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History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Saigon

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  1. Beenthere2Hippie
    The opium smokers appeared only briefly in the original story [including 9 hsitoric photos, here] that ran in LIFE, a photo essay from 1949 about life in what was, then, French Indochina. The area that is now Vietnam was bucking French colonial rule, and the magazine saw its citizens as symbols of the “question of empire in the 20th century.” Among a series of picturesque scenes from a “rich, beautiful” dying system, there they were: three opium smokers, seen in the first slide above, at a detox clinic in Saigon.

    On the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls every year on June 26, one detail from that caption stands out: opium, the magazine explained, was a high-revenue monopoly product of the French government in Indochina.

    In other words, the abuse side of the situation—addiction and its ravages—was inextricable from the trafficking side, the economic motivation to keep illicit substances available. (Of course, this was not the only example of opium’s implication in a controversial colonial system: China and Britain fought two wars in the 19th century over the opium trade.)

    At the time, LIFE reported, more than half of the population of the city smoked the drug—and one-fifth of the French administrative budget came from sales of it.

    By 1950, TIME noted that the system existed “to French shame.” But it existed nonetheless.

    One of the ways opium was made so readily available in Saigon at the time was at the detox clinics like the one where these photos were taken. These clinics – to some observers, they would be more accurately described as “dens” – used to sell increasingly small doses, which could taper an addiction.

    Whether they actually helped anyone recover from addiction is a mystery the photographs cannot reveal.


    By Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk - Time/June 24, 2016
    http://time.com/4160275/1949-saigon-opium-detox-clinic/
    Newshawk Crew

    About Author

    Beenthere2Hippie
    BT2H is a retired news editor and writer from the NYC area who, for health reasons, retired to a southern US state early, and where BT2H continues to write and to post drug-related news to DF.

Comments

  1. perro-salchicha614
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    Interesting article, although statements like "more than half the population of the city smoked the drug" can be a bit misleading. In Southeast Asia, opium dens used to be roughly equivalent to taverns and pubs, and there were many social users who weren't actually addicts. Assuming that everyone who smoked opium was an addict would be like classifying everyone who likes to have a couple of beers now and then as an alcoholic. There are many primary sources which indicate that most of the people who used the drug weren't problematic users.

    As for the "shame," a lot of that has to do with the association between the drug and the "yellow peril" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the fact that the US had already begun to take a dominant role in shaping other countries' perceptions of it. There wasn't any stigma attached to opium smoking in Asian cultures, and the fact that it was cast as "shameful" by Westerners shows their complete lack of understanding of the culture surrounding it.
  2. Booty love
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    I think much of our countries percieved history, good, bad or indifferent, towards opium, came from trying to control the poppy trade
  3. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    Both statements are very true. We westerners are quick to pass judgement on things we do not appreciate or understand. The only thing to be said in their defense is, it was 1948, only two years after WWII and so we were far from educated in the ways of Asian culture (and still are). But the photos are beautiful and remain the saving grace of the article. :)

  4. perro-salchicha614
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    I agree, the pictures are great. Those racks of pipes in the second one are to die for! :D
  5. Beenthere2Hippie
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    I knew you'd appreciate them! I just wasn't sure if I should send you a link to them or, instead, let you find them for yourself - like presents under the tree on Xmas, which is always more exciting.

    Glad you enjoyed them. : )
  6. devilgoose
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    The next time I smoke, I'm gonna try crossing my legs like that old dude. There must be something to it, you see a lot of pictures of opium smokers with their legs perched like that...

    If you click the link in there to see the original Time article from back in the day, there's pages and pages worth of alcohol and tobacco advertising surrounding it. I can't decide if that's funny, or sad, or maddening.
  7. xiaobendan
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    The only place these days where you can actually smoke opium easy enough is in Cambodia.

    Now you need to know the lay of the land where are thinking of indulging.

    Vietnam,Thailand,China are like the worst places.

    Laos and Burma are quite unsafe person wise.
  8. aemetha
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    It looks as though he is reclined in a half lotus pose. It's a popular pose (along obviously with full lotus) for Buddhist meditation because it's generally more comfortable to sit for long periods in that position than it is to sit in the more regular crossed leg position people commonly use in the western world. I guess he could either be a Buddhist practitioner who is in the habit of sitting that way through meditation, or he just plans on smoking a whole lot of dross and doesn't want to become uncomfortable and have to move.
  9. perro-salchicha614
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    I generally refrain from using that pose when I smoke, but that's just because I don't think it looks very ladylike. I like to look pretty when I smoke. :p
  10. devilgoose
    Re: History Revisits Images of the Opium Politics and Desperate Economics of 1948, Sa

    Do you mean unsafe for people looking for opium, or unsafe in general? I went all over the north of Laos in March and didn't feel unsafe at all, anywhere... but I wasn't really looking for opium.
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