The impact of Opium on the Chinese Society
the-impact-of-opium-in-china (full report with charts)
- Chinese legalization of opium in 1858 with a tariff of about 8%
- Legalization didn’t increase exports or decreased price
- India was a major opium producer during the 19th century
- In 1729, rising opium use prompted an imperial edict from Yung Ching that forbade the sale of opium for smoking purposes
- the East India Company stopped exporting opium directly to China in 1796 and began selling in Calcutta to private English merchants
- Since data on Chinese opium consumption are not available, we use data on the quantity and price of opium exports from India to China
Impact of Opium on the Chinese Society
The court feared the government was rotten with addiction, it was also alarmed by the economic consequences of the increasing export bulk silver. The silver drain caused inflation, farmers therefore had to pay increasingly higher taxes without any growth of income for the state.
Furthermore, traffic in the drug brought officials into contact with gangsters, and debased public office. Opium was viewed as an agent of barbarian aggression, a ‘moral poison’ which debased people’s minds. It dissolved the proper social relationships (lun-li) which distinguished man from the beasts, and Chinese from the barbarians.
Obviously the opium had consequences in the health of people as well. Even though there are no concrete details about the health, we can see that the population dropped after 1850 (Figure 3).
Figures 1 and 2 as well as Table 1 show how the import of Opium in China increased, while the price decreased.
Numbers of smokers, import and price
Number of smokers, according to historians:
1836 – 12.5 million smokers (Foreigner estimation)
1880s – 10% of the Population was smokers (Jonathan Spence)
1881 – 2 million smokers (Robert Hart) [considered to be an underestimation]
1890 – 15 million smokers
Figure 1: Opium Exports per Capita from India to China (in number of chests)
Figure 1 presents data on exports of opium from India to China for the period 1801-1902. The data are measured in number of chests per Capita. Overall there is a strong upward trend, beginning around 1820. This trend potentially reflects increasing population, higher income, or an expanding taste for opium. There is substantial volatility during certain periods, especially the war years (1839-1842 and 1855-1866).
Figure 2: Price of Opium Exports in India (rupees per chest)
Figure 2 shows the price of opium at the scales in India. The price is volatile early in the 19th century. Prices appears to have increased (slightly) rather than decreased after legalization, which is the opposite of what should have occurred due to a substitution from imported to domestic opium. Table 2 examines the impact of legalization on the price of opium exports. The coefficient on legalization is negative without controls for pre-existing trends but insignificantly positive with controls for pre-existing trends. There is no evidence, therefore, that legalization changed the path of export prices.
Table 1: British Sales of Opium to China
|Year||Number of Chests|
Figure 3: Change in Population from 1800-1900
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper 11355 Jeffrey A. Miron & Chris Feige
The Cambridge History of China page 178 to 181
Spence, Jonathan D. – The Search for Modern China (1990) page 129
Wolfram Alpha (http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=china+population+1800-1900)
The National Bureau of Statistics of China doesn’t like to reply to emails
A lot of statistics begin at 1950
 NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper 11355 Jeffrey A. Miron & Chris Feige
 The Cambridge History of China page 178 to 181
 The Cambridge History of China p.178
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper 11355 page 13
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH Working Paper 11355 page 14
 Spence, Jonathan D. – The Search for Modern China (1990) page 129