Opium and Empire in Southeast Asia: Regulating Consumption by Ashley Wright (auth.)

By Ashley Wright (auth.)

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It was in the interest of the farmer to maximise his profits, in order to make back the often considerable cost of his license. 48 Moreover, as the license holders were entitled to an unlimited amount of government opium, they often sold it on to “illicit” dealers. D. Maingy, contains important information about opium sales and policy in the region. S. 49 It also illuminates the fashioning of colonial opium policy. In the documentation of his short administrative career the preoccupations that haunt colonial opium policy in Burma are evident: the connection between opium and labour, the question of the responsibility of the state with regards to the physical and moral well-being of its subjects, and the different treatment of different ethnicities within Burma.

46 But alongside these major campaigns, the Society publicised the global nature of the opium problem, drawing attention to the existence of opium problems in locations beyond the India-China-Britain triangle. The best source for tracking the activities and ideology of this anti-opium group is its periodical, Friend of China, which published reports on the Society’s meetings and articles concerning opium use and political developments in India and China from 1875 onwards. 49 Although the Burmese opium industry remained a minor issue for the Society in comparison with its focus on the opium trade with China, the Society employed each of these tactics to lobby against the colonial Burmese opium industry.

This is evident in the Directors’ decision to continue opium sales while banning gambling farms. The East India Company maintained gambling farms only in Tenasserim, but it sold opium elsewhere in India. Thus, while closing gambling farms would not have repercussions elsewhere in the Company’s territories, shutting down opium farms in Tenasserim because of “deleterious” effects could open the door to shutting down opium sales elsewhere in India. 61 His reports indicate a contradictory attitude towards the place of opium in Burma: opium was at once a potential economic asset, and a social peril.

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