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.
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Illustrations on this page from the collections of Amsterdam Pipe Museum
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