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The Chinese Roots of Central Asian Poppy




The article examines Inner Asia's drug problem, which arose in the nineteenth century during the China's last dynasty, the Manchu Qing (1644-1911). It establishes a relationship between China proper's market system of smokeable opium paste and the spread of that system into Qing Inner Asian territories via the dynasty's own structures of local control. The intention is to geographically and ethnically reorient inquiry regarding the paradigmatic example of drug imperialism in Asia, the British smuggling traffic on the Chinese coast during of the first half of the nineteenth century. Consequently, the focus is on the largely unexamined regions of western China, where opium production, distribution and consumption were carried on exclusively by Chinese and Inner Asian peoples during roughly this same time period. The article focuses on three particular aspects of Chinese prohibition in order to show how opium spread into the empire's western dominions through Qing administrative structures that had arisen as a direct consequence of dynastic expansion from China proper westward into Inner Asia. The first aspect is the imperial system of territorial incorporation which expanded the opium market system, as embodied in the immigrants and penal exiles from China proper, to the Qing northwest Inner Asian frontier territory of Xinjiang. The second aspect is the imperial military system, which maintained a Lhasa garrison whose opium smoking spread the market system to Tibet. The third aspect is the system of interstate diplomacy, which attempted to enlist the cooperation of both tsarist Russia and the khanate of Kokand, which lay directly to the west of Xinjiang, in an ultimately futile attempt to control interstate trafficking in Inner Asia. The article concludes that while Qing civil, penal and military expansion into Tibet and Xinjiang did bring the opium market system to Inner Asia, Qing diplomacy was able to inhibit the regional development of this same system. The multiple crises faced by the dynasty after its defeat in the first Opium War (1839-42), including the complete collapse of its authority in Xinjiang during the 1870's, removed all dynastic limitations on the opium traffic, permitting an unfettered expansion of the market system into regions that are today known as the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle, respectively. This regional persistence of the drug traffic is indicative of common weaknesses and contradictions in state control over peoples and territories rather than of any inherent weakness unique to the Chinese dynastic system.

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Référence papier

David BELLO, « The Chinese Roots of Central Asian Poppy », Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien, 32 | 2001,



Référence électronique

David BELLO, « The Chinese Roots of Central Asian Poppy », Cahiers d’études sur la Méditerranée orientale et le monde turco-iranien [En ligne], 32 | 2001, mis en ligne le , consulté le 19 juillet 2018. URL :

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