Sun, Jan 22, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Say no to opium

Continuing last week’s topic, we examine the nationwide anti-opium campaign in 1929 by activists and doctors in response to government policy change

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Opium addiction continued to be an issue in Taiwan and China well into the 1930s.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 23 to Jan. 29

Chiang Sung-hui (蔣松輝) waited until the regular staff at the telegram office got off work. The remaining workers did not understand English, and this was the Taiwan People’s Party’s (台灣民眾黨) best chance to get their message, written in broken English, to the League of Nations.

The one-sentence telegram accused the Japanese colonial government of relaxing opium prohibition rules and asked the League to intervene.

Since the Japanese had a monopoly over the production and sale of opium in Taiwan, the party believed that they’d never had any intention of eradicating the social vice despite vowing to do so 35 years previously, in 1895.

Upon taking over Taiwan, the Japanese pushed a “gradual prohibition” policy by issuing licenses to a limited number of qualified smokers. The government seemed to be on the right track as the number of legal smokers dropped, and in 1912 they signed the International Opium Convention, which mandated that signatories “use their best endeavors to control, or to cause to be controlled, all persons manufacturing, importing, selling, distributing and exporting” drugs such as opium.

Japan stopped issuing new opium licenses in 1908, and the number of legal users dropped dramatically. The government’s opium monopoly remained lucrative as they raised prices every year, but it no longer occupied such a large proportion of the colony’s total revenue as the economy diversified.

After the 1925 Geneva Opium Convention, the government in 1928 announced plans to close down smoking locales and build addiction treatment centers. But in 1929, an amendment was added, proclaiming jail time for illegal addicts. It also announced that they could apply for a license, declaring that it was more humane.

“If we allow opium addicts to destruct on their own, it will be a dark blemish on our glorious policies,” the announcement concluded.

This sudden decision to issue licenses to about 25,000 additional users further raised suspicions among Taiwan People’s Party leaders, who had been calling for immediate prohibition for years. They started a colony-wide campaign, making public speeches and repeatedly protesting the new provisions.

Taiwanese physicians also joined the fight. A Tainan Medical Association petition requested that the governor-general issued additional licenses only to addicts whose lives would be threatened if cut off. They also called for medical examinations for license holders to deem whether they were treatable — and if so, they should be rehabilitated by force. They also asked the government to limit all smoking activities to state-run opium houses.

Investigators from the League of Nations arrived on Feb. 19, 1930. They were on an eight-month trip to Asia to investigate the region’s drug use, and their arrival was most likely not in direct response to the telegram. Nevertheless, despite government objections, the investigators met with party leaders Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水) and Lin Hsien-tang (林獻堂) on March 1 to discuss the problem further.

Although the government did not change course, Lo Ming-cheng (駱明正) writes in the book Doctors without Borders: Profession, Ethnicity and Modernity in Colonial Taiwan, the Taiwan People’s Party’s criticisms “were widely circulated in the media and were greatly influential.”

“[For] the new generation, smoking opium was seen as the result of state manipulation rather than merely the continuation of a traditional habit,” he adds.

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