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The Review of Reviews 5 June (1892), p. 604


The CALIFORNIA ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE for May prints a valuable article on "Opium and Its Votaries," by F. J. Masters, who has studied the subject in San Francisco at first hand. An added air of authority is given to the paper by the illustrations of opium dens and smokers in various phases of dilapidation. These pictures are copies of flash-light photographs taken in the underground joints of San Francisco by a party which the magazine sent out for that purpose, and who, backed up by a crack detective, accomplished their end in spite of John Chinaman's vigorous remonstrances against being "took" in such circumstances.

While the opium evil is a huge one and dreadful in its consequences, the immediate physical effects of the drug, Dr. Masters tells us, has been greatly exaggerated. "It is a mistake to suppose that when a man begins to smoke the drug he begins to lose strength and waste away. Opium is no doubt responsible for the widespread misery and destitution seen in many of the poorer districts of China; but the concomitant evils have to be distinguished from the direct effects upon the individual." There are degrees of opium, and the penurious Chinaman can often only afford to smoke a vile adulteration, which is doubly ruinous.

Dr. Masters describes in very interesting detail the manner of carrying on the San Francisco joints, of which there are a great number: "In China the most unbiased and trustworthy opinions give thirty per cent of those who are addicted to the habit and ten per cent of confirmed opium sots. I am inclined to believe that the same figures will hold good for the Chinese in San Francisco, though Colonel Bee, the Chinese Consul, places the percentage much lower."

Nor is it only the Chinese who use the demoralizing drug. The vice is spreading among Americans to a serious extent. But they do not go to the joints. "If done at all," says Dr. Masters, "it must be very secretly. The movements of white people about Chinatown are so carefully watched, and the different hells under almost half-hourly surveillance, that it would be impossible for them to frequent these places without soon attracting the attention of the police. There is plenty of smoking done by American people, but it is carried on in private houses or in rooms secretly kept by white people."

Notwithstanding the constant increase of the tax on opium it continues to come into the country in greater and greater quantities; and last year, under the $12 per pound tax of the McKinley tariff, the importations amounted to 63,189 pounds of prepared opium. Crude opium is not imported in such a proportion as formerly, because the heavy duties make it impossible to manufacture or "cook" the product in this country and compete with the foreign prepared variety. But this fact fosters numerous illicit establishments, which now and then come to light.

In San Francisco a city ordinance attempts to regulate the selling of smoking opium by a high license proportional to the gross business done, and in 1889 another ordinance made it "illegal to sell any extract of opium except on a written order of a practicing physician, and requiring that the amounts sold, with the name, sex, color and residence of the purchaser, and the name of the prescribing physician, be entered in a book. The City Council thus passes an ordinance practically declaring a business illegal which it has already legalized, and from which it is not ashamed to draw a revenue."

The right way to deal with the problem, Dr. Masters thinks, is to follow the advice of the better class of Chinese, and remove prepared opium from the tariff list, declare it contraband, and confiscate it wherever found.

"For the last thirty years," he says, "from pulpit, platform and press, we have been thundering denunciations against Great Britain for importing crude opium into China and deriving a revenue therefrom, which some have called a revenue of blood, and yet during the last eight years we have been importing, at this port alone, half a million pounds of opium, prepared only for smoking purposes, and which have brought to our national treasury a revenue drawn from human vice amounting to five millions of dollars. Yet this is only for the last eight years, and this a period, it will be observed, marked by the exaction of heavy import duties, and added to this a steadily decreasing Chinese population." The disgusting and horrible effects of regular opium smoking are too well known already, and that part of the article before us which deals with them scarcely adds to the reputation of the pernicious drug. But the thought of the introduction of the habit among Americans must be a potent factor in our "Chinese Question," and it is an added reason why that problem must be largely solved by the Americans of the Pacific Coast.

[NOTE: The article from which this file was excerpted may include additional text and accompanying illustrations.]

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