Opium war

China cracks down on narcotics

Opium war

Death by a thousand snorts: a drug dealer facing sentence in Shanghai

Ian Dury and the Blockheads summed it up well with their chart topping song, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll in 1977.  The road to fame and fortune is long known to be littered with temptation.

Man Wenjun, a mainland singer who shot to fame with his 1996 hit I Understand You All the Time was widely considered to be above all that.

In fact, the “farmer” (read ‘country ‘in Western parlance) singer had cultivated a wholesome image amongst his fan base. Imagine the dismay, then, when he was allegedly caught with heroin whilst out celebrating his wife’s birthday at a nightclub in Beijing.

Man is the latest Chinese showbiz name to join a rogue’s gallery of drug offenders caught in the act.  Early last year, cinematographer Xie Zhengyu and actor Wu Gang (also known as Wu Lala) made headlines after drugs busts. Director Zhang Yuan was also arrested on suspicion of using the designer drugs ice and ketamine.

Song Ke, CEO of Taihe Rye Music, Man’s record label, expressed shock at the news of Man’s alleged indiscretions. So did an official from a charity foundation, which has Man as an ambassador.

The incident quickly sparked online discussion on the moral standards of celebrities. Some of the behaviour “challenges society’s bottom line”, Zhang Jian, a lawyer from Beijing, wrote in his blog.

But it is not just showbiz stars facing drug problems. Although the Chinese are often perceived to be too law-abiding (or simply not wealthy enough) to be users of illicit drugs, the incidence of abuse is on the rise.

The number of registered drug addicts in China is 1.16 million – 89% of whom are users of heroin. That may not seem much for a country with 1.3 billion people. But it is a 35% increase on 10 years ago. The true number of addicts is also widely acknowledged to be far higher.

Of course, the Chinese government is very sensitive about drugs: recalling the days when the nation was addicted to opium (peddled in the large part by foreigners). One of Mao’s more positive achievements was to obliterate drug abuse.

No shock then that the government continues to talk (and act) tough on drugs today. But it hasn’t been easy. For a start, China is one of the largest producers of ice, also known as methamphetamine. The country is the world’s largest natural source of ephedrine, from which the drug is derived. And according to Zhang Xinfeng, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission, “The criminal activities of production and trafficking of drugs in China, especially methamphetamine, ecstasy and other illegal drugs, have shown an upward trend.”

Parts of the country are also in close proximity to the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, Burma and Laos, and it is thought that 60% of the area’s heroin production is trafficked into China.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports suggest that pop star Man has been sent to a rehabilitation centre. His supporters argue that the singer is only human and that he deserves sympathy for having erred. But fellow musician Luo Qi, a rock singer who spent three months in a drug rehabilitation centre in 1997, is more critical. In an interview with China Daily, Luo chastises those entertainers who make excuses for their drug use as “a highly pathetic thing”.

Keeping Track: Last week’s issue reported on China’s growing drug problem. On Wednesday the authorities destroyed 393kg of illegal narcotics, having seized 773kg over the course of the year. The drugs were symbolically destroyed on June 3 to mark the 170th anniversary of the Humen Opium Incident – when Qing dynasty official,
Lin Zexu had 1,000 tonnes of smuggled opium set on fire.(5 June 2009)

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