This section is from the book "The Beverages of the Chinese; Kung-fu or Tauist Medical Gymnastics; the Population of China; A Modern Chinese Anatomist and A Chapter in Chinese Surgery.", by John Dudgeon. Also available from Amazon: Kung Fu, or Taoist Medical Gymnastics.
Comparisons between opium in the East and spirits-in the West have often been drawn to the disadvantage of the latter. The appalling scenes of drunkenness so-common to a European city are of the rarest occurrence in China. Alcohol is a much greater social evil than opium. The action of opium is personally more injurious than that of alcohol. The evils of alcohol are seen publicly; those of opium are seen privately. The use of alcohol, as practised in our own country, is a greater curse to the community there than the use of opium, as practised in China, is to the Chinese. It has been said, where opium kills its hundreds, alcohol counts its victims by thousands. An Indian medical officer has testified before the Opium Commission that, for every hundred lunatic patients who enter asylums in India from drink, only five or six are from opium. He has also testified that opium is less injurious than alcohol, that it never produces any disease except in the last stages when the opium eater suffers from emaciation and diarrhoea, and this, he added, was quite exceptional. Opium, he said, never produced drunkenness, as alcohol did; it caused no quarrelling, or wife beating, nor were suicides committed under its influence. Alcohol was said to cause disease of the heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs. Although there is much truth in these views, they are not all the truth.
The opium somker's debauch may be said to be a constant state, comparable to drunkenness, for the craving has to be satisfied at regular intervals. The loss of character, the destruction of morals, the premature aging of the body, the decay of the vital powers, the petty larceny, in short, the opium eating the man, and he becoming its slave, and numberless other points, have been quite lost sight of. Giles says - "Opium is a more self-regarding vice than drunkenness, entailing gout and other evils upon the third and fourth generations. Posterity suffers nothing from the opium smoker, for this blessing is denied to him." As regards posterity and the inheritance of disease, the Chinese have not remarked any results regarding spirits. Wine is strongly aphrodisiac; opium less so. Until the habit is confirmed, the aphrodisiac action is increased; but impotence follows bard after. Such is not the result of spirit drinking. To commit great crimes, such as murder, spirits are necessary. The opium smoker takes to petty larceny and theft, to obtain the wherewithal to appease his craving.
The Chinese consider opium the worse evil. A person can do without the drink, even when he has a craving; but not the opium smoker. Opium is a much more expensive vice than drink. There are far more drinkers of ardent spirits than opium smokers. Drinkers recover readily from intoxication; an overdose of opium causes death. A non-drinker, if hungry, will call for food; a drinker will call for more drink. The drink habit can be more easily abandoned; the smoker lies down, wastes time, is utterly unfit for anything until the craving is satisfied. People of business and no leisure have no time to indulge in opium; hence spirits are had recourse to. The excise on spuits is greater than that on opium, The distillation of spirits is not considered a respectable calling; and, although the Emperor derives a large revenue from its manufacture and sale, distilleries may be closed at any time by Imperial decree when the years are bad, as the spirits take up the grain which ought to go to the support of the people. The distillers usually pay a definite sum per annum as duty, independent of their out-put, and they are usually licensed for six years. The duty is collected on the same ticket with pawn-shops and brothels!
The licence to distil is granted to these distilleries, called Shao-kwo only on condition that they shall employ only spoiled grain unfit for any other purpose, and thus not destroy the grain for the food of the people. This, together with the law specially forbidding the fabrication of rice wine, are instances of the excellent theory of this people. A fee to the officials removes all difficulties. Notwithstanding the large fee which is thus paid, distillation is still considered private. All may brew the yellow wine, upon which there is no duty and no embargo whatever.
About 30 or 40 per cent, of the opium smokers also drink moderately of spirits. Of this number, perhaps not more than 10 per cent. take it somewhat freely. This depends largely on their "spirit capacity." Before taking to opium, they were accustomed to spirits. Many who have acquired the drink craving will take to opium which relieves it, both being stimulants, and so take less.
That drunkenness and immoderate drinking are extremely rare in China is owing to a variety of causes, which it is somewhat difficult to specify in the order of their importance. We have noted some of the reasons which prima facie might have been supposed to favour drinking. Among the reasons which make for moderation may be specified the badness (want of fragrance, and great lack of variety) of Chinese wines and spirits. They have practically only one sort of each. There is every year a large increase in the consumption of foreign liquors, both wines, spirits, and beer. It is as yet almost solely confined to the ports, and to those Chinese who have been abroad or come into contact with foreigners. The Chinese are also trying our foreign cookery, and some of the officials have native cooks who understand the foreign art. Foreign drinks are sold at some of the native stores. The high price of foreign spirits is the only thing that prevents their extensive use. Their consumption is certain to go on increasing. This seems to be a constant accompaniment of our Western civilization. Their fragrance and variety are sure to tempt the Chinese palate. The Customs Returns unfortunately take no cognisance of the import of foreign liquors, as they are supposed to be for European consumption exclusively. As the Customs authorities, however, have lately been obliged to take notice of the import of morphia (some 16,000 ounces per annum) by foreign druggists for the manufacture of the "White Medicine Powder," to the growing use of which and its true composition the writer called public attention some twenty years ago, and now beginning to be largely used for hypodermic injections, both to satisfy and cure the craving, - so spirits and wines will doubtless some day require also to be noted. Beer is now largely brewed in Japan, where it is fast becoming a very common beverage, ousting the German article, and finding an export trade beyond the limits of the country of the Rising Sun. Our Champagne, called by the Chinese San-pin-tsieu from the sound, is muchrelished by the high officials. The Viceroy at Tientsin produces it to his foreign guests, along with the invariable and universal beverage, tea. Brandy, gin, and other spirituous drinks are now being called for by the Chinese at the ports. A few years ago, I was called to attend the Prince of the Turgouth Tartars, the twelvth in descent from the one whose memorable journey, immortalised by De Quincey, from the banks of the Volga in his return with his people to the allegiance of China, and the mission to whom, of Tulishen, the Ambassador deputed by the Emperor of China, is translated by Staunton. I found him the victim of both opium (one ounce daily) and wine (25 pints of Champagne daily). Once in about ten days he was seized with violent spasms, to relieve the pain of which he had several slaves, his retainers, lie upon him. His wrists were paralyzed. The cure of the opium habit was preceded by that of the drink, from both of which, as well as the paralysis, he was happily free for eighteen months; but, during one of my furloughs home, he again fell before the double evil, re-induced to it by a friend, a Mongol Duke, and both have since fallen victims.