When I came to U.S. in 1961, people who knew I came from China sometimes asked what was it like to be brainwashed. I could only smiled and change topics. To me the history of Opium Wars always stick out more than anything else I learned in school. In high school, cigarettes were ubiquitous among students. In college, every Saturday night, I usually vacated the dorm and left for student center until around 1 AM, so my roommate can entertain his girlfriend coming North from Providence. When I returned to sleep there always was the sweet smell of marijuana lingering even with windows wide open. When I was working on rare occasions I did socialize outside work and was offered a joint which I always politely refuse. To me I can’t imagine being a Chinese, knowing the history of Opium Wars, that I would associate with drug or cigarette. When I was in Hong Kong for 2 years I read about the large heroin addict population I always shake my head and wondered how any Chinese can do drugs. Even today when Singapore executes some westerner drug courier, or the recent news that China executed a Japanese amphetamine seller I can’t really empathize even though I am somewhat ambivalent on capital punishment.
A few years ago a famous designer wanted to use the word “Opium” for his new fragrance, some Chinese-American activists protested and caused some media coverage. Most reporters probably have no idea the word “Opium” has in Chinese history and felt it was over the top stir in a teapot. Recently with the heroin overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a noted Oscar winning actor caused many sad reminiscences, about the toll on other celebrities, possible stockpile on antidotes, and for a week, sweeps on minor drug dealers in Manhattan. Yet there were few real outrages or possible solutions.
The never ending “War on Drugs” in U.S. has more than half of the prison population related to drugs, yet no solution is in sight. Whether the billions spent on eradicating opium in Afghanistan or cocaine in South America on the supply side, and enforcement and treatments on the demand side. Or the European model on decriminalization on drug users, I don’t know the real solution. But I want China to continue to emphasize and brain wash her young the history of Opium Wars.