Smoking opium in Penang, 1854


During the 19th century, opium became the scourge of the Chinese, not only in China itself, but throughout the Far East, Penang included. It destroyed countless lives and countless families, and came to be associated with Chinese culture despite the trade being run largely by the British as part of their colonial commerce. As with the slave trade, where Africans were captured by British ships for shipment to America, the opium trade was built on the plant being grown and harvested in India to be smuggled into China. The obvious effects of these industries were not visible to the citizens of Britain. Supply came from one continent to satisfy a created demand on another.

The Opium Wars were a struggle between the Chinese and the British. The use of the forbidden drug was destroying families and communities in China and turned the balance of payment that had for a long time been in China’s favour into a huge deficit for Beijing. These wars took place in 1839-1842 and 1856-1860, just before the American Civil War ended with the abolition of slavery on that continent.

The following text is taken from J.R. Logan’s famous The Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia. This came from Volume VIII, which was printed in 1854 in Singapore, from a long article titled “Notes on the Chinese of Pinang”, pp. 24-25. 

The most pernicious habit indulged in by Chinese is the use of opium, or a preparation of that drug called Chandoo. The following is the method of preparing it for smoking. Two balls of opium are cut open and their contents put into an iron pan which is placed on a slow fire; a man keeps stirring it with a piece of wood till the whole is melted, it is then divided and put into two pans, these are inverted over the fire and baked till all moisture is absorbed. The opium can then be peeled off in slices. The hide which was stripped off the balls is boiled in water till all the opium is detached from it. The water is then strained and poured over the slices of opium which are placed in pans. Baskets are now prepared by lining their bottoms with several layers of common China paper, and they are filled with the slices of opium and placed over pans. Boiling water is now very slowly poured into the baskets over the opium. The water dissolves the opium which filters through the paper into the pans. When all the opium is dissolved the pans are placed over good fires and the opium water boiled till it thickens to a proper consistency. During the boiling a man stands by with a bunch of feathers, with which he wets and moistens the pans above the surface of the liquid to keep it from burning, and also brushes off all dirt which may float to the top. When the preparation can be drawn out of the pan 2 or 3 feet, without breaking, it has boiled sufficiently. The pans are taken off the fire, placed on the ground and the Chandoo cooled with fans. When quite cool it is poured into boxes ready for sale. It is always adulterated by pouring dissolved sugar candy into opium water before it is boiled. In the Opium Farm one fourth of a catty of sugar is added to two balls of opium,—the manufacturers of illicit Chandoo mix half a catty of sugar with 2 balls of opium.

The farmer sells Chandoo for the Pinang market at 75 cents a tyle, a tyle being one sixteenth of a catty. Chandoo intended for the native territories is sold for 65 cents a tyle.

In all the Chandoo shops a piece of cloth is kept near the retailer, on which he wipes his fingers, knives, or any article soiled with Chandoo; this cloth is used till well saturated and then sold for a few cents. The rags are steeped in water, which is strained and boiled till Chandoo is obtained, into which young sugar cane leaves, chopped up very small, are thrown and well mixed, the result is rolled into pills, sold and eaten. This preparation is called Muddeth. Opium is also eaten by a great number.

Chandoo is a deadly poison, of which a quarter of a dollar’s weight will kill a man in an hour. The best restorative for a man that has poisoned himself with Chandoo, is oil, generally cocoanut, which will cause him to vomit immediately. Should the Chandoo have been dissolved in arrack or water, the oil will not have the desired effect. He must be sickened by introducing a feather or stick into his gullet. 

Chandoo is thus used; the smoker takes a pipe, on the bowl of which a convex piece of tin is fitted, having a very small hole in the centre; the smallest quantity of Chandoo, about the fifteenth part of a tyle, is placed on the hole, the smoker lies down and applies the Chandoo to the flame of a small lamp, he imbibes the vapour and in a few seconds the Chandoo is burnt out, the refuse falling into the bowl. After the pipe has been used for some time the tin lid is taken off and the refuse mentioned above is scooped out; it is called Tye Chandoo, and is retailed by the smoking shop keepers; it sells at 25 to 40 cents a tyle and is much used by the poorer classes.

The Opium Farmer retains five retailers or clerks whose duty it is to keep the accounts and retail the drug, six Tukangs or labourers, one cook, two water-carriers, and 8 Revenue peons.

Though an immense quantity of illicit Chandoo is smuggled into the island from the Malay territory and Province Wellesley, the farmer must derive a large prot to be able to pay Government 2,680 dollars per mensem or 32,160 annually. An inveterate smoker will demolish half a tyle or more at a time, he then falls back and sleeps off the effects; it is remarkable that an opium smoker cannot sleep long; on awaking he will return to his pipe, till sleep closes his eyelids again. The dreams or fancies in these fitful naps are very delightful. The immoderate use of this vile drug for a few years completely destroys all a man’s energies and renders him entirely unfit for active employment. The opium smoker may readily be known by his emaciated, woe-begone appearance.

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