“Beijing’s Historical Fantasies”

I like that headline, given to this opinion piece by one Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. I know a lot about Beijing’s current historical fantasies, but I didn’t know much about China’s “invasion” of India in 1962. (I use quote marks because I don’t know enough about it to call it a flat-out invasion.)

China has succeeded in putting the spotlight on Japan’s World War II history. But while harping on that distant war, Beijing refuses to face up to its own aggressions and employs revisionist history to rationalize its assertive claims and ambitions.

With fervent nationalism replacing Communist ideology, the scripted anti-Japanese mob protests earlier this year were one blatant case of the Chinese rulers’ open mixing of history with their politics. Another case in point occurred more recently at a seminar in Mumbai, after Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian defense minister, fleetingly cited the Chinese invasion of 1962 as a defining moment that set in motion India’s new thrust on defense production, and referred to the still-festering border problem with China, which he said had resolved its land-frontier disputes “with all its neighbors except India and Bhutan.”

In contravention of diplomatic norms, which would have involved consulting the Chinese ambassador in New Delhi, China’s Mumbai-based consul general castigated Mukherjee on the spot for using the term “invasion” and claimed that “China did not invade India.” Later, the ambassador, too, criticized Mukherjee’s reference to 1962, telling the Indian media, “Whatever happened in the past is history, and we want to put it back into history.”

The incident revealed how China contradictorily deals in history vis-à-vis its neighbors to further its own foreign policy objectives: While it wants India to forget 1962, it misses no opportunity to bash Japan over the head with the history card. Its aim is not to extract more apologies from Tokyo for its World War II atrocities but to continually shame and tame Japan. (It is ironic that visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao used Indian soil last April to demand that Japan “face up to history squarely,” setting the stage for his country’s orchestrated anti-Japanese protests.)

Another way China manipulates history is by reconstructing the past to prepare for the future. This was illustrated by the Chinese foreign ministry’s posting on its Web site last year a revised historical claim that the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, founded in northern Korea, was Chinese. This was seen as an attempt to hedge China’s options with a potentially unified Korea.

Then there is China’s continued use of what it presents as history to advance extravagant territorial or maritime claims. Its maps show an entire Indian state – Arunachal Pradesh – as well as other Indian areas as part of China.

While the Chinese-Japanese rivalry has deep roots, dating back to the 16th century, the Chinese and Indian military frontiers met for the first time in history only in 1950, when China annexed (or as its history books say, “liberated”) Tibet, a buffer nearly the size of Western Europe. Within 12 years of becoming India’s neighbor, China invaded this country, with Mao Zedong cleverly timing the aggression with the Cuban missile crisis.

Beijing has yet to grasp that a muscular approach is counterproductive. Had it not set out to “teach India a lesson,” in the words of then Premier Zhou Enlai, this country probably would not have become the significant military and nuclear power that it is today. The invasion helped lay the foundation of India’s political rise.

This has a reflection today. Just a decade ago, Beijing was content with a Japan that was pacifist, China-friendly and China’s main source of low-interest loans. Now, it is locked in a cold war with Tokyo, with its growing assertiveness and ambition spurring a politically resurgent Japan.

Even the Chinese consul general’s outburst has counterproductively returned the focus onto an invasion that Beijing wishes to eliminate from public discussion and about which it hides the truth from its own people. The impertinence only draws attention to the fact that China remains unapologetic for the major stab in the back that shattered India’s pacifism and hastened the death of its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Japan certainly needs to come to terms with its brutal militaristic past. But just as Japanese textbooks and the museum attached to the Yasukuni Shrine glorify Japan’s past, Chinese textbooks and the military museum in Beijing distort and even falsify history. The key difference is that Chinese foreign policy seeks to make real the legend that drives official history – China’s centrality in the world.

I can’t comment on China and India. Judging from the tone of this piece, it’s quite conceivable that the writer has his own chip on his shoulder about China. But I can safely agree with every word in that last paragraph.

The Discussion: 95 Comments

He’s just mad cause India lost the 62′ war. Mr Chellaney has written a number of articles of a similar vein vis-a-vis China, some mildly realistic others more akin geopolitical delusions of adequacy. This one is mildly accurate, although his supporting examples are somewhat flawed.

December 13, 2005 @ 2:42 am | Comment

:). check up wiki or maxell’s accounts about what happened in 1962

December 13, 2005 @ 2:53 am | Comment

Both India and China refuse to declassify documents on the 1962 war, and blames the other for ‘invasion’.

Neville Maxwell’s book ‘India’s China war’, based mostly on Indian/British sources.

What can be more pro-India than Indian military’s official history?

December 13, 2005 @ 2:55 am | Comment

Of course this odd analogy papers over the fact that the Japanese invasion of China resulted in the deaths of millions, while the Chinese/India border skirmish resulted in zero civilian deaths and barely any movement of the border itself.

Shall we next go into how American refusal to confront the Bay of Pigs excuses Tiananmen Square?

December 13, 2005 @ 5:35 am | Comment

Thanks for providing the perspective, ckrisz.

December 13, 2005 @ 6:57 am | Comment

Ironic isn’t it. China tells Japan to ‘face up to history’ about a war that Chinese history books distort more than Japanese books do.

Currently, Chinese books teach that Japan was defeated by China, and leave the US-Japanese pacific confilct and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be footnotes in history.

They also teach that China defeated Japan in Manchuria, when in fact it was the Rusian who did so.

They misread or misrepresent the motive of half of those involved in the war, twist what happened after the war, and ignore the truth about how other countires see the war.

This doesn’t lessen what Japan did, but it means that Beijing has no right whatsover to complain about Japan’s behaviour today (its past yes, but not its present behavior no).

December 13, 2005 @ 11:42 am | Comment

here is another article from time magazine


December 13, 2005 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

from time article

“But while Japanese school kids are not taught to hate the Chinese, they are sometimes offered a distinctly exculpatory version of World War II history. At Yasukuni’s museum visitors learn that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt restricted energy exports to Japan not in protest at Japan’s invasion of China, for example, but because in 1939, he had resolved to join Great Britain in the war, and used “embargoes to force resource-poor Japan into war.” Likewise, an exhibit on the “Nanking Incident” of 1937 does not mention the tens of thousands (and perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Chinese citizens the Japanese military slaughtered there in 1937 and 1938. It says only that, “The Chinese were soundly defeated, suffering heavy casualties. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace.”

And due to Japan’s distinction as the only country to have suffered the effects of atomic bombs, many Japanese even perceive their country as one of the war’s great victims. The growing popularity of nationalist pop culture, meanwhile, is only reinforcing the lapses in education. In “Introduction to China,” a best-selling comic book, readers learn that Japanese atrocities like the massacre at Nanking or the biological experiments on Chinese prisoners by the Imperial Army’s Unit 731 either never happened or have been cynically exaggerated for Chinese political gain. And today, the comic claims, China is a leading exporter to Japan of crime, prostitution and disease. ”

December 13, 2005 @ 1:07 pm | Comment


if PRC has no right to complain, do chinese civilian, or korean civilians have such right?

December 13, 2005 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

Unfortunately India is still occupying and ruling more than 1 million Tibetan in ZangNan district (India calls it Arunachal Pradesh, which is bigger than Taiwan province) even if Chinese government never acknowledged the McMahon line. No matter what this war was about, the net result was that China lost ZangNan in the east and kept Aksai Chin in the west. (An area about 1/4 of size of ZangNan)

There is absolutely no reason to blame Chinese for invading any modern country or to force China to confess anything related to this kind of aggression because China has been a net LOSER of its territory for more than 100 years! Nothing can be the stronger material evidence than this cold fact!

Shut up Indians, Shut up Japanese!

December 13, 2005 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

One million poor Tibetans oppressed by 60 years of brutal rule by authoritarian Indian dictators. I wonder why they don’t seek freedom in Tibet?

December 13, 2005 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

Arunachal Pradesh has a population of 1 million, but not all of them are Tibetans. India’s Tibetan population (at least the exiles from China) is close to 100,000.

December 13, 2005 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

What other ethnic groups live in Arunachal Pradesh?

December 13, 2005 @ 3:17 pm | Comment


map there, it is the Northeastern Territory above Assam.

Many people who live there were Tibetan before 1950. but today a lot of immigrants from neighboring Assam and Nagaland.
these new immigrants shifted the balance.

and today the split is about 65:35
(65% being Tibetan and related tribes)


December 13, 2005 @ 5:08 pm | Comment

In China’s report of the war, the Tibetans supported Chinese troop (through providing help with the logistics/transport, and key information of Indian troop movement), which is a decisive factor in China’s victory.

the china report may be a one sided story. but i guess i can rationalize it because
1. in the 1950s communists are supported by the poor people.
2. the abolishment of slavery system in tibet has received good support from tibetan serf and slaves
3. indian are more ‘foreign’ to them, considering even the neighboring assams were not happy with indian rules (many ethnic conflict even recently in assam)

December 13, 2005 @ 5:13 pm | Comment

China’s victory? I thought Arunachal Pradesh was under Indian control. If India is occupying land claimed by China, where is the victory? How much of the disputed land did China recover in the war?

Quite frankly, I would not accept official Chinese accounts of the war any more than I would accept Bush administration accounts of the war in Iraq. The least biased account I could find on the web is here at a site called Global Security:


This account of the describes the Chinese military as better trained and prepared than their Indian counterparts. It does not mention local allegiances.

December 13, 2005 @ 6:09 pm | Comment

it was ‘victory’ considering they succeed in taking most of the 90k sq km.

the reason for retreat was debated. apparently mao ordered it. the most likely reasons were
1. China was extremely isolated at the time in international community, US threatened to intervene.
2. it is very hard to defend, given the physical distance

so you are probably right, if you want to nitpick, that the you cannot call that a war victory.

but the battle was definitely won by china.

December 13, 2005 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

anyway, your link seems to be a good source. wiki is also okay, though sometimes you need to dig into the source linked in wiki.

December 13, 2005 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

as i said, “local allegiances” is from chinese source. so you can be skeptical about it.

the main evidence that seem to support this was that the logistics was done by human (not machinery – as there was no drivable road). whether PLA bought the labors and yaks, or they semi-voluntarily supported them is up to debate.

however, the fact that PLA was good in forming good relation with local peasants was well known (how they defeated KMT, plus even some support in Korea).

December 13, 2005 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, Good point about the PLA cultivating good relations among the locals. Off subject, but I often wonder why Mao was so successful, while the Northeast Asian Anti-Japanese Army was spectacularly unsuccessful. Of course, the current NorK regime paints the AJUA as a primarily Korean venture, with Kim Il-sung writing the book on guerrilla warfare. Yet he was betrayed to the Japanese by his own disillusioned deputy, and was being hunted by Japanese cadred Korean-manned anti-guerrilla units, which had virtually eliminated his band, when he made it across the border into the Soviet Union. More or less evidence of failure as a guerrilla commander. I’ve often wondered if it was due to the AJUA’s approach to the population, as opposed to Mao’s. Any insight or citations on that subject would be appreciated. (My suspicion is that Kim’s approach was more Yangbang in character: (Hey, you, peasant, give us food, and we’ll take your son. You owe it to us.)

December 13, 2005 @ 7:21 pm | Comment

“they succeed in taking most of the 90k sq km.”
Sounds like an invasion to me.

December 13, 2005 @ 7:33 pm | Comment

Not nitpicking. 90 sq. km isn’t a lot of land, so I don’t see what the fuss is about. “Shut up” Lin gave the impression that India held a large chunk of disputed territory.

December 13, 2005 @ 8:00 pm | Comment


Where did you get your information on Kim Il-sung’s days as an anti-Japanese guerilla? My Korean-Chinese friends in China viewed him as a hero. They grew in Yanbian and attended both Korean and Chinese language schools.

December 13, 2005 @ 8:11 pm | Comment


i don’t know much about the Nork. But according to Chinese literature, some 30-50k PLA soldiers/commanders uner Lin Biao’s field army were ethnic koreans. upon request of stalin, they were given to Kim Il-sung, which explained in part NK’s success in the first few months of the korean war.

Mao was a good strategist some competent commanders (Lin Biao, Peng Dehuai). But the defeat of Yang Jinyu in Manchuria in the early 1930s has many reasons, it was a pretty big target, soldiers were inexperienced. and the japanese were much more well trained than the KMT.
So Mao might not have done a lot better.

December 13, 2005 @ 8:47 pm | Comment

sonagi, it was 90K, not 90. almost the size of 3 taiwan’s.

india started crossed the MAcMahon line, i.e. they pushed over even their claimed line.
then it was a counter-attack.
well, of course you have to cross the border when a war started. and China never crossed their claimed bother.
after proving its point (and practical reason mentioned above). China retreated, and gave up the full 90K they once took.

so that is basically what happened. call it whatever you like.

December 13, 2005 @ 8:51 pm | Comment

Thanks for the post on the China India border war. There isn’t a lot of information out there on this topic.

The only Indian I’ve ever heard mention this conflict said: “We got our asses kicked that time.”

I’ve always been under the impression that it was started by the Indians and finished by the Chinese.

December 13, 2005 @ 9:14 pm | Comment


there is a whole book on this.


December 13, 2005 @ 9:16 pm | Comment

the same book (perhaps with some summarizing)
in globalsecurity as well


December 13, 2005 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

sry…that one was by US Navy. not the same book.

December 13, 2005 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

Thanks for the suggested reading.

December 13, 2005 @ 9:26 pm | Comment

Nice of most of you people to detail the Chinese “victory” in the great war with India in 1962, but the point of the story was the question of how hypocritical China is in its stance vis-a-vis Japan and this war with India. The point is even more striking when you consider what China did to Tibet in the 1950s. China has tried to re-write history by its claims and hiding the fact it invade the area called Tibet (at that time almost exclusively populated by Xizangren) from world view and self-admission.

I don’t condone what the Japanese did 1937-1945 in China (my father was a civilian prisioner of the Japanese in HK 1941-42) or the pointlessness of the Yasukuni situation, but I do not think much of China officials keeping on the way they have been talking and promoting anti-Japanese emotions in China with blood on their hands over Inida and Tibet and lies continuously flowing from their mouths over those situations.

December 13, 2005 @ 10:28 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 14th December

Below the jump I've posed Statfor's piece on the Shanwei shootings and China's situation, including a map of some of the major recent protests in China. Also Sam Crane on the importance of reciting names and Dongzhou. ESWN on bridge and la…

December 13, 2005 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

Sun Bin: I disagree with this part “many Japanese even perceive their country as one of the war’s great victims.”

I don’t think the Japanese people perceive the country as a victim of WWII, but perceive the Japanese people as victims of the war; both from other nations, and the Imperial Japanese military/government itself. I agree that when you look at Japanese war films and things like that, it looks to an outsider as though Japanese people ignore everything but the nuclear bombings, but in fact the motive of those movies is to show that war, no matter what, is wrong when you look at it from the internal side.
I think that many Japanese people feel sympathy for the Chinese and Korean that suffered at the hand of Imperial Japan, because they too feel they suffered at the same hand. However they don’t feel responsible, again because they say it’s not something they did, but something Imperial Japanese (military in particular) did.
The Japanese Emperor, just as the Manchuria Emperor was just a puppet head for the Imperial Military; the Emperor himself said ‘no’ to the attacks on Hawaii for example, but they where ignored.

December 14, 2005 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Darin, the time article said it. Not me. i was just pasting from time’s website

but it is somewhat true. see taro’s speech
“For the fact that Japan has, in history in days gone by, seen heightened nationalism, we must continue to reflect deeply and with a spirit of humility, because it brought great suffering to innocent people in the countries of Asia, notably the Republic of Korea and China. The ensuing war brought untold suffering to our own people as well.”

in fact, i agree with him that Japanese civilians also suffer from the war. that is why they should not approve Tojo, or those who euphemize Tojo.

December 14, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment


about the 1962 war between china and india, the problem with sino-india war was that India was the agreessor. Not China. China was defending itself, not too different from when China was defending against Japan 20 years earlier.

Read Maxwell, and also James Banard’s essay.


India crossed North of its claimed line (i.e. go beyond even the disputed territory) before the war. China never crossed its own claimed line.

you can talk about tibet or vietnam.
but about India, it was the Indians who had Chinese blood on their hand.
Crystal clear.

December 14, 2005 @ 1:05 am | Comment

link to taro’s speech in my post


December 14, 2005 @ 1:07 am | Comment

Well SunBin you make it very simplistic. It wasn’t just a case of India taking over some guard posts. Even before 1961, the chinese were busy building a border road connecting Tibet and Xinjiang. The road passed through Indian terr. It was a complex conflict and it would be hard to figure out when and where actually the provocation started.

On the question of the actual boundary – there are maps printed by Chinese postal agency that supported Indian claim. Nehru’s own book had a map that supported Chinese claim.

I refer you to the famous latest Mao’s biography. The book mentions an incident where Mao was trying to invent more wars with India somewhere in the mid 60s claiming that Indian troops stole some Chinese sheep.

Neville Maxwell’s book that highlights the blunders of Indian leadership in this war was available in India since the 1970s. Can you find me any negative account of any of follies of the chairman or the party in China?

December 14, 2005 @ 4:38 am | Comment

India started the war so China kicked India’s ass. Topic closed!

December 14, 2005 @ 6:16 am | Comment

Wow, now I’m getting stoned again and I’m getting visions of an epic battle between CCTV and Bollywood…..oh wow, the dancing sequences are SO WEIRD!……

December 14, 2005 @ 6:35 am | Comment

lin ,
“China has been a net LOSER of its territory for more than 100 years!” I don‘t want to be facetious but, over the past 50 years, so has Britain! Infact, I think it is right to say that Britain has been a net loser of territory going back 3 or more centuries. Isn’t that what happens to all empires eventually? To pursue the point, the former Yugoslavia has been a net loser of territory over the past few years, but of course that would not justify their attempt to retain Kosovo, Bosnia etc.

I am not trying to make any other point here other than that your point is essentially empty. You have to argue on the specifics of Chinas rights to specific territories. This kind of point is certainly not a sound basis for how you continue: “Nothing can be the stronger material evidence than this cold fact! Shut up Indians, Shut up Japanese!”

December 14, 2005 @ 8:23 am | Comment


if you don’t like the 1 or 2 line description. go into the links and read for yourself.

December 14, 2005 @ 9:52 am | Comment


see this (via simonworld)

December 14, 2005 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Good point, Buyo. Prior to 1911, China was an empire, not a country.

December 14, 2005 @ 11:29 am | Comment

Probably you misunderstood me. My intention was not to argue back the territories that have been lost in the last 100+ years, but to explain why Japan or some other country don’t have reasons to accuse a country like China for the behaviors such as invasions or aggressions towards its neighbors. To understand a people, a country, better to look at their track record. I am tired of picking on Japanese and their history now. Even the concept “nationalism” that I am under the strong influence with is a purely imported thing, it’s not in Chinese personality at all. Thanks to you guys from the western world for teaching us how to survive in this jungle!

Thank Sun Bin for his very informative and explanatory posts.

Of course you can argue they are not completely Tibetans. It depends on how you define this concept. I admit that I was using a very loose definition. Even in China, some “Tibetan” tribe is separated from this loose category and called MEN2BA1. But take look at them living in ZanNan area, look at their faces, their bodies…..they don’t look like Indians at all!

December 14, 2005 @ 11:43 am | Comment

Be careful what you wish for, Buyo. It is virtually impossible to have a reasonable discussion about Tibet because there are few unbiases sources. Western historians often have an ax to grind and official Chinese history omits and distorts facts in order to paint the CCP in a most flattering light. Westerners and Chinese arguing about Tibet and Xinjiang is rather like the blind men arguing about the elephant.

December 14, 2005 @ 11:46 am | Comment

@lin: “Even the concept “nationalism” that I am under the strong influence with is a purely imported thing, it’s not in Chinese personality at all. Thanks to you guys from the western world for teaching us how to survive in this jungle! ”

What a bunch of B.S.! China needs nationalism to hold its ethnically diverse country together. The CCP is totally responsible for its policy of resettling Han Chinese in Tibet and Xinjiang and for encouraging patriotic feelings among the masses.

@lin: “But take look at them living in ZanNan area, look at their faces, their bodies…..they don’t look like Indians at all!”

Well, they don’t look Han Chinese either!

December 14, 2005 @ 12:00 pm | Comment


It is far from clear that China “won”. It made territorial in-roads, yes. But as to why the war ended is another matter.

Pro-Chinese side: Beijing wanted to stop it
Pro-Indian side: Beijing had to stop it because the PLA had overstretched itself

I’m not an expert on the conflict, so I don’t know. But given Mao’s nature, I doubt that he would have handed back the siezed territory out of the goodness of his heart had he been able to hold on to it.

December 14, 2005 @ 3:35 pm | Comment

i said this above, raj.

“it was ‘victory’ considering they succeed in taking most of the 90k sq km.

the reason for retreat was debated. apparently mao ordered it. the most likely reasons were
1. China was extremely isolated at the time in international community, US threatened to intervene.
2. it is very hard to defend, given the physical distance

so you are probably right, if you want to nitpick, that the you cannot call that a war victory.

but the battle was definitely won by china.

Posted by sun bin at December 13, 2005 06:36 PM ”

my recommendation: just go read globalsecurity article yourself.

don’t take my words.

December 14, 2005 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

for thosw who are interested.
asiatimes report is much shorted than the books


December 14, 2005 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

Y’know, Beijing might be hypocrites, but that doesn’t change the fact that the criticisms echoed in the Time magazine article above are valid. If the response is “well, Beijing distorts history so they can’t criticize”… so what? Alot of other countries have criticized it as well, though not with such fervor. Shouldn’t it be the worst humiliation for Japan that the one time the liar tells the truth, it’s to point out Japan’s lies? Sorry ACB, this isn’t grounds for China’s criticisms to be dismissed. These are grounds for Japan to be embarassed twice over, since her refusal to admit fault is lending credibility to those who deserve as much scrutiny or more.

Now, as for Lin.

Even the concept “nationalism” that I am under the strong influence with is a purely imported thing, it’s not in Chinese personality at all. Thanks to you guys from the western world for teaching us how to survive in this jungle!

First, on nationalism. Yeah, it’s ironic, ain’t it? Just before Europe shows just how terribly wrong nationalism can go (World War I), Qing historian Liang Qichao starts talking about how China must copy European nationalism to survive. And the whole humiliation/nationalism thing never lost popularity after that. Never mind the Qing dynasty fought more wars of aggression against its neighbors than most of its predecessors, including decades of non-stop campaigning to take Xinjiang once and for all. No less a figure than Qian Long called for the extermination of the Zunghars in the 18th century, women and children specifically. I don’t know, do genocidal wars of aggression for territorial expansion involve any nationalism? I think they might.

I’m sick of this “Chinese personality” crap. 1.3 billion people. And aggression and nationalism just aren’t part of their basic human make up? Chinese are human beings too, Lin. That means Chinese people are just as capable of genocide or terror as the next guy. When you feel like acknowledging our common humanity, then let us know.

Of course you can argue they are not completely Tibetans. It depends on how you define this concept. I admit that I was using a very loose definition. Even in China, some “Tibetan” tribe is separated from this loose category and called MEN2BA1. But take look at them living in ZanNan area, look at their faces, their bodies…..they don’t look like Indians at all!

And if we are going to have a “Chinese personality”, let it be said that racial chauvinism was certainly a part of it long before Westerners brought their remedial jungle education program to China. How about the Uyghurs, Lin? They don’t look like Chinese at all! How about letting them go then? Ironic you talk of China losing part of Tibet, while evading how Tibet became a part of China to begin with. Was it like dating? Did China buy Tibet flowers, tell its parents what it intended, fork over a dowry and have a big wedding? If China is ever going to truly get comfortable with being a multi-ethnic country, it’s going to have to get past the idea that people who look the same belong to the same political entity. Ethnic nationalism, especially from the majority Han, is the biggest obstacle China has to matching up to its own propaganda of racial harmony.

Guess what, China invented its humiliated nationalism all on its own. Pinning the responsibility for it on us westerners is precisely what Chinese nationalism is all about, because mainland China as a culture and a society just can’t take responsibility for either its failures or its overreaction to failure. Perhaps smoking something would sooth China’s collective nerves. Opium used to have a place in Chinese tradition for just that, as pointed out in Frank Dikotters book. Before opium was a tool of British imperialism, it was a part of Chinese culture. The demonization of opium, and the demonization of foreigners with it, was a tool of the CCP.

Smoke em if you got em people.

December 14, 2005 @ 6:54 pm | Comment

Tell us how you really feel, Dave. (Thanks for the great comment.)

December 14, 2005 @ 7:07 pm | Comment

The entire sino-indian conflict and contentions over the McMahon Line are simply outdated legacies of the British and the Qing empires. The territories they are fighting over are populated by neither ethnic Han, Hindi, Bengali, nor Assamese. The local Tibetans, Monba, Lohba, etc. on either side of the border do not have any say in the matter.

China, as the successor state to the Qing Empire, is legally entitled to the Tibetan territories. The fact that the British tried to get the Nationalist Chinese representative to sign the agreement acknowledging the McMahon Line along with the local Tibetan representative is indicative of the legality issue. Morally, the issue of Tibetan self determination is a different matter. In an ideal post-imperialist, post-colonial world, we would have not only an independent Tibet, but its territory would also include Arunachal, at least the culturally Tibetan area near Tawang and the Bhutanese border.

India, as one of the successor states to the British Empire’s colonial administration on the subcontinent, is also legally entitled to territories such as the Northeastern states of Nagaland, Manipur, etc… The fact that the Burmese ceded the above territories to the British after military defeat is legally binding. Morally, the right of the local population to self-determination is equally compelling. The local population is linguistically and culturally more akin to Southeast Asia and not India, and has also lived under brutal military rule under a post-colonial India.

I have spoken to a grad student from Manipur and he longs for independence from India as much as the next Tibetan exile longs for independence from China. The only difference is that the Indian Northeast does not have a media friendly Dalai Lama, and India knows how to superficially appeal to Western ideals of democracy.

December 14, 2005 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

Ah, well, if there really is such a thing as “the Chinese Personality”, then none of them should be offended when we say “All Chinese look alike,”

December 14, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

Informative posts by Davesgonechina and Schtickyrice.

I’m wondering which international laws give a succeeding government legal rights to administer lands controlled by an fallen empire.

December 14, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment


you have other source to back chinese consume opium up?

i guess there are always some people who tried and may be addicted to it, perhaps around or even b4 brits east indian company arrived. however, it was the brits who made it widely available and widespread, and that became a social problem. is it not?

December 15, 2005 @ 12:12 am | Comment

and, following your logic, which i do agree.

if there are drug peddlers in china, who may or may not have been punished; and that the guangdong madarins were corrupted. it does not justify you western’s (actually it was just some brits — mr gladstone had different personality and did not agree with them) peddler drug though, isn’t it?

December 15, 2005 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Dave, thanks for that link to the DiKotter article review. While I was always taught that the British brought opium into China, another part of me, noting that opium use in the West began in the Eastern Mediterrenian, always suspected that it had travelled east along the Silk Road long before the British East India Company existed. I’ll have to read DiKotter’s book. Ditto on the Chinese insistance that they were colonized. Yes, by the Qing. I get the impression that their real beef is that they themselves had become so backward that even minor barbarian tribes could end up on the imperial throne. The historic irony, of course, is that Communism, in the end, proved another major step backwards, further delaying China’s emergence as a major world power. I wonder when we’ll get a more balanced historical view of who really carried the burden of taking on the Japanese? It shouldn’t be hard for the right scholar. What’s required is a thorough study of the Japanese military records. They should show which side the Japanese considered the major threat, both in the number of troops deployed against that side, and the specific statistics of battles fought and won. To provide an example, two U.S. Army officers took a close look at the U.S. campaign against Germany in 1944-45, and came to some startling conclusions that were not matched in the generic military historical overviews. By studying which combat divisions the Germans reacted to, and gauging the extent of measures taken to counter those division’s presence on the battlefield, the authors discovered that the “glory” U.S. divisions were far less feared than many British and some Canadian divisions, and some hitherto unknown U.S. draftee and reserve divisions. A similar study might show that Chiang Kai Shek, or at least some of his generals, were not the blundering, cynical, conniving idiots that they are often made out to be. Or, conversely, it will reinforce the PLA claims.

December 15, 2005 @ 12:17 am | Comment

Sun Bin, I don’t read Dave’s posting as trying to justify or treat lightly the opium trade. Rather he points out that the market existed in China long before the British East India company got involved. And, if the Discovery Channel’s series on the History of Singapore is correct, not all BEIC agents supported the opium trade, either. My reading of the sum of his comments suggests to me that he is merely arguing that the Chinese are as human as anyone else, and that their society had flaws which were exploited by, among others, westerners. But that the present government has created this myth of the evil westerner, the root of all of China’s problems, versus the good “new man” who is without original sin. I.e, what some of us in the west call the “noble savage” syndrome.

December 15, 2005 @ 12:28 am | Comment


i agree your conclusion, and the points.

i am sure the thinking within BEIC may not be in unison, in fact, I was also quoting gladstone as those within the empire that opposed the opium war.

but this is just a very bad example to illustrate his point. i mean, even in the analogical sense alone.

i honestly didn’t get it.

December 15, 2005 @ 1:45 am | Comment

Dikotter doesn’t see opium as the drug of pure evil its made out to be. His real point is that the history of the opium war was distorted and exploited by missionaries and nationalists. He points out that a) opium was widely available in British pharmacies, yet they never became a nation of addicts b) opium use in Asia and Europe was predominantly light to moderate, c) opium had medicinal value in China and d) Han scholars in the Manchu court used opium as a wedge issue to reassert influence over the emperor.

As early as the 1720s the Emperor Yongzheng had edicts against opium, and consumption was low until the end of the 18th century. Up to that point, most opium smoked was low grade. All opium was imported via Portuguese vessels strictly for medical use. Chinese court edicts only banned smoking opium, not taking it in other forms, which Dikotter clearly sees as contradictory and silly. During a money crunch following the American Revolution, the British East India Company tried to smuggle in opium. They got caught. In the early 19th century, foreign traders were pushed out of Guangdong to Lingding island, and opium trade actually went up. All of this was exascerbated by the global shortage of silver.

The demonization of opium as a “bad” “drug” was mainly the idea of Western missionaries and Chinese nationalists. The narrative of China as a “nation of opium addicts” due to “imperialist trade” didn’t appear until the late 19th century, when China created a humiliated nationalist identity. Dikotter points out that a far more unhealthy and destructive drug became widely acceptable in China as well as a state monopoly: tobacco. When you think about, really the only difference between the British opium trade and Chinese tobacco trade is the ethnicity of the seller. Even more ironic, opium originated in neighboring Asian countries and was first introduced by the Arabs. Tobacco originated further away, in South America, and was introduced as snuff by Matteo Ricci.

December 15, 2005 @ 11:16 am | Comment

I have Dikotters book. That’s a rough outline of what it entails. I haven’t read it in its entirety, and I have to say that it doesn’t talk as much about what happened in the Qing court during the Sino-British war (the first Opium war) as I’d like. Dikotters points are really about drug policies and prohibitions in general, and how they are arbitrary and often backfire.

December 15, 2005 @ 11:20 am | Comment

If I were to take a test hopped up on tobbaco I’m pretty sure I would score much higher than if I were to take the same test high on opium. I disagree that tobbaco is more dangerous and destructive than opium. The impacts of Tobbaco are felt late in life, when the utility of a person to society is already minimal. Especially, one hundred years ago when expensive welfare treatments on senior citizens was not prevalent. Opium impacts a user from the moment he/she becomes addicted to it, and his productivity instantly declines.

December 15, 2005 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

Maybe so, Patel, but Dikotters evidence is that most opium use in the 19th century in Europe and Asia was mostly moderate or light, meaning that they weren’t under the influence a great deal of the time – contrary to the idea of the total addict. That’s the unspoken assumption in your point, and Dikotter provides evidence that in the 19th century chronic abuse of opium was the exception, not the norm. The norm was someone would enjoy a bit every now and then after work, like going to the pub. To become an “addict”, as you put it, was like being an alcoholic. I wouldn’t take a test drunk, but we don’t outlaw liquor because of that. The idea that opium in the 19th century was as addictive or destructive as say heroin or crack cocaine is today is precisely the matter Dikotter attempts to clear up. He does not say that contemporary opium is the same, or at least I didn’t see any comments on it. His discussion is of historical evidence of observations, customs and the economies of opium during that period, and it is very persuasive that China was not a “nation of opium slaves”, which is precisely what official Chinese history paints it as. That narrative only started being told as part of the nationalist project in China.

It is worth noting, however, that Dikotter points out that until the mid-late 18th century, Chinese typically smoked madak, or opium mixed with tobacco. Then there was a switch to pure opium. Dikotter points out 3 possible explanations: one was the popular notion of pure opium improving sexual performance, second was smokers took to pure opium because the law only banned madak, and pure opium could be obtained with a medical excuse. The official edict stated: “opium is a pharmaceutical substance required by medical practitioners. Only when it is blended with tobacco can it become harmful and lead to lustful acts”. Third is the hypothesis that pure opium had more social status as a form of conspicuous consumption.

Another thing to remember is that most of opium smoking was concentrated in the southeast of China, where foreign trade congregated. The usual story of a “nation of addicts” ignores this too.

December 15, 2005 @ 1:05 pm | Comment

of course opium is a drug, and it is still useful today as

even in mainland china, through 1950-today, opiom is still classified as a controlled drug for controlled use.

i was never really demonized, except for those who do not know this piece of fact.

before BEIC consumerized it, the Qinf empired managed it more or less the way it is today — a controlled drug.

(drug the emperor? such crime weer not uncommon if you watch chinese TV drama, drug them/kill them, i do not know what point Dikotter was trying to make

“The demonization of opium as a bad drug”??? all physicians from 17th-221st century know exactly what medical application opium has and how ‘bad’ it is if abuse.

Drug is not demonoized, ABUSE is and should be.

Dikotter (or you? perhaps) is missing the whole point.


“The narrative of China as a “nation of opium addicts” due to “imperialist trade” didn’t appear until the late 19th century”

this is total news.

explain to me what Li Zexu destroyed in Humen in 1840.
and explain to me why William Gladstone made that speech when debating whether to send troop to China in 1841?

explain why there was 10M addicts in Guangdong (you can discount it but still a few millions)


i don;t know who this dikotter is. but these are the questions a critical reader should ask.

December 15, 2005 @ 3:50 pm | Comment

“Chinese court edicts only banned smoking opium, not taking it in other forms, which Dikotter clearly sees as contradictory and silly”

they were ignorant (but the addicts were smoking opium. there were not much other ways to abuse back then).
then the social problem became so big. Li Zexu realized the silliness and ban the trade totally.

Dikotter must be joking when you tried to compare tobacco with opium in 1840.
tobacco was much harmless, at least no one knows about nicotine yet and the symptoms of addiction is completelt different.

no, i NEVER heard of nation of addict. it was mainly Guangdong area.
it only became more widespread AFTER the opium war!

December 15, 2005 @ 3:58 pm | Comment

Argh, theres just so many ignorant statements floating around the internet that I often feel it is a sysaphean task to educate people who should otherwise know better. What can I say, its a labour of love.

Lirelou ~ “Yes, by the Qing. I get the impression that their real beef is that they themselves had become so backward that even minor barbarian tribes could end up on the imperial throne.”

The Manchus did not suceed the Ming dynasty because the Chinese had become backwards, but rather that the political situation in the late Ming period had degenerated to a point were centralized authority had become ephemeral. Thus leading to the creation of a large power vacuum which internal elements struggled to fill. That the Manchus would ultimately create the Qing was the result of a convergance of circumstance and shrewd politicking. The Manchus didn’t destroy the Ming dynasty, the Ming dynasty self-destructed and the Manchus had the insight/luck to outlast the myriad of other contendors.

Re ~ Sonagi

“Well, they don’t look Han Chinese either!” Actually they look pretty damn close. Identifying a Han from a Tibetan is not always a simple task. Sure a sun-bleached nomad in traditional clothing is pretty obvious, but what of an apple-cheeked teenage girl in Lhasa. At least they are close enough where the distinction is not readily apparent unless the viewer is aware of distinct social mannerisms or other indicators. People in the rest of India occassionally (sometimes as a pejorative) refer to the people of the Northeast as “Chinkis”

December 15, 2005 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

In any case, who looks more like whom is a silly rationale for lumping the Tibetans with Han Chinese. Xinjiang Uyghurs are easily distinguishable even when wearing ordinary clothes. I used to live in the eastern port city of Qingdao, and it was easy to spot Uyghur migrants, their children, and students at a local college across from my apartment building. Using Lin’s racial logic, Xinjiang belongs with the Central Asian republics, not with China.

December 15, 2005 @ 6:08 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, you are honestly challenging a University of London professor with a Christian recovery webpage? And you question my sources?

Gladstone was seeking political office while the Quakers were pushing opium prohibition (along with everything else). That and his sister had treatment for opium addiction, so he had personal views. That’s the whole point; Christian activism demonized use as dependency. 10 million addicts? How do you define addict? Dikotter goes over the work of historian Richard Newman, who estimated that regular and heavy smokers in 1906 together constituted 2.5% of the population, with the caveat that their health and longevity hardly differed from those who consumed light or moderate amounts. Light use was about 2/5 a mace (3.78 grams) every 3 days. Heavy was more than 5 mace a day. The population was about 438000000 people. So there’s your 10 million addicts, though if you read the book Dikotter gives plenty of evidence to suggest that they were functioning people.

Try reading the book Sun Bin. Dikotter goes on to show how the cure was worse than the disease. Nationalists struck up an alliance with the Christian missionaries – the ancestors of the very website you refer to – to morally condemn opium use and open treatment centers that replaced opium with a substitute – morphine. Criminalization of opium led to rapid growth in heroin use.

As for the point about narrative, I meant more the use of opium and imperialism in the 百年国耻 story. I’m not saying no one was concerned about it in the 1840s, but it was only in the imperial court. The public thought it was perfectly acceptable and it was fashionable amongst the elite. Han scholars were going for a power play – it was a political football. Prohibition didn’t occur until the late 19th century, when nationalists endorsed Christian ideas of drugs as sin because it fit so well with their interpretation of the Opium War. Prohibition drove consumption up as well. In 1802, it was 180 tonnes a year. After foreigners were expelled to Lingding island restrictions increased, it went to 420 tonnes. That entire time England, with a far far smaller population, imported about 100 tonnes every year from Turkey for its own use.

Read the book. It’s meant to be controversial, and it’s not easily summarizable. I don’t find all of it persuasive, but some parts are very compelling and refreshing. Just don’t throw some obscure piece of missionary propaganda at me as a retort to a internationally respected scholar, especially when no matter who’s history you read, the missionaries were no help at all when it came to opium in China.

December 15, 2005 @ 6:58 pm | Comment

Some links that better explain Dikotter perhaps better than I:

Hong Kong University Press description

Economic & Social Research Council bullet points

Dr. Dikotter’s homepage – go to the IDisk documents at the bottom to download “The Myth of Opium”

There are also alot of American and Canadian drug legalization websites that refer to him, but I dismiss those out of hand.

December 15, 2005 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

Jing, Good point, and taken! I should have phrased it more precisely. Thanks for the clarification.

December 16, 2005 @ 12:01 am | Comment


but again. you are missing the whole point of the opium war. all i am going to say does not conflict with the facts in your comment immediately above this.

1. there are a lot fo chinese smuggler/collaborators on the opium trade. retailers must be chinese merchants.
2. the imperial court was ignorant. no dount about that
3. 2.5% population drug usage was huge, by any standard, any definition of ‘user’. and 1906 # is nation-wide.
what is the % in GZ in 1840?
does Lin Zexu has the right to be concerned and take action?
4. So the effort in converting addict may not be the good one. does this mean opium usage is good?
I am really troubled by such logic.
I do not know if this is what Dokoetter said, or implied.
and I have no interests in reading the books. since it does not change the fact below.

now try to answer the following questions honestly.
What is wrong with calling a stop to the abuser of opium?
if the emperor does not care, should a regional governor try every effort he can to stop the abuse? even if he might not know the best medicine/substitute?
should this be punished by an invasion?
was the reason of the invasion the banning of opium trade and confiscation of opium?
I do not think Dokotter’s book change the answer to these question.

December 16, 2005 @ 1:28 am | Comment

Here’s what I’ve read on the Opium Wars:

The Opium Wars were really more about tea, and about whether countries should be forced to trade. The British wanted tea and didn’t yet know how to grow it in India. They also wanted silk and other things, but tea was the one big ‘need’ that they couldn’t get elsewhere.

Chinese officials didn’t want to open the country up to trade. They were willing to sell tea, but only in exchange for gold or silver. They didn’t want to buy anything from the British, partly because so many of the things that the Chinese population might want (clocks, safety matches, good cooking pots, etc.) were obviously foreign and might have given the local population the idea that barbarians were good at some things.

So, the British were buying tea with gold and silver, but that was hard to sustain. Hence they wanted to smuggle goods in to sell unofficially. Since there was already a long history of opium use in China, it was easier to smuggle than, say, clocks, which were obviously foreign.

And, from what I’ve read, the British found opium that was stronger than the local Chinese stuff, which made it easier to import and may have led to more problems with addiction. Even if there had been some opium use historically, a sudden flood of more potent opium might cause trouble.

Did Britain have the right to force China to trade? No, I don’t think so. Britain was wrong to attack. But people all over Britain didn’t wake up each morning longing to see far-away Chinese people hooked on opium. They just woke up each morning wanting a cup of tea. The Chinese government could have stopped the opium trade easily, by trading in other goods instead.

“the fact that PLA was good in forming good relation with local peasants was well known ”

I would find it pretty surprising to think that the PLA could form good relations with Tibetan peasants in 1962. After the ‘Great Leap’, which led to even worse starvation in Tibet than in most of China, I would think that Tibetan peasants wouldn’t be too thrilled with the Chinese Communist Party.

But someone else mentioned the possibility that Mao wanted a confrontation with India to distract the Chinese people. That makes a lot of sense after the massive suffering in the few years before 1962, caused by Mao’s policies. When you’ve just killed more than ten million of your own people for no particular reason, the distraction of ‘foreign aggression’ might be useful.

December 16, 2005 @ 11:50 am | Comment

hi ann,

your description of opium war is not far from what is being taught in chinese schools. i would say it is also a pretty accurate description.

note Great Leap Forward mainly impact central and north china. esp Anhui.
tibet was almost not affected.

CCP made the worse damage to Tibet during 1966-76, when they destroyed temples.

when they were in Tibet they were widely supported by the lower classes, because they took land from the monks and upper class and re-distributed to the serfs and slaves.
this explained why the Dalai fighter were quickly defeated after 1959.

see this:
Hugh Deane, “The Cold War in Tibet,” CovertAction Quarterly (Winter 1987).

“Many Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself, meaning they were most likely captured and killed.25 “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane.26 In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.”27 Eventually the resistance crumbled.”

December 16, 2005 @ 4:06 pm | Comment


to your last 2 sentences:
1) peasants and the poor always supported communist, from 1917 to even early 1970s.revolutions in China, Cuba, Russia/etc were all supported by the poorest people.
it is the middle and upper class who oppose communism. the intellectual were divided, until early 1980s and everyone abandoned communism.
2) no, despite massive famine. they blamed it on natural disaster and russians repaying debts to russians. CCP still had very strong support. the tension in Taiwan strait was still high. They could have taken Kinmen if they wanted to achieve what you said, much easier to defend afterward.
on the contrary, they were actually trying everything they could to avoid a war. because they didnt even have enough food to sustain a war. that was why they retreated from the land they gained.
(if you read the links above you would see many telegraph from Zhou Enlai to Nehru asking for negotiation and making conciliatory offers)

December 16, 2005 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

Ann the Sino-Indian war was definetly not about Mao using it as a political veil to distract the populous. Most people hardly even remember the war happened, it’s place in Chinese history is the equivalent the U.S. invasion of Grenada (sure it happened, but who the hell cares?). The Sino-Indian war only lasted a few weeks and there was practically no (at least none that I’m aware of) propaganda efforts by the Chinese government. Contrast this to the Sino-Soviet border skirmishes where the casualties were far less and the engagements on a local level, yet were given ample political coverage. You can still find reams of propaganda denouncing Soviet “deviationists”. As far as I am concerned, the simplest answer remains the best. The Chinese attack was precipitated by the forward deployment policy of the Indian army into and beyond the disputed territory coupled with Nehru’s complete shelving of a diplomatic resolution.

December 17, 2005 @ 10:19 am | Comment

I do not know if this is what Dokoetter said, or implied.
and I have no interests in reading the books. since it does not change the fact below.

That’s just kneejerk ignorance, Sun Bin. Saying you refuse to read the book because you can’t possibly change your mind, that’s a textbook example of ignorance.

now try to answer the following questions honestly.
What is wrong with calling a stop to the abuser of opium?

Nothing, but what do you call abuse? Dikotter isn’t the only one. RK Newman, Zheng Yangwen, and other scholars have shown more and more evidence that the vast majority of opium users in China, before and after the Opium War, were not debilitated. That was a distorted view promoted by missionaries and nationalists. Opium dens were predominantly clean, well lit places. Illness among opium addicts was because opium was the self-medication of choice – people smoked because they were ill, not ill because they smoked. Opium was a respectable drug and part of elite social etiquette, and it had very few health drawbacks. In the late 19th century abolitionists started claiming it was deadly, dirty and even an attempt to wipe out the Chinese race. Opium was not a drug that led to further and further consumption, but leveled off in usage like cigarettes. It did not lead to disruptive behavior, like alcohol. Most users used it moderately, in social settings with friends (alone was in bad taste) and did not lose control or suffer serious health drawbacks. Finally, opium had a myriad of forms during the 19th century, like alcohol has wine, beer, vodka, 151, etc.

if the emperor does not care, should a regional governor try every effort he can to stop the abuse?

This is just the first question rephrased, since it also hinges on what abuse is.

should this be punished by an invasion?

No one is saying the Chinese “deserved” to be invaded, or that it wasn’t invasion. Wait, no, I take that back. Chinese nationalists in the late 19th century thought China deserved to be invaded, because it was part of their power play to say “we deserve it because we are weak and must build a new China”.

December 17, 2005 @ 10:29 pm | Comment

was the reason of the invasion the banning of opium trade and confiscation of opium?

The reason for invasion was money, and Britain’s habit at the time of being a royal imperial a**hole. Again, no one is defending British imperialism. But the bitter irony is that opium smoking was not a social malady, China was not the “sick man of Asia” because of it, but when China began to believe that it was, it banned domestic opium production (killing a major source of government revenue after the sino-japanese war), allowed missionaries to give opium smokers heroin, imprisoned and executed users and was a major part of Chinese social life.

That doesn’t change the fact that the British flaunted Chinese law, declared war and generally acted like the imperialist a**holes they were. But that’s not what I was talking about anyway.

December 17, 2005 @ 10:30 pm | Comment

if you are able to answer all my questions, why does Dokotter’s book matter?
as i alreay said, i do not disagree with most of the facts. that does not change the answers to the questions i care.

why should i read a book on a subject i have no interest in, and does not help me understand what i wanted to understand?

let’s consider this discussion on opium war closed. you said enough, i said enough, ann offered an intelligent summary.

December 17, 2005 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

as for what constitute opium abuse, and whether opium use is good or bad. let’s leave that to the scientists. neither me or you is the authority here, i guess.

there are similar debate about marijuana. but for opium, this is indeed the first time i heard. maybe i am ignorant on these narcotics.

btw. do you know
1. morphine is the active ingredient in opium
2. heroin is a derivative of morphine, and hence of opium?
they are the same thing.
check wiki.

December 17, 2005 @ 10:53 pm | Comment

(i mean opium and morphine are the same)

heroin is obviously much more addictive (due to the chemical modification).

December 17, 2005 @ 11:05 pm | Comment

Wow, Sun Bin, did you even bother to read what I wrote? If it wasn’t a topic that interested you in the first place, why did you spend so much time challenging it?

if you are able to answer all my questions, why does Dokotter’s book matter?

Maybe because the answers are in the book? Could that possibly be why it matters?

as for what constitute opium abuse, and whether opium use is good or bad. let’s leave that to the scientists. neither me or you is the authority here, i guess.

No, because drugs are a social issue and a human being is not a passive recipient of narcotics or anything else you ingest, drink, inject, smoke, etc. If I followed your reasoning, then whenever your doctor hands you a pill you should say “ok”, shut up and swallow. Not to mention that society creates images and concepts around substances – martinis as classy, tea as respectable, cigarettes as evil that sometimes don’t reflect reality. And as I said before, there is a wide variety of opiates but Chinese prohibition made little attempt to differentiate.

As for Ann’s summary, most of it I agree with. I disagree with the assertion that the stronger opium led to “trouble”, as the opium in question, patna, was also imported to England itself, where opiates were widely available throughout the 19th century. Yet England never had such an “opium plague”. And as for Chinese textbooks, that is not what they say. Chinese textbooks make it out as Britain being a drug pusher trying to make addicts of all Chinese and that the drug caused massive social damage, which many historians in Europe and Asia dispute.

December 17, 2005 @ 11:54 pm | Comment

It comes down to one question Sun Bin: why was there so much demand for opium in China?

The official line is that it was because the drug overpowered and overwhelmed the Chinese people, and those dirty dealers the British pushed it everywhere they could.

The truth is it was part of the fabric of Chinese traditional life – not destructive, but part of a vibrant culture. But that isn’t in the history textbooks in China.

December 18, 2005 @ 12:00 am | Comment


2 possibilities
1) chinese are genetically drug addicts
2) because the previous system to control “Abuse” failed, for both internal and external reasons

pick your choice.

December 18, 2005 @ 2:09 am | Comment

why dokotter does not matter?

1. dokotter did not add any new insight to the opium war. as ann was able to summarize all of it without resorting to dokotter.
2. opium war’s cause and historical accord, and whether opium itself is a ‘harmless narcotic like marijuana was alleged to be’, or something that could be abused and need control, are 2 separate issues.

validating or invalidating the latter does not justify or “un”-justify the opium war.

December 18, 2005 @ 2:13 am | Comment

No one is attempting to justify the war, Sun Bin. I’m talking about the concept of addiction, the role of opium in Chinese 19th century society, and Chinese nationalist historiography of the Opium War. You’ve ignored my point that there is a third possibility to why China had so many “addicts”, which is tied to the fact that the concept of opium addiction didn’t even exist in China or Britain until after the first Opium War. If the nature of opium changes, then the historical significance of the opium war does change, and books like Dikotters and many other scholars are important and change the way we think about the opium war.

How you can continue to argue with me about something that doesn’t interest you, without bothering to respond to what I’ve written and with the initial presumption that what I’m talking about “doesn’t matter” is beyond me. I’m disappointed by your steadfast refusal to engage my points respectfully and instead to dismiss it was meaningless. Finally, I brought up the history of opium in China to make a serious point (and a joke, if one looks far back enough) about Chinese nationalism in response to Lin’s kneejerk griping. We were talking about nationalism, and you misinterpreted it as a “justification” of the Opium War and apparently still misunderstand. Ironically, your refusal to reconsider a major pillar of official PRC nationalist history, the exploitation of poor widdle China by the big bad barbarians drug dealers, makes it easier to confuse you with those who distort Chinese history intentionally in order to further the current political order. Doubly ironic since I’m talking about how opium was tied to the vibrant culture of China before the cultural devastation wrought in the 20th century. Only for official PRC history is it necessary to continue the idea that the 19th century was full of humiliations, because that justifies CPC behavior as the necessary sacrifices to overcome “feudal” imperial mistakes.

December 18, 2005 @ 4:40 pm | Comment

when did i say anyone was tryinbg to justify the war? all i was saying it that it is quite an irrelevant issue. as ann, you and I all agreed, if there is no opium, there will be another excuse. and this is fully implied in any chinese textbook through 1970 to today.

all i wanted to hear is what you just said, that it should not be “misunderstood as an justification” of the war.

I totally disagree with your assumption that opium is a benign narcotic, and the nationalism conspiracy theory. i can list my reasons but you throw to me a whole book i have no interest to read or refute (which may be factually right, but it may or may not support the implications as you put forward).
i said this a few times already, and that i will let you have your last word and not planning to debate with you on this.
so let’s just agree to disagree. can we?
why you choose this to continue your personal attack on me is something i fail to understand.

December 18, 2005 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

I have many problems with your analysis Sun Bin.

First of all, what is a “benign narcotic?” Many drugs may be beneficial when taken in certain amounts, but highly dangerous if taken in large amounts or with other drugs. Opium was known in China and throughout the world, such as in England, as a drug with beneficial properties if taken properly. As Davesgonechina points out, opium use was not destructive to the vast majority of its users, whether before or after the Opium Wars. Yet in the 21st century we always equate opium-use with opium-addiction, the latter seen as a debilitating disease.

Second, you are conflating two separate issues into one. Davesgonechina seems to be discussing the myth created by early missionaries and Chinese nationalists with regard to the image and use of opium: the myth that England forced opium on an unsuspecting population, rendering China a weak victim. He contrasts this myth with contrary evidence of its actual usage and image in China. However, you seem fixated solely on the Opium War, and dismiss Davesgonechina’s analysis as wholly irrelevant to the causes of the Opium War. In reality, opium was simply a mask; the main reason for the Opium Wars was Britain’s desire to open up the Chinese market and increase its influence and power. It used opium as a convenient excuse to expand its power. If you wish to discuss the reasons for the Opium Wars, then that is fine, but that is not what you seem to be doing. Davesgonechina makes it explicitly clear that he is not discussing this second issue. But your arguments against Davesgonechina all focus on the substance of his analysis regarding the first issue, the “myth” of opium use, and do not discuss the complex reasons for England’s intentions during the opium wars, where you only fleetingly refer to another commentator “Ann.”

Third, I find that your tone regarding the allegation that what has been taught about the opium situation in China during the late-Qing is a myth, to simply support Davesgonechina’s assertion in his last comment. Part of what is taught, especially in China, is that the West (and Japan), not only defeated the Qing, but debased and humiliated it in personal, human terms. Much of modern Chinese nationalism focuses on the idea of this past debasement. Believing this facet of the Opium Wars, the “myth,” adds a powerful dynamic to the idea of China’s century of humiliation. To most Chinese, this is an inseparable part of the Opium Wars, an underlying reason why England went to war with China.

December 18, 2005 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

thank you, daniellu, it’s nice to see I made sense to somebody. You nailed it about whether or not a drug is “benign” depending on dose, usage etc. Again, I have nothing to say about contemporary opium. I don’t know the medical stuff on what it is like today. But there is alot of scholarship on what people were smoking then, how they behaved and how they lived. And I’m extremely skeptical that the 10 million often described as “addicts” suffered a loss of quality of life, anymore than a typical cigarette smoker today does.

It was precisely because of the opium prohibition movement, religiously based, in England that we even have the concept of addiction. They created the notion that the drug acts on a passive user, destroying them, thereby eliminating discussion of the users choices and responsibility. That concept also eliminated differences between types of usage to label the substance “bad”, as opposed to a rational discussion of the specifics of how it is used. 19th century China was actually a good example of how an opiate could be a socially acceptable substance like alcohol or tobacco, but that history has been neglected under a heavy barrage from Victorian puritans and manipulative politics. And China adopted all that thinking, which it hadn’t had before, from missionaries! Irony! I’m done here, but I have so many sources on this now I’ll do a big post on it.

Sun Bin, if you needed me to say explicitly that it was not a justification for the war, when I never said anything that suggested the British were blameless, well, thats the kind of reactionary response I’d expect from someone who believes the whole nationalist historiography I’m talking about in the first place.

December 18, 2005 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

I look forward to Dave’s fully comprehensive post on the Opium Wars. Just a couple of footnotes, from a (bloody) Yank perspective. Our Asiatic Squadron did at one point enter the fray to provide covering support for a British fleet being badly handled by Chinese shore batteries. Anglo-American solidarity, and all that. It earned us the right to be seated with the “victors” at the peace conference, and to wrest concessions from China that are undoubtedly remembered by the nationalists to this day. The worthy naval officer in question was soon to damage his country’s cause more openly by going over to the enemy in the U.S. Civil War. Oh, and as for all that tea. Once Fortune discovered the secrets for processing tea, Indian tea took off, and conquered the British palate, due to its palatability when mixed with milk.

December 18, 2005 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

It won’t be about the Opium Wars, Lirelou, it’ll be about the culture of opium and the subsequent prohibition and demonization. Of course, the Wars will be part of the story but not the focus. That’s the confusion we’ve been dealing with here all along.

December 18, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

so we agree on the war.

now you are saying Chinese education wrongly accused brits for selling opium.

see this from a chinese.
xinhua is a semi-official site, as you know. did you see any of your alleged ‘distorted hisotry’ or ‘shift of focus’ there?

it said opium was always used as a painkiller, many upper class use it (illegally), corrupted qing officials were joinly responsible…etc
UK finally agreed to phase out from 1907-1917. but the warlords and japanese continued so the situation did not improve a lot.

there are also solid data. sales of opium was 4k/yr in around 1810, rose to 1840 by 10 fold to 40k cases/yr. after opiumn war in 1880 it was 100k cases.
number speaks.

of course for you the focus is how china ‘demonized’ the colonist aggressor/opium traders, not the war.
your focus is to show that china asked for this? or you wanted to show that this is deep into the gene and culture of China? what is it?i

the only guilt i commited is i focused on a different area than you would like to. then you resort to word abuse.

as for whether purified opium is benign or bad. well, the active ingredient of opium is morphine, and those sold by the brit were highly purified. you never replied to that one.

if opium is as good as you and daniel said, why aren’t we (or the two of you) enjoying it right now? maybe you are?

December 19, 2005 @ 12:20 am | Comment

Is this going to be one of those threads that keeps on giving (i.e., that goes on and on ad infinitum)?

Unrelatedly: Sun Bin, if you don’t start using tiny url, I’m going to get really annoyed. Every time you drop in long links it messes up my comments margins. Thanks.

December 19, 2005 @ 12:31 am | Comment

now you are saying Chinese education wrongly accused brits for selling opium.


your focus is to show that china asked for this? or you wanted to show that this is deep into the gene and culture of China?

No, no, NO. WTF? Sun Bin, I said: “I’m talking about the concept of addiction, the role of opium in Chinese 19th century society, and Chinese nationalist historiography of the Opium War.” I already said I don’t think China “deserved” invasion, why are you suggesting I implied China “asked for this”? You brought up genetic predisposition to addiction, I’m challenging the assumption that addiction was as damaging to China as often made out to be.

I did reply to the more purified opium point. It’s called patna, and it wasn’t just sold in China but was available in England as well. In the West a higher percentage of opium was stronger stuff than in China, where most of it was low-grade and weaker.

Also, before patna people smoked madak, or opium laced tobacco. One of the reasons people switched to the stronger stuff is because the Qing banned madak, but the pure stuff was widely available for medical purposes. So people substituted the pure stuff for recreation as well.

Why are we not enjoying it now? That’s my whole point: in the late 19th century, the whole idea of medicalizing addiction was created, in combination with religious prohibition movements that regarded substance use of any kind as sin. Before that it was considered a habit, but not a disease. Prohibition won the day in England and China and the U.S., and has generally been the world’s approach to drugs. Whether its a good policy or not isn’t the question, the question is how was opium perceived in China before the Republicans let in lots of missionaries to open clinics, and before Liang Qichao and friends cast opium as a tool of foreign oppression? The answer is it was viewed as a form of conspicuous consumption amongst elites, a medical panacea for the poor and working class, a sexual aid and a social lubricant. It wasn’t villified as a way to keep the Chinese people down or as a vicious substance preying upon the innocent. The change from social acceptance to depraved imperial crack rock was quick; it happened in a decade or two, and both China and England underwent that process together.

As for your Xinhua site, what about this part:


If I read the beginning of that correctly, it describes opium as “invading” the body of China, creating a “vicious circle”, destroying businesses and stifling the growth of the Chinese people. Not to mention warlords. That’s the “Sick Man of Asia” story right there, that opium debilitated the whole country because everyone was too high to stop the barbarians. That’s the “opium plague” idea right there, and that was seized on by both the Nationalists and the CPC. Suddenly all the history and benefits of opium disappear when “它已经成为中国近代社会机体上的一个毒瘤”, it becomes a “tumor” on the body of China. God forbid most of these people actually enjoyed themselves, because now its “这一痛苦、耻辱的历史,中国人是永远不应该忘记的”, a shameful history that must never be forgotten. 毒品在近代中国的流毒,与外国帝国主义密不可分 – narcotics was an evil influence, inseperable from imperialism. How did we go from a useful drug to a shameful, painful imperialist tool that infected China? Why is it that China becomes a passive victim of opium, instead of an active agent? How come there was a great deal of refined culture surrounding opium, yet all we hear about are the mythical dirty opium dens, stories spread by the English prohibition movement who more often than not didn’t mention the fact that sometimes what they saw was really a hospice of sorts, where thousands of ill Chinese used opium to ease their suffering from disease? Or that there were two great famines during the 19th century and emaciated smokers were often hungry, not ill from opium? Or that domestic production substantially increased in the mid 19th century, meaning that foriegners weren’t the only source of opium? Maybe because opium wasn’t the reason the Qing crumbled. But those sentences I quote certainly suggest it was, all to mythologize the unity of the Chinese people against the foriegners.

December 19, 2005 @ 11:30 am | Comment


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