In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Opium Trade

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Source Collections
  • New Policies
  • Drug Diplomacy
  • International Sources
  • Opium Fiction

Chinese Studies Opium Trade
Alan Baumler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0075


Chinese history textbooks begin the modern period of Chinese history at the First Opium War (1839–1842). This is not surprising, since opium was the most important commodity integrating China into global markets and an important part of China’s modern commercial transformation. Purging China of opium became one of the great projects of the modernizing states of the twentieth century, and the “opium plague” was one of the most important ways that foreigners explained Chinese backwardness and Chinese explained national humiliation. Much work has been done on the opium trade and the role of opium in Chinese nation-building. This literature has been dominated by discussions of drug suppression and the role of opium in Chinese state-making, especially for the period after 1907, when China was heavily influenced by new ideas about addiction coming from the West. The most recent scholarship has been influenced by the global literature on drug foods and changing meanings of drug consumption.

General Overviews

There are few western-language books that deal with the entire scope of the relationship between China and opium both in the Qing and the Republic; although Paules 2011 deals with the entire period, it is more focused on consumption and state-building than on economics. There are a number of Chinese studies that deal with the entire scope of the opium trade in China, but even these do not go beyond China to look at the diaspora and the broader issues connected to drug foods. Jiang and Zhu 1996, Wang 1997, and Su 1997 are general surveys of the opium trade and opium suppression in China from before the First Opium War to the present. Each is somewhat underfootnoted by contemporary standards, and all tend to focus on periods of the greatest state interest in the trade. All three contain a wealth of information. The essays in Brook and Wakabayashi 2000 are the best entry into the modern scholarly literature. Lovell 2011 provides the most up-to-date narrative of the Opium Wars and the role of opium in China’s relations with the outside world.

  • Brook, Timothy, and Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, eds. Opium Regimes: China, Britain, and Japan, 1839–1952. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

    Edited volume, based on a 1997 conference. The introduction is quite helpful, and many of the individual essays are mentioned elsewhere in this bibliography. A vital reference point for modern scholarship on opium.

  • Jiang Qiuming 蔣秋明 and Zhu Qingbao 朱庆葆. Zhongguo jindu licheng (中国禁毒历程). Tianjin, China: Tianjin jiaoyu chubanshe, 1996.

    Focuses on the Guomindang period and Chiang Kai-shek’s Six Year Plan to eliminate opium.

  • Lovell, Julia. The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China. London: Picador, 2011.

    Balanced narrative of the First Opium War. Some discussion of the role of the war in later Chinese popular memory and how it grew to be the canonical case of foreign imperialism. Best introduction to the war and modern Chinese understandings of opium for undergraduates.

  • Paules, Xavier. L’Opium: Une passion chinoise 1750–1850. Paris: Payot, 2011.

    Best western-language survey of both the 19th- and 20th-century opium trades. Particularly good on opium’s macroeconomic impact and consumption patterns and on comparisons between periods.

  • Su Zhiliang 苏智良. Zhongguo dupin shi (中国毒品史). Shanghai: Shanghai renmin chubanshe, 1997.

    A survey of the opium trade that provides the best overview on the 19th century.

  • Wang Hongbin 王宏斌. Jindu shi jian (禁毒史鉴). Changsha, China: Yuelu Shushi, 1997.

    Of the Chinese-language surveys cited in this section, this is the most analytical and comparative between periods.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.