Drugs, Race, and Moral Panic

Document 1: Emily Murphy, The Black Candle

Source: Murphy, Emily. The Black Candle. Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922.




O just, subtle and mighty opium ….

— De Quincey,

THE Chinese say there are Ten Cannots for those
who smoke, opium ; —
“1. He cannot give it up.

2. He cannot enjoy sleep.

3. He cannot wait his turn while sharing his pipe
with his friends.

4. He cannot rise early.

5. He cannot be cured when he becomes ill.

6. He cannot help relatives who are in need.

7. He cannot enjoy wealth,

8. He cannot plan anything.

9. He cannot get credit even when he has been an
old customer.

10. He cannot walk any distance.”

An analysis of these “Cannots” show the opium-sot to be selfish, slothful, weak, diseased, inefficient, untrustworthy, and emasculated. Better dead, he still lives on, till he becomes what the Chinese call “a ghost.”

Ben Jonson in Volpone, gives the picture of a man in this condition who is on the verge of death from narcotic poisoning. One of the characters desires the death of the victim, as may be seen from his ejaculations.


How does your patron?………


His mouth

Is ever gaping and his eyelids hang.




A freezing numbness stiffens all his joints,

And makes the color of his flesh like lead.


Tis good.


His pulses beat slow and dull.


Good symptoms still.


And from his brain ….


I conceive you: good.


Flows a cold sweat and a continual rheum
Forth the resolved corners of his eyes.
. . . . . . He now hath losMiis feelings and hath

left to snort:
You can hardly perceive that he breathes.”

There is a medical name for death from opium, but physicians tell us that dissolution is really caused by engorgement of the brain.

In opium poisoning, where a stomach pump is not immediately available, the emetic is a tablespoonful of mustard in a small tumblerful of warm water. After this is thrown off, the victim should be given great draughts of warm water to wash out the stomach. Sometimes, the stomach will not respond to the emetic as it sleeps as well as the victim.

In poisoning for laudanum— a simple tincture of opium, which strange to relate, is derived from the Latin word laudandum ‘to be praised’— an overdose sometimes acts as an emetic itself. Awhile ago an aged man was charged with attempting to commit suicide. He told me he drank a very considerable dose of laudanum, which only acted as an emetic. Then he tried to hang himself with a rope, which also proved unavailing. He is still alive and more happy than one could believe.

‘. . . . Among the Chinese priests, we find this dictum : — Chih yen pu neng yang sen toi, which being interpreted means, “If you eat opium your sons will die out in the second generation.”

What greater evil could befall a Chinese family than that it should leave no posterity for the worship of ancestors? Anyone who would by an act or omission contribute to so calamitous a happening must be considered worthy of that national punishment known as ling chih. This punishment while killing the evil can hardly be considered as a successful one, or even an economic measure, in that it killed the man also, the method being death by slicing. Still, it has this advantage that there is no subsequent

Under these circumstances, it is only natural that the Chinaman should prefer teaching the art of “hitting the pipe” to white “devils,” like you and me who probably have no souls anyway, and certainly no ancestors. Besides, what is a fine in dollars when compared to the enormous indignity of death beneath a slicing machine ?

Still, no nation in the world has endeavored to rid itself of the opium scourge like the Chinese people and, on one occasion, President Hsu-Shi-Ch’ang of China issued an order for the destruction of twelve hundred chests of opium, the value of which was fourteen million dollars. This opium belonged to the Shanghai Opium Combine and was purchased from them by the Government. This meant not only a loss in stock, but a loss of millions in revenue, at a time when China was in financial straits.

Following this, China exterminated the cult of the poppy — their “flower of dreams” — making its growth to be an offence against the law. An edict prohibiting tobacco and alcohol in America would be in nowise comparable, for this was an edict that meant death to hundreds of thousands — some say to millions — of the Chinese people. An American writing of this truly wonderful thing has said : — “This eradication of a century-old vice was not put in force through the issuing of edicts by the Government alone, but it was due to the imperceptible and immense pressure of public opinion — the opinion and belief of millions and hundreds of millions of inarticulate Chinese scattered throughout the vast distances of China, a force imbued with the simple and definite instinct of right.”

There is no doubt that on this continent there are thousands of Chinese of like honesty and sturdiness of character, and that if these men were allowed to deal with their renegade countrymen, much could be done to stay the progress of the drug traffic.

As far as we know, nothing of an educative campaign has been tried among the trafficking Chinese except what is taught them through the rougher methods of the courts. Their education might be an experiment worth trying. Perhaps, if we explained, through interpreters, what our ideals are and how we expect them in accepting our hospitality to maintain these ideals, it might help. We might also tell them that if they are to remain here, we insist on their observing our laws, and on their being clean alike in body and mind. We must tell them this again and till they get the ideal— or till they get out. Some would not be amenable, any more than white men under similar circumstances, but the majority would. If even a quarter of the amount of money expended on the detection of crime among the Chinese was applied to educating them, the results would be indubitably better.

If we through the health departments of the various cities allow the Chinamen to swarm in filthy hovels and to burrow like rats in cellars, what else can we expect but vice unspeakable?

We have made these men to be pariahs and perpetual aliens and, accordingly, they have become to us a body of death. These pariahs may only be reached through the upper class of their own compatriots with whom we should strive to co-operate for what has been called “preventive justice,” in a patient, persistent and sympathetic manner.

It is hard to acquire the magnificent perspective of Emerson, but it is worth while studying now and then. “The carrion in the sun,” he says, “will convert itself to grass and flowers, and man though in brothels or gaols, or on gibbets, is on his way to all that is good and true.”

But if you claim that the oriental pedlar, and opium sot are abandoned and irreclaimable— mere black-haired beasts in our human jungle— then, it is quite plain that we should insist on their exclusion from this continent Any other course would only be a demonstration of broken-headed inepitude.


When a Chinaman regularly attends the chandu place called the den or opium joint, for the purpose of smoking, he is said by his countrymen to be under the spell of the “black earth.”

The more opium he takes, the more he requires or, as Virgil has expressed it, Aegrescitque medendo: “the disorder increases with the remedy.” It is Kipling, in one of his stories, who makes an opium addict to tell how at the end of his third pipe, the dragons which were printed red and black on the cushions, used to move about and fight, but by degrees, it took a dozen pipes to make them stir.

This is a condition which gives rise to the true vicious circle. In pathology, a vicious circle has been defined as a morbid process in which two or more disorders are so correlated that they reciprocally aggravate and perpetuate each other.

Morally, opium bites a man to the heart and festers his very soul. “He is a devil-sick young man,” said one Chinaman recently of another, “and soon his spirit be torn, in the hereafter by the demons of opium.”

The phantasmagoria conjured up by opium has been described by many writers. De Quincey speaks of them as “those trances and profoundest reveries which are the crown and consummation of what opium can do for human nature.”

Coleridge, himself an addict, writes of trances and of spell-bound existence where one passes

“Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.”

All are agreed that in opium intoxication there are no sublime exaltations, or blowing of soap bubbles; no oracular voices out of inner shrines or waves of resplendent ether, but only a sleep or phantasm — a kind of dual existence — where all is alien and unreal.

One who is deeply under the thraldom has told me how, in each successive indulgence, she passes through strange transmutations and across wide lands that have no horizons. Sometimes, in the narcotic stupor, there comes to her a black sun that expands and contracts, and the rays of which cause her head to ache intolerably.

On her recovering, she suffers from an appalling introversion when the chain of her bondage ceases to be anything but golden.

This must, too, be true about her pain for, as she tells the story of it, her voice becomes thin like a fret saw and her face seems to shrink as though she were ill and very, very old.

This woman who was a nurse by profession is now a wanton by predilection — a pathetic piece of human jetsam. Speaking of the woman outcast, it was Lecky who described her as “the most mournful and awful figure in history.” The statement leaves nothing further to be said.

Yet, it cannot be claimed that the opium joint was responsible for her downfall, or that she had been lured thither by the Mongolians. Having learned the habit in the pursuit of her profession, she naturally gravitated to the joint. Her case is only one demonstration of the poet’s philosophy,

“In tragic life, God wot
No villain need be. Passions spin the plot “


Opium smoking is different from that of tobacco. Opium has to be carefully prepared, and numerous tools are required.

There is the shallow tray in which is set a small glass lamp filled with peanut or olive oil for “cooking the wax.” This lamp is hooded, thus preventing the drafts which would make the flame flare up and smoke the opium.

Also the smoker requires a long steel yenkok, or toasting pin, with which to hold the gum or chandu over the flame. It is pointed at one end and flat at the other. There is also a kind of spoon-headed instrument for cleaning out the pipe.

Other instruments are a pair of scissors for trimming the wicks in the lamp, a sponge for cooling the pipe, and cans of “hop” and oil.

Lastly, we have the long, flute-like pipe which may be of bamboo, ebony or ivory, and one we have seen was studded with diamonds. This is the stem, smoking pistol, or yen siang through which the devotee of, the drug takes long and deep inhalations, blowing the smoke through his nostrils.

The opium bowl which fits on to the pipe is an ellipsoid in shape.

Nearly every pipe has upon it a small wooden frog but Man Yick, an acquaintance of ours, assures us that “flog dead samee likee dool nail.”

Opium ready for smoking is usually about the consistency of black molasses, or of tar. Pedlars call it “mud” but the Chinese name for the mixture is pen yang.

When “the black candle” is ready for lighting and the smoker has the ying upon him — that is to say the mad longing for indulgence— the procedure is like this: —

The smoker holds the needle in the flame of the lamp and when it becomes hot he dips it into the opium or wax, and taking up a portion, holds it over the lamp. When it makes a bubble, he inserts this into the small hole of the earthen bowl with the flat end of the needle and presses it down with the pointed end.

The flame of opium is blue, but the smoke black, and the smell thereof is both evil and insinuating.

An opium “pill” lasts for six or eight puffs. In the places attended by persons of leisure who have money at their disposal, attendants or “chefs” roll the pills and, sometimes, these fellows have been accused — I know not how justly — of even “rolling” the smokers to the tune of hundreds of dollars.

Generally speakings the chefs are only paid sufficient to purchase the necessary hop for themselves, for even chefs are seized with the terrible ying and require “the solace” of the drug.

Among the public, the idea is held that the men who take to smoking opium are usually of the beachcomber type, scurvy, feckless fellows— a kind of devil’s crew.

Once this may have been true, but of late, such is not the case.

An eminent American attorney writing recently of this matter said, “Opium smoking among so-called ‘highbrows’ in Boston, has been increasing by leaps and bounds of recent years, though the Chinese here still furnish a large percentage of the ‘hoppies’.

“Society girls and boys have fallen prey to the opium pedlars, and the organizations for trapping unsuspecting youths were never so well supplied with the deadly poison and funds as they are to-day. They do not appeal to the poor man or woman because the cost of ‘hitting the pipe’ is prohibitive for them, but in the palatial residences of persons prominent in social circles, may be found complete outfits for opium smokers. Money is no object to them.”

This attorney who has much to do with addicts and pedlars as a State prosecutor says further, “Curiosity leads many to accept an invitation to an opium party, but once they have taken their turn at the pipe, the appetite has been implanted and the road to degradation is fast.”

This is only another way of saying that curiosity can kill more than cats, and that once a person has started on the trail of the poppy the sledding is very easy and downgrade all the way.

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