During the late 19th century, opium was integral to European colonial rule in Southeast Asia.
The taxation of opium was a major source of revenue for British and French colonizers, who also derived moral authority from imposing a tax on a peculiar vice of their non-European subjects.
Yet between the 1890s and the 1940s, colonial states began to ban opium, upsetting the very foundations of overseas rule — how did this happen? Empires of Vice traces the history of this dramatic reversal, revealing the colonial legacies that set the stage for the region’s drug problems today, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Diana Kim challenges the conventional wisdom about opium prohibition — that it came about because doctors awoke to the dangers of drug addiction or that it was a response to moral crusaders — uncovering a more complex story deep within the colonial bureaucracy.
Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence across Southeast Asia and Europe, she shows how prohibition was made possible by the pivotal contributions of seemingly weak bureaucratic officials.