The League of Nations Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs, created in 1920, culminated almost eight decades of political turmoil over opium trafficking, which was by far the largest state-backed drug trade in the age of empire. Opponents of opium had long struggled to rein in the profitable drug. Opium’s Long Shadow shows how diverse local protests crossed imperial, national, and colonial boundaries to gain traction globally and harness public opinion as a moral deterrent in international politics after World War I.
Steffen Rimner traces the far-flung itineraries and trenchant arguments of reformers—significantly, feminists and journalists—who viewed opium addiction as a root cause of poverty, famine, “white slavery,” and moral degradation. These activists targeted the international reputation of drug-trading governments, first and foremost Great Britain, British India, and Japan, becoming pioneers of the global political tactic we today call naming and shaming. But rather than taking sole responsibility for their own behavior, states in turn appropriated anti-drug criticism to shame fellow sovereigns around the globe. Consequently, participation in drug control became a prerequisite for membership in the twentieth-century international community. Rimner relates how an aggressive embrace of anti-drug politics earned China and other Asian states new influence on the world stage.
The link between drug control and international legitimacy has endured. Amid fierce contemporary debate over the wisdom of narcotics policies, the 100-year-old moral consensus Rimner describes remains a backbone of the international order.
[A] landmark study of narcotics and civil society…Rimner tells us a great deal about the poppy trade, but this book’s more lasting provocation is the one it offers about citizen action and moral authority in the global order…This book fluently interweaves literature which has rarely before been treated in concert, and is a rich treat for scholars of late empire and international institutions…Offers much food for thought about narcotics and empire.
In its global scope and integrative narrative, Opium’s Long Shadow offers a long overdue corrective to studies of opium’s history…The book is more valuable for how the Chinese story gains global dimensions, both through the story the book tells and the details it mobilizes…A fine example of what a locally-attuned global history can look like.
Thoroughly researched and absorbing, Opium’s Long Shadow provides a crucial new insight into the complex local, regional, and international calculus that produced global drug control during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In a work of great brilliance and erudition, Steffen Rimner shows himself to be a complete historian: polyglot and a master of a vast range of sources, a teller of stories and an acute analyst of power and culture. Never has global opium received a more nuanced treatment.
As this fascinating and deeply researched study reveals, the struggle against opium was driven by a broad coalition of actors hailing from Europe, the United States, and Asia. In a truly transnational history of the fight against opium, Rimner shows the ultimate effectiveness of the international coalition despite many actors’ pursuit of stubbornly local agendas.
There has as yet been no study that uses opium as a means of exploring the complex questions of identity, sovereignty, and boundaries in Asia in a time of globalization. The distinctive and sophisticated argument of Opium’s Long Shadow gives us a new approach to understanding the formation of international society.
This wonderful book provides us with an excellent overview of local protests against opium trafficking across national boundaries as well as revealing much about the dynamics of drug-trading governments whom they shamed. Rimner effectively integrates the Japanese past, as well as that of other Asian states, into the context of global history.
- 384 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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