How bad was China's opium epidemic compared to the present US?

Nov 2014
182
ph
#1
How bad was China's opium epidemic compared to the US opoid crisis, how much of China's population as a percentage was addicted to opium, compared to the US population as a percentage who are addicted to heroin, painkillers, or meth heads? Did China have a larger percentage of its population as drug addicts in 1900 compared to the US now?
 
Oct 2018
293
Adelaide south Australia
#2
How bad was China's opium epidemic compared to the US opoid crisis, how much of China's population as a percentage was addicted to opium, compared to the US population as a percentage who are addicted to heroin, painkillers, or meth heads? Did China have a larger percentage of its population as drug addicts in 1900 compared to the US now?
Interesting question.

I've never seen any figures.

The Opium trade was illegal in China, but I'm unsure whether the First Opium war was about opium or economics and political power.

My understanding is that the British trading opium to china began because the Chinese insisted on gold for payments from the British for the massive tea and other trade. The British solved their problem whilst making obscene profits; Opium from India was traded for tea and just about anything else. the Brits wanted. This was not to China's advantage.

I've often wondered what would have happened if opium trade had been legal in China, and the Brits had continued to pay at least a large portion of their China trade with China in gold.

At the time of the First Opium war, the Qing dynasty was in decline. The European powers did not need to colonise China, they got what they wanted without going to that trouble.

The Wikipedia article I found suggest the Opium wars were over far more things than opium:

"The First Opium War (Chinese: 第一次鴉片戰爭), also known as the Opium War or the Anglo-Chinese War, was a series of military engagements fought between the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty of China over diplomatic relations, trade, and the administration of justice in China.["

Considering the extreme issue of addiction and death from several illegal US drugs, I'm not sure if a meaningful comparison can be made with China's nineteenth century Opium problem.

First Opium War - Wikipedia
 
Feb 2011
5,835
#3
from "China's Drug Practices and Policies" pg 38-39, it shows Opium was illegal in China well before the Opium Wars

1796: Emperor Jiaqing issued an edict banning opium imports and domestic cultivation
1813: The Qing government issued a Decree on Punishing Officials, Soldiers and Civilians Who Smoke Opium. The same year, Emperor Jiaqing issued an edict banning domestic cultivation of poppy and extraction of its juice to make opium.
1815: The Qing government issued a regulation on the prohibition of opium
1818: Emperor Jiaqing issued another edict stressing that those who purchased and smoked opium and those customs officials who did not effectively deal with opium smuggling shall be punished severely
1831: The Daoguang edict specified that: (1) opium planting, retailing, making and preparing is the same crime as opium smuggling; (2) any local official taking bribery is as guilty as the opium smuggler; (3) opium plants, upon discovery, shall be eradicated and the land confiscated; (4) officials must go back to their locales to investigate crimes each spring; and (5) if opium smuggling was not eradicated, the official must be punished.
In the same year, an edict prohibiting smoking was issued and specified that: (1) purchasing and smoking opium would be subject to 100 sticks; (2) officials who purchase and smoke opium shall be punished more severely (with one degree above the corresponding penalty); (3) ennuchs who purchase and smoke opium shall be exiled into a slave; and (4) parents and cohabitants shall be held respondible if their children and cohabitants smoke opium.
1833: The Qing government issued an Act on the banning of domestic cultivation of opium
1839: The Qing government issued an Act of 39 Regulations on the Banning of Opium with severe punishment for opium import, opium cultivation, opium manufacture and processing, opium sale, opium use, operating opium dens, and manufacturing tools for opium smoking and subjected many such offenders to the death penalty of strangulation and decapitation.



Most sources say that the Qing had around 10 Opium million addicts just prior to the first Opium War, but I have no idea how they got this info, nor do I know how the statistic defines an "addict" (use once a week, once a day, as much as possible?)
 
Last edited:
Jul 2017
208
Sydney
#5
Yeah! Excellent post there. Even I'd heard the opium problem was pretty bad in China but never knew the magnitude before reading this post of yours @HackneyedScribe

But yeah, 10 million is huge. I'm not sure how they arrived at that figure
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,648
#6
I read that 948,000 people reported using heroin in the US in 2016, and 90% of the heroin in the US comes from Mexico, around 70 tons a year.

So the opium problem in China was an order of magnitude worse than the US, with 10 times as many users for a size of population comparable to the current US population.
 
Likes: Rodger
Jun 2014
4,973
US
#8
I read that 948,000 people reported using heroin in the US in 2016, and 90% of the heroin in the US comes from Mexico, around 70 tons a year.

So the opium problem in China was an order of magnitude worse than the US, with 10 times as many users for a size of population comparable to the current US population.
I double checked your data, simply because it seems like I know so many people who are addicted to opiates - either personally or through my work - and I thought the number would be higher. But your data appears correct. So many opiate addicts started their addiction due to being prescribed opiates initially. It appears China had a real epidemic. I wonder how the mortality rates compare between the two?
 
Nov 2010
6,999
Cornwall
#9
Somewhere very deep in my collection is a book on the Opium Wars. It was certainly a factor (according to the author) that nearly every potential or actual soldier was in a sort of Sherlock-Holmes style apathy when they were supposed to be fighting.
 
Dec 2009
6,648
#10
I double checked your data, simply because it seems like I know so many people who are addicted to opiates - either personally or through my work - and I thought the number would be higher. But your data appears correct. So many opiate addicts started their addiction due to being prescribed opiates initially. It appears China had a real epidemic. I wonder how the mortality rates compare between the two?
One thing to keep in mind is that until recently, cocaine was the major drug in the 80's, 90's and early 2000. Heroin is having a sort of revival.

The Heroin used in the US is more processed and probably more lethal in sudden death as a result. Smoking opium isn't as immediately lethal in causing sudden overdose. But the greater numbers almost certainly led to more deaths in China.
M
 
Likes: Rodger

Similar History Discussions