Here is something from Edward V. Gulick Teaching in Wartime China: A Photo-Memoir, 1937-1939. 1 When Gulick came to China he was a young, idealistic part of the wealthy, idealistic Yale in China program. He went on to have a career as a historian of international relations and of China, but at this point he was a young Christian from a missionary family (although he ‘disliked old-fashioned missionary evangelism’2 ) who knew no Chinese and little about China. Still, he took to the place, and he learned a lot, much of it through meeting up with various missionaries, China hands and others. The one who interested me most was Gerald.
The exotic qualities of the hotel were enhanced by our linking up with someone I will call Gerald, a young English Buddhist who was on his way to Kunming and who had also come on the S.S. Canton from Hong Kong. Gerald identified himself as a dropout from Cambridge University and as a member of a prominent English family. He had lived several years in South China and several more in Peiping, attaining fluency in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and becoming a Buddhist convert. That was interesting enough, but I was astonished to learn that this tall, handsome and self-assured man had an opium habit, and then fascinated to be invited to watch him smoke. He was articulate, loved to talk, and relished having an interested audience as he lay on his side and prepared his opium for smoking. That ritual consisted of dipping a blunt needle into a viscous fluid like molasses; the tip of the needle with its adhering drop was held briefly over the concentrated heat of a squat opium lamp. He turned the drop as it bubbled and then shaped it on the flat surface near the bowl of the pipe, before dipping the needle tip wth its cooled droplet into the “molasses” once again, the cycle being repeated slowly and peacefully six or eight times. The finished pellet was finally pushed off the needle into the tiny bowl of the opium pipe which was turned to the heat of the lamp so the smoker could ignite the pellet with several big puffs followed by a gigantic long inhale. The whole procedure was known as a “mouth.” Since this took place thirty years before the prevalence of drugs in middle-class America, it seemed incredibly exotic
and offbeat to me.
Dr. Liebenthal and I visited Gerald a number of times in opium dens to watch and listen. He talked of northern and southern differences in preparation, of the gentleness of the habit, of how he had smoked socially off and on for a year, and even regularly for a month in order to cope with an intestinal ailment, before he realized he had a habit. By the time I knew him he was compelled to smoke two or three “mouths” both morning and evening. He was eager to show us how benign and peaceful the dens were, how civilized smoking was, how unrelated the whole process was to the ill-informed and prejudiced ways in which it was usually perceived by Westerners.
Gerald possessed a romantic image of a perfect and purified Chinese culture that led him to an obsessive conviction that the Chinese way of
doing anything- in art, in language, in manners, in dress, in architecture, in agriculture and organization, in religion- was demonstrably the
best. Initially, I found this view of life sympathetic, but it risked slipping from novelty and stimulation to tedium and aggravation.
Eventually he sours on Gerald, but for me the opium smoking was the most interesting part. Apparently for Gerald opium smoking was a vital part of connecting to China. Liu Wendian seems to have felt the same way. Needless to say that is not true now, but it was part of the package as recently as the 1930s