All things old China - books, anecdotes, stories, podcasts, factoids & ramblings from the author Paul French

Opium References in Popular Culture, the 2021 List

Posted: December 8th, 2021 | No Comments »

I’ve been spotting opium references in popular culture with interest for quite a few years now (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 & 2012) on just how opium keeps fascinating us.

TV first then – I only had one new opium ref this year (though that wasn’t for not watching a load of tele!!) Opium popped up in Glitch season 3, the Aussie back-from-the-dead show, as Chi (resurrected from the old Gold Rush days) remembers beginning work as a Chinese labourer in Australia after his career as a Chinese opera star ended. Chi it seemed also liked a go on the pipe.

With books i’ll kick off with non-fcition and Joel Dinerstein’s great book The Origins of Cool in Post-war America which, of course, looks at the role drugs played in developing the ‘cool’ in jazz, the movies, literature etc and opium’s role there. Also in non-fiction Raphael Cormack’s Midnight in Cairo tells the story of Egypt’s wild 1920s cabarets and nightclubs where a little opium did appear. There’s also some Cocteau and opium anecdotes in Simon Fenwick’s excellent book about The Crichel Boys and their post-war Doreset literary set. Christopher Othen’s The King of Nazi Paris about collaborationist gangsters in the Nazi-occupied city has a few tantalising details of the dealers of opium and cocaine throughout the period. And Diana S. Kim’s Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition Across South East Asia spanned a number of countries between the 1890s and late 1940s. Finally, Robert Wainwright’s biography of Enid Lindeman, Enid, who lived quite the life of wealth, war and tragedy features some 1930s battles against morphone addiction.

A few other more academic non-fiction studies: Samuel Merwin’s Drugging a Nation – The Story of China and the Opium Curse is exactly what it says on the tin. Similarly so with Katherine Lodwick’s Crusaders Against Opium: Protestant Missionaries in China, 1874-1917.

And some novels too – Modifa Mohamed’s The Fortune Men (based on a true story but novelised) recreated Cardiff’s multicultural Tiger Bay of the 1950s and there’s a little opium in the neighbourhood too. Opium popped up among the hobos and Wobblies of Spokane in Jess Walters’s great epic novel The Cold Millions. Opium is being edged out in favour of cocaine in Jon Talton’s City of Dark Corners set in 1930s Phoenix.

Getting a little cozy with CS Woolley’s What Became of Henry Cartwright? Brigadier George Webb-Kneelingroach thought his days of serving his country were through, but with the new initiative in China to stop the Opium trade, the Empire calls on him once again. And finally, the latest in Abir Mukherjee’s Calcutta 1920s detective novels, The Shadows of Men, where opium invariably rears its head.

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