US President Barack Obama smoked pot as a teenager and has said that he doesn’t believe that recreational users of the drug should be prosecuted. His Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, would disagree, it seems. On June 25, amid a massive anti-corruption campaign and attempts to push through important economic and legal reforms, Xi instructed law enforcement agencies to “harshly crackdown” on the use of drugs.
“China still faces a grave situation in drug control. [We] need to be aware of the danger of drugs and adopt forceful measures to wipe them out,” he wrote.
The thing is, compared to most countries, China doesn’t have anywhere near as big a problem with drugs.
Close to 24 million Americans over the age of 12 use illicit drugs or abuse legal medicines every month, according to official statistics, while India estimates the number of heroin and marijuana users alone now totals 15 million.
China is home to 2.6 million “registered” drug users and possibly a further 10 million unregistered ones. In percentage terms, that’s a much smaller share of the population than similar groups in North America or Europe.
So why the concern?
Well, the consumption of drugs in China is thought to be rising fast, growing at a rate of 18% annually for the last five years, according to government statistics. First-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, with their vibrant party scenes, account for much of that growth, but bus and truck drivers have also been caught using synthetic stimulants to keep them awake during long hours at the wheel.
Last year a bus driver in Ningbo was arrested for doing exactly that. And in 2012 a driver from Changshu (near Suzhou) killed 14 people after driving under the influence of methamphetamine.
The latest crackdown seems to have different targets, thus far focusing on celebrities such as Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan and the Taiwanese actor and singer Kai Ko. By targeting film and television stars, it also sends a message that the industry needs to tow the government line. Over the past two years there have been a number of new restrictions on television channels, video streaming sites and content makers, some of them linked to the anti-extravagance campaign, others intended to ‘rejuvenate the nation’ (see WiC235 for details of a ban on certain American TV programmes).
The move can be seen as part of the message that ‘Western values’ – drug taking is known as ‘the American disease’ in China – are less welcome. But the crackdown also fits into a wider morality drive that has seen raids occur on brothels and illegal casinos. Three weekends ago police turned up at a Beijing nightclub popular with foreigners and demanded urine samples. Those that failed the tests were detained and it has been reported that the non-Chinese offenders will be deported.
“No matter who a person is, no matter how popular they are, moral quality comes first. Its every person’s job, even celebrities, to obey the law,” the People’s Daily warned shortly after the raid.
For Chan and Ko, the penalty of being caught with more than 100 grammes of marijuana is likely to be high. Chan, who is said to have hosted pot-smoking sessions at his apartment, is thought to be facing up to three years in jail.
Ko, who is accused only of smoking the drug, will spend 15 days in administrative detention.
Both actors look likely to lose their endorsement contracts with the likes of Nivea, Adidas and Chevrolet, 21CN Business Herald reports. And if Chan thought his influential father might pull some strings for him, he was wrong. Chan senior, an anti-drug ambassador since 2009, issued the following statement on weibo. “I’m angry and shocked at what Jaycee did. I feel ashamed as a public figure, and ashamed as a father. His mother, especially, is heartbroken. I want to say to Jaycee that you have to be responsible for what you’ve done. I’m willing to face everything with you as your father,” the kung-fu star wrote.
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