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Patrick Phillips is back with me today to discuss the very real Japanese tactic of smuggling opium-laced cigarettes into China in an effort to undermine Chinese military resistance to Japanese invasion…
Extremely interesting Ian, thank you for having this guest on and explaing this to us.
And thus begins the Blue Lotus affair. Which Belgian comic book hero nearly died by drugged swordsman in Shanghai?
Janes defense, tobacco products?
The Chinese accusations of “Germ Warfare” start to make a lot more sense when you look at all the Imperial Japanese activity in that area, and then factor in the way we failed to go after Unit 731 with any real enthusiasm.
Makes you wonder what would have happened to the Chinese, had the Japanese won WWII.
There is incontrivertible evidence that the American empire used biological weapons against the DPRK and Chinese forces in the Korean War. It’s hardly surprising, Yankees just love to slaughter the innocent.
Not this year. Houston totally slaughtered the Yankees.
The “slaughter of the innocent” is not confined to Western nations that are now fashionable to kick around. All countries at war slip into this when under the right circumstances.
LOL… Really? How about some citations on that absurdity, ones that don’t begin with Chinese propaganda?
Don’t bother with this guy, he’s probably the idiot who claims American cowboys magically galloped halfway round the world, kidnapped Chinese geniuses with nylon lassos, and skinned the geniuses alive just for fun.
OK, supply the “incontrovertibl” evidence
So were the boxes for the “special run” Golden Bat cigarettes marked in anyway so that the people running the effort could tell which boxes to not ship to Japanese troops? Making such a marking real obvious would defeat the stealth nature of the effort. But I gotta think that somebody would have felt there needed to be a way for the insiders to tell one type of cigarettes from the other.
What would have to be done to determine this is to find two boxes with good provenance. One box known to have never left Japan and sold on the civilian market vs. one from China that makes the drug sniffing dogs go wild.
Japanese business interests traded opium cured tobacco to China from the 1870’s, with the occupation of Japan 1945, the manufacturing when to South Korea. Since the so called tobacco pack was aimed for the Chinese market why is it in English? Simple, it was a con-job to get the English speaking occupation Force to buy these “nudge-nudge, wink-wink”, cigarettets, the same pack design in Shown in Austration, UK, Canadian and NZ histories of the occupation force.
apanese business interests traded opium cured tobacco to China from the 1870’s, with the occupation of Japan 1945, the manufacturing when to South Korea. Since the so called tobacco pack was aimed for the Chinese market why is it in English? Simple, it was a con-job to get the English speaking occupation Force to buy these “nudge-nudge, wink-wink”, cigarettes, the same pack design is shown in Australian, UK, Canadian and NZ official histories of the occupation force.
Does seem to be more to the story.
But to your point about packaging. The package does have, what looks like to me, both Japanese and Chinese characters on the side and back.
So why English on the front? English by this time had become the world’s universal language. So a Chinese customer might be more likely to read English than Japanese.
If what you say about the length of time opium cigarettes were produced, there would be a need to look at the packaging from different sources at different time periods to see if there was other uses of English labeling.
Check out this link
Quite a collection of Japanese tobacco packaging shown. Many have English on the labels and date from before World War II.
I am assuming that the English labels were standard for items in the international trade. Go to an oriental grocery store and you will see products with English, and a host of other languages, on the label. This was to allow the manufacturer to cover a broad audience.
So when the plan was hatched, the existing labels had to be kept, rather than having a new one created just for selling the special cigarettes to China, so not to raise suspicions.
There’s also the same sort of “thing” going on with tobacco packaging that went on with all the markings on weapons; if you could convince the customer that the product was Western, they’d pay more for it. I’d wager that a lot of the “English” you found on much of the packaging was likely as questionable as a lot of what you find on T-shirts across Asia today…
There is term for such marketing gimmick Foreign branding
In non-English-speaking countries, many brands use English- or American-styled names to suggest foreign origin.
Quite true. And people go on about how awful Western civilization is. If it is so bad, then why are its products so sought after?
Golden bat is still manufactured by JT(Japanese Tobacco) as far as I know. It’s a value brand now and only sold in non filter.In the late 90s they made a filter version that packed quite a wallop and I remember one of their billboard advertisement that had a guy sitting in a leather easy chair with a tumbler of whiskey and burning one with the pack laying out on a end table. The slogan in the ad read”The bat loves you.” I read that the filters were gone by the early 2000’s. I haven’t seen them recently in most convenience stores. The post war brands “Peace” and “Hope” are still really common.
When you talked about the guy in the chair, why did the image of Ian in his chair with his glass of whiskey in his smoking jacket come to mind?
I thought of that too. Maybe Ian should pick up a pack, throw on his smoking jacket, pour out a tumbler full and make a video. Golden bats have dry heavy and slightly harsh flavor as I recall.
I initially had zero interest in this book until I watched Ian’s videos on the subject, and now I have gone ahead and backed it. Besides the Golden Bat opium smokes, there is mention of other related items like ashtrays, cigarette cases and lighters. There is a brief view of a matchbox in one of the videos, and that triggered a memory.
As a very young child, I fondly remember visiting the South African War Museum at the Johannesburg zoo. Among the items were some cigarette related items, including propaganda items. One of these was an allied matchbook. The cover of the matchbook was a cartoon face of a stereotypical Japanese face with buck teeth and glasses. I think it may have been meant to be Hideki Tojo himself. Anyway, the matchbook was designed in such a way that the matches were his teeth, so you were pulling out one of his teeth each time you took out a match.
So after that tangent, I am looking forward to see if there was any obvious propaganda in some of the cigarette packet cover art.
Come on, Ian, can’t you ask any of the hard questions? Like, how much opium did they actually put in? I doubt it could have been enough to give the user a major opium high; that would have been too obvious, and likely also too expensive. (Or was opium somehow cheap then?) I’m imagining just a tinge of it, just enough to make people like the cigarettes more without really being obvious: to make them think those particular cigarettes were nicely mellow. But I’d prefer real answers over imagination. We are told that “it worked”, but without details. It worked as in the Chinese never suspected it? It worked as in it turned all the recipients into drooling addicts? (Kind of hard for it to do that without them suspecting.) It worked as in major Japanese offensives succeeded where they otherwise would have failed? Or it worked as in that’s what Japanese officials in charge of the program were able to confidently claim to their superiors — that it wasn’t the outright, embarrassing sort of failure but rather the subtle, deniable sort?
By the way, the Opium War takes on an entirely different connotation if you realize that opium was legal in the British Empire at the time (and for that matter in US), and that the war was waged largely on what today are called libertarian principles. It wasn’t, like the Japanese cigarettes, “opium for thee but not for me”.
If you go back far enough and look at the bigger picture… The Opium Wars take on a much different appearance than the classic modern Chinese take on “We wuz victimized…”
Raw fact was, the opium was the only thing that the West could use to balance the trade for tea and manufactured goods from the Chinese. Ugly fact, but the Chinese government refused to conduct any sort of rational commerce out in the open, so that the only real way that the rest of the world could trade with them was with opium. Which was almost what the Mandarin class wanted, in that they were able to profit massively from it with their confederates in the organized crime/fraternal organizations we called “tongs”.
Whole thing was seriously immoral and entirely f*cked up, but the unpleasant fact is, the Chinese authorities had as much to do with it as the British and the rest of them. The refusal to trade for other goods had as much or more to do with what happened as the desire to trade opium did. After all, the opium had to be cultivated, refined, and packaged… It would have made a lot more sense to trade other goods for the tea and porcelain. However, that was not what the Chinese authorities wanted.
You go digging past the surface into the various established narratives throughout much of history, and what you will almost always find is that things were not necessarily so.
That balance-of-trade argument is not such a contradiction to the “established narrative”, as evidenced by Wikipedia’s First Opium War page mentioning it favorably. At any rate, at the time Britain was the leader in the Industrial Revolution, and had plenty of industrial products for sale. It balanced other trades by selling such things as “Sheffield knives and Birmingham spoons”. But somehow the Chinese weren’t the buyers of those that the rest of the world was; it probably had something to do with the way they regarded everyone outside China as “barbarians”. (A situation that has somewhat reversed itself these days: the Chinese now make the knives, and the Brits now look down their noses at them.)
The period I’m talking about predates the Industrial Revolution, and coincides with the beginnings of it all.
Had the Chinese been a bit less insular and more open to outsiders, there’s no reason at all that they couldn’t have had their own version of the UK’s path towards industrialization, with all that entails. Instead, the Mandarin class chose the path of insular self-centered stasis, and where did that put China in a little less than a century?
They could have done so much better than they did, and the whole thing is reducible to a series of deliberate choices dating back to the time of Zheng He. Engagement with the world, and honest cooperation would have been so much better for the average Chinese citizen that it’s not even funny. Not to mention how much better off the rest of the world would have been.
The choices made by the Mandarins during the years running up to the Opium Wars were such massive lost opportunities that it’s not even funny. It’s like looking back at the path taken by Ghengis Khan: What would the world look like, had the Khwarazim trade delegation gone properly? Would the Mongols have eschewed the destruction of the Islamic world, and built themselves a trade-based empire, rather than the one they did build on pyramids of skulls?
People being self-centered assholes has as much influence on history as anything else. From what reading I’ve done, I’m not entirely sure that the Mongol military empire was as inevitable as everyone assumes. The embassies to Khwarazim appear to have been genuine, and it does not necessarily follow that Ghengis would have diverted all of his resources towards that end had his embassies been met with good will.
Of course, the flip side to that is that if he hadn’t gone west, then it’s possible that all of China and the rest of Asia would have gone under the Mongol yoke, being as they had genuine grudges to settle with them.
It’s a funny thing, history: Had the Chinese not chosen to meddle with the internal politics of the steppe tribes, the resulting resentments and hatred from Ghengis and his circle wouldn’t have existed. Hell, without all that, who knows? Maybe the Mongols would never have left the steppes in the first damn place.
It’s a lot like the current mess in Ukraine; absent the current fecklessly idiotic course followed by Putin and his coterie, it’s entirely possible that Ukraine would have fallen “naturally” back into the Russian sphere of influence. I’d rate the chances of that somewhere in the negative numbers, these days, because there’s nothing quite like someone trying to kill you and destroy your nation to create a national identity. Ask the Arabs how well that worked out, vis-a-vis the Israelis.
Ah, well. Without human stupidity and utter foolishness, history would be a damned boring read.
Although, I have to say that I’d prefer living in an era that wasn’t quite this “interesting”, if you catch my meaning.
Oh, by 1840 (the First Opium War) they were so far into the Industrial Revolution that in the 1830s there was a “railway mania” in Britain, a rare example of “a giant and wildly speculative investment episode that was profitable to investors” (per a most interesting paper by Andrew Odlyzko; the rare part is of course not the mania but the profitability). Maudslay’s screw-cutting metal lathe was developed in 1800. And that quote I used (“Sheffield knives and Birmingham spoons”) is from an 1845 speech to Parliament (by Macaulay, my favorite historian; if you want to know how the British acquired India, read his essays on Clive and on Hastings).
The Chinese trade restrictions that led to the first Opium War were well in place long before. The need to open China was there, a long, long time before the war actually began…
There’s a hell of a lot of reading to be done on the issue, so I’ll summarize my argument by quoting the Wiki:
“In the 18th century, the demand for Chinese luxury goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) created a trade imbalance between China and Britain. European silver flowed into China through the Canton System, which confined incoming foreign trade to the southern port city of Canton. To counter this imbalance, the British East India Company began to grow opium in Bengal and allowed private British merchants to sell opium to Chinese smugglers for illegal sale in China. The influx of narcotics reversed the Chinese trade surplus, drained the economy of silver, and increased the numbers of opium addicts inside the country, outcomes that seriously worried Chinese officials.”
The causes for the First Opium War go back a hell of a lot further than what the common narrative would hold, which is that the Europeans just up and decided to rape China one day in the late 1830s. The economic antecedents and causative factors for China’s lack of power in the world relate directly to the choices made by their Mandarin class a century and more before. I’d even be willing to argue that a major reason that China was defeated in that war had a lot more to do with the much earlier decisions to withdraw from the world and shut down the oceanic trade efforts made by Zheng He than anything else. The choices were short-sighted and entirely inward-facing, which left China unable to compete on a level playing field.
Which is pretty ironic when you consider the relative positions of things in the long centuries before the 18th.
Yeah, I’m not arguing with any of that; indeed I’m emphasizing it by pointing out that the trade imbalance wasn’t due to any lack of British saleable goods: plenty of other nations were buying the manufactured products the British had to offer in that era, and for good reason. That the Chinese erected barriers to those products (either formally on the part of the government or informally as a widespread snide dismissal of “barbarian” products) was their fault. And then the one thing that could get past the barriers in large quantity was an addictive drug (and one which they had long experience with and wasn’t at all a “barbarian” novelty). That was presumably not an outcome they foresaw, but nevertheless a natural outcome.
And then there’s the matter of their whole society being so stultifying that taking drugs seemed like a reasonable choice.