Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Grandfather's Opium Addiction, the Truth Hurts

Although China was falling apart, we were inland, far from all the troubles. The Opium War did not affect our family. Our Chao (朝) and Ting (庭) generations were aware of opium, but it did not affect them. Someone introduced the drug to our Guan family in the third generation (选) after 1900 and family members became addicted. It just hurt so much when I learned that opium was the real cause that brought down our family and family business. Of course my oldest uncle did not mention a word of opium in his book as if it was not there. My mother asked me not to write about opium in my book, since no one wanted to talk or read about it. 
I have always thought my family was perfect. I had read about how the Four Giant Salt Merchants fell. They were sitting on gold mountains until they became addicted to opium. My mother said that my grandfather never owned a house; they lived with her oldest uncle Tai Ba, who owned everything. The beautiful house I grew up in with my grandparents was not ours, although it was taken over by the government later. They lived in the same courtyard very close to their uncle under close supervision. Our family salt business was sold in 1936; then, my grandfather ran down two more businesses, a salt equipment rental and rice business in a few years. Afterward, our family was dependent on the Guan family’s welfare. Their money was given for food and children’s education until my uncle was 17, old enough to work. That showed how much trouble my grandfather was in. My poor grandmother!
My cousin (my oldest uncle’s son, Guan, Dr Zhongwei) who is teaching at University of Liverpool asked me when I was going to visit China and where I planned to go. I told him that I was going to visit where our ancestors came from and travel back to Sichuan. I asked him how much his father had told him about our family. He said that there was not much except the family history his father rewrote. He had just left it somewhere in his house and had not really read it yet. My mother thought our grandfather might have used opium, since they found his opium pipe at their home.
To my wildest surprise, my cousin said he knew that our grandfather was addicted to opium and about his other troubles. To my surprise, his father did not tell him; he said our grandmother told him. Why? I thought that I was my grandmother’s favorite and secret keeper. She told him and did not tell me. I felt hurt for a few days after talking to him. Yes, his father was her oldest and favorite; my cousin was her oldest grandson. Still, my mother was her oldest daughter and I was her oldest granddaughter. Yes, I do not have the surname Guan, but I have the ancestry and three sons to carry on the Guan family’s ancestry.
Wang Shangchen (王尚辰1826-1902) wrote a poem about opium, entitled "Love Song 相思曲." It contains both the passion and poison of opium.
炎荒瘴毒全蚕蛊, Poison smoke covered all over
皂鸦(指鸦片)嘬人肌骨腐, Opium ate through bones
磨脂滴血捣春华, Hot blood stir up the youth
搏就相思一块土, Fighting over the passion of hot soil (Opium)
相思土碎青烟飞, Love and passion turned into smoke
拌使内地输金钱, Gambled away all the gold
闾阎元气日浇薄, Vibrant life wasting away
綑温化作相思天, Rising up into heaven with love only
相思兮相思, Longing and longing
朝暮无巳时, Day and night has no difference
但愿不识相思味, Only wish did not love
待到相思悔已迟, Waiting for love too long to regret
吁嗟乎! Wow!
世间多少奇男子, So many wonderful men
一生甘为相思死, Willing to die for passion
若到黑甜之乡, 唤彼为引睡之媒,
Only in sweet dark dream, call each other’s companion.
倘逢红粉楼中, 藉尔作采花之使
Only in Red Mansion, call each other’s love making.
 I felt like I was watching the movie “Big Salt Merchants” all over again. The only difference was that now all of the characters were my family members. My grandfather's oldest brother TaiBa lost all of his four children from his first and second wife. Only the 3rd wife's three children survived after he lost his salt business to Yan family.
           Not to my surprise, my grandfather was not only addicted to opium, but he was addicted to gambling also. I pictured my grandfather back in time, when he was a teenager, number three in the family, without much responsibility. He must have been very handsome and rich, wandering everywhere and attracting attention, getting high on drugs and losing money from gambling. His family had to get him married and hope he would grow up. No, he refused; he was having so much fun. Finally, at age twenty-three, he married my poor grandmother who knew nothing about him.
I asked my cousin if my grandmother told him about any other women involved with my grandfather. He said he did not hear anything about other women. My parents and my uncle had also said no. The question I have was about his second brother who had married and had a baby when he was seventeen years old. My grandfather did not marry my grandmother until he was almost twenty-three years old, then his first child died. My uncle had told me that the baby died in infancy because he was sick. My grandmother told my cousin the first born died when he was few years old. Now what was his name? My uncle did not know or forgot? My grandmother must have had her first nervous breakdown.
It did look as if my grandfather finally grew up after his first child died, although the Guan family elders still not trust them. They trusted the Church. Thank God our family did have principles and that those principles saved our family. As a descendant of the Guan family, I am thankful for their patience, grateful for what they had sacrificed, and support through disappointments and sorrows. My grandfather certainly spent more than half of his life in bed asking for forgiveness. He was left alone in that dark corner of the house with his finished black coffin not far from him. His long tobacco pipe accompanied him for the rest of his life.
The Fall of the God of Money: Opium Smoking in Nineteenth-Century China by Keith McMahon. This is a very good book, which I have read and recommend for a better picture on this topic. I would never have looked into the drug issue if I had not known my grandfather had a drug problem. I read about death from drug overdoses in my local paper every now and then. One that struck me really hard was about a high school dropout's death. He froze to death on his mother's front doorstep. His mother had to be the one to open the door the next morning to find him. She never found out who dropped off his son home and never checked if he made it home. My heart still bleeds when I am thinking about this poor mother.  Another girl who was about 20 years old used to transfer the calls to me; she had such a sweet voice.  One day, the president of our company told us that she died on the weekend in her friend's house from a drug overdose. I went to the wake and could not believe that she was gone. She looked like the sleeping beauty from the story and I was imagining trying to wake her up while kneeling in front of her casket. I could not imagine how her parents could ever get over this.
     This book brings me back to the Opium time -- I could actually picture my grandfather in the picture of how opium took everything away from him and how he and his family struggled to pull him away from the drug. Many states in the US want to legalize marijuana use on top of prescription and non-prescription drug abuse. In my city, we have four drug stores open 24/7 and two grocery stores, which of course, sell legal drugs too.
Some people use drugs for the first time when they are teenagers. There were just over 3 million new users of illicit drugs in 2011, or about 8,400 new users per day. Half were under 18. More than half of new illicit drug users begin with marijuana. Although I voted "NO", but Massachusetts voters on Tuesday 11/8/2016 legalized marijuana for recreational use, sweeping away more than a century of prohibition and opening the door to a massive new industryThe next most common are prescription pain relievers, followed by inhalants (which is most common among younger teens).
     In June 2011, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a critical report on the War on Drugs, declaring "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government's war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. The report was criticized by organizations that oppose a general legalization of drugs.
In China, the Maoist revolution ended drug addiction QUICKLY. Mao's revolutionary armies defeated the oppressors' armies in 1949. THREE YEARS LATER, in 1952, there were no more addicts, no more pushers, no more opium poppies grown, and no more drugs smuggled in. In only three short years China went from 70 million drug addicts to none.
My generation did not have drug or gambling addiction. China's population grew from a little over 500 million to 1.4 billion today.  
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Documentary: Addicted to Pleasure - Opium (BBC Documentary Series