This fascinating history of international drug trafficking in the first half of the 20th century follows the stories of American narcs and gangsters, Japanese spies, Chinese warlords, and soldiers of fortune whose lives revolved around opium. The drug trade centered on China, which was before 1949, the world's largest narcotic market. The authors tell the interlocking stories of the many extraordinary personalities_sinister and otherwise_involved in narcotics trafficking in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Drawing on a rich store of U.S., British, European, Japanese, and Chinese archives, this unique study will be invaluable for all readers interested in the drug trade and contemporary East Asian history.
"Read on and join the ranks of those who appreciate just how complicated a problem drug trafficking and use really is," the authors pronounce in their book's foreword. The authors, both historians, trace the development of the international drug trade between 1907 and 1954, shifting among Europe, Asia and the U.S. Throughout that time, the drug trade--and the money it represented--affected and was affected by political developments. Early in the century, even as European governments condemned drug use, they depended on the revenue from opium monopolies they ran in Asian colonies such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. The authors have done their homework well (providing footnotes and an extensive bibliography), but the final result is disjointed. Every few pages they throw in mini-biographies of players in the drug trade, from English bureaucrats to Chinese poppy growers and Japanese traders. It's easy to lose track of who's who, as people mentioned in an early chapter show up again 100 pages later, well after the reader has forgotten their significance. Concentrating on a few main characters who exemplified certain traits would have produced a more coherent whole. Only in the last few pages do Meyer and Parssinen find parallels between the Chinese opium trade and the current inner-city drug wars, something that would have given the work more current relevance.