If you study the history of drugs in Asia1 the period right after 1945 marks an important divide. Down to maybe 1840 (or in some contexts much later) drugs (mostly opium) were a fairly ordinary trade good. After WWII, dangerous drugs (now also including things like morphine and heroin) were treated like illicit substances in the modern sense. This really began right after the war. Japan’s drug empire was closed down. The colonial powers like France and the Netherlands did not re-establish their opium monopolies after the war. The Chinese drug trade was far less politically significant in 1946 than it had been before the war and the trade was completely eliminated after 1949. The U.N. Single Convention on Dangerous Drugs of 1961 codified the modern understanding of illicit substances as something that only criminals dealt in.
Between 1840 and 1945 is a more nebulous period, when the trade in drugs was often handled by states, or state-connected actors. These could range from Du Yuesheng, the politically connected opium king of prewar Shanghai, to the Japanese pharmaceutical companies who flooded Asia with morphine, to various colonial opium monopolies to movements of national liberation -from China to Indonesia- that were involved in the drug trade.
I mention this because Lo Hsing Han has died. Born around 1935 in the Shan state in Burma he was pretty much the last of the old state-connected drug lords. As the obituary points out he died not in a hail of bullets, but in the capital of Burma, not as a criminal, but as a respected corporate kingpin.
I don’t really have much to add to the obituary, it just struck me as an interesting survival. Sort of the same reaction I had when Molotov died, and I was amazed he was still alive.
- and you really should. There is a crying need for it [↩]