Opium smoking

Smoking opium is special and quite different form smoking tobacco. Opium is not burnt like tobacco, but instead it is vaporised by the heath of an oil lamp and only the damp that is set free is inhaled.

The whole procedure of smoking opium is best practised lying down. In this position the minimal quantity of costly opium is enjoyed most effectively. The oldest pictures of opium smokers show them as the normal pipe smokers, sitting upright and smoking in a normal way. Added elements need to convince the European reader that it concerns genuine Chinese smokers. The first illustration in this chapter comes from a mid nineteenth century magazine and is a nice example of such a wrong illustration.

The specific pose of the opium smoker, lying on one side, is often photographed to illustrate one of the most characteristic Chinese habits. From early twentieth century, the opium smoker is not more often shown as a wrecked man, showing the disastrous effects of the addiction, as a warning to the European market.

On these photographs we meet with a lying smoker having a tray in front of him on which the paraphernalia. The opium pipe is usually kept in position just above the lamp, so that the damp of the opium can be inhaled on the right moment. The greyish white smoke that is set free sometimes plays an important role in the picture.

The smoking of opium being extremely addictive, many of these pictures witness the athmosphere of poverty. Never the less the old illustrations also show a certain romantism, while the later examples are more a warning against the bad habit. The majority of the smokers get poorer and poorer all the time and will the finally die in full poverty.

Click on the following link:
Don Duco,
Opium and Opiumsmoking
, Amsterdam, 2006.

an illustration completely misunderstood: a Chinese man sitting on a table smoking an opium pipe, Germany, 1851 the opium addicted as a skeleton from a medical magazine, France, 1890
in a brothel a man is invited to smoke opium, China, 1880-1900 the opium addicted man possesses nothing more than a tray with opium utensils, China, 1880-1900
a desperate woman destroys the smoke tools of her husband, China, 1880-1900
a solitary opium smoker reclyning for a smoke, China, 1880-1900
two poor opium smokers without a home smoking in the outside, China, 1880-1900
an opium clipper for quick and secure transport of the prepared opium from India to China, 1840-1850
an opium addict in an opium kit, Batavia, Indonesia, 1910-1920 a wealthy Chinese using opium in a well furnished room, Saigon, 1900-1920
the opium kit, the boy on the side assists the smoker with the process of smoking, Tonkin, 1900-1910 the opium user and his assistant, Hanoi, 1900-1910
the family of the opium smoker, Tonkin, 1900-1910
a Javanese man preparing an opium pipe, Java, Indonesia, c. 1925
homeless opium smoker in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1980-1990
with a needle the opium is placed on the bowl of the pipe, Java, Indonesia, c. 1925
the modern opium addicted, Thailand, 1980-1990
Illustrations on this page from the collections of Amsterdam Pipe Museum
Amsterdam - Holland © copyright Pijpenkabinet