Opium is more than just a drug extracted from poppies. Over the past two centuries it has been a palliative medicine, an addictive substance, a powerful mechanism for concentrating and transferring wealth and power between nations, and the anchor for a now vanished sociocultural world in and around China. Opium Regimes integrates the pioneering research of sixteen scholars to show that the opium trade was not purely a British operation but involved Chinese merchants, Chinese state agents, and Japanese imperialists as well. The book presents a coherent historical arc that moves from British imperialism in the nineteenth century, to Chinese capital formation and state making at the turn of the century, to Japanese imperialism through the 1930s and 1940s, and finally to the apparent resolution of China's opium problem in the early 1950s.
Together these essays show that the complex interweaving of commodity trading, addiction, and state intervention in opium's history refigured the historical face of East Asia more profoundly than any other commodity.
Timothy Brook is Professor of History at the University of Toronto and the author most recently of the prizewinning The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China (California, 1998). Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi is Professor of History at York University in Toronto and the author of Japanese Loyalism Reconstrued (1995), among other works.