials for Asia 81. St. Petersburg: Military Publishing House, 1909.