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The Myth of the Opium Plague in China

Frank Dikötter speaks at Pacific Basin Institute, Pomona College

April 4, 2007 12:00am

April 4, 2007, 4:15 – 5:30 pm
333 North College Way , Claremont, CA 91711
Hahn 101 (followed by reception)

Frank Dikötter is Professor of the Modern History of China at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of a series of micro-studies which trace the contingent ways in which ideas, objects and institutions acquire global dimensions and were selectively appropriated in the specific case of modern China.

China was turned into a nation of opium addicts by the pernicious forces of imperialist trade: this talk questions this image, showing that opium had few harmful effects on either health or longevity, that most smokers used it in moderate quantities without any fatal 'loss of control', and that the substance was prepared and appreciated in highly complex rituals with inbuilt constraints on excessive use. Opium was also a medical panacea before the availability of modern medications such as aspirin and penicillin: it allowed ordinary people to relieve the symptoms of dysentery, cholera, malaria and tuberculosis and to cope with pain, fatigue, hunger and cold. If opium was medicine as much as recreation, the talk also shows that the transition from a tolerated opium culture to a system of prohibition produced a cure which was far worse than the disease. Prohibition spawned social exclusion and human misery, engendering, however inadvertently, the very problems it was designed to contain.

For more information on Dikotter's research, projects and publications, visit

Organized by the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, this event is open to the public and free of charge.