The Story of China: Opium War to Online War

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‘There is always a need for intoxication: China has opium, Islam has hashish, the West has woman.’ – Andre Malraux

Nightclub owners contentedly patted their money-filled pockets, waves of opium smoke filtered from the doorways of night-time establishments out onto the streets carrying out a silent nocturnal choking of the darkness while nightclub frequenters lay paralysed in a soundless sofa-bound ecstasy- 150 years ago China was a nation crippled by addiction. In an effort to gain the upper hand in the world of trade against the majestic oriental land of silk and with an underhand but ingenious military ploy, the British had brought over opium, leaving China strategically handicapped and defeated. Soldiers unwilling to fight, chefs unwilling to cook, teachers unwilling to teach- the Chinese had not only lost Hong Kong, they had lost themselves.

150 years on, China has succumbed to the bittersweet taste of quite another intoxicating addiction, that of online gaming. Like the opium dens of the 1830‘s, from dusk until dawn the smoke-filled internet cafés of today do a roaring trade; filled with male students and middle aged men alike, many of them stay open 24 hours a day to cater for the population’s growing computer game dependence.

In an average shared boys university dormitory room of 8, at least half are likely to be addicted to gaming. ‘In my economics class of 65, only 2 boys are not addicted to online games. My roommates often don’t attend lectures, they only leave the room to eat and then stay up gaming until 2am’ explains Weiwei from Tianjin University of Technology. ‘My son refused to go to work, I was forced to drive him everyday and drop him off directly at the internet café afterwards or he would not attend’ informs Mr. Gu, a lecturer from the same University. Jin Aibing from Hebei province did not contact his family for four and a half years because of his gaming addiction, while arguments between online gamers have lead to crimes such as that of Qiu Chengwei from Shanghai who murdered fellow gamer Zhu Caoyuan due to a dispute involving a virtual sword. The issue of online addiction has worsened to the extent that parents have even sent their children to militarist government-run internet rehab camps.

For some however, addiction comes with a delicious silver lining; a handful of players become so adept at meandering their way around the gaming world that they become professional online ‘sports stars’, earning themselves a sought-after status akin to celebrities, complete with the family praise & multi-million wage packet. Others have found internet gaming to be a romantic platform far superior to commercial online dating as they are finally able to connect with like-minded peers from all over the world, many meeting girlfriends or marriage partners through this virtual realm of war & weaponry.

What’s more, the internet has proven an eye-opening gateway to personal freedom as frequently introverted ‘cyber geeks’ become suave members of an online global society, many learn programming and all things cyberspace, making them able to manipulate the online world with far more confidence and ease than they are the constricting everyday world of politics, family duty and obligation that many have shunned.

Thus, China’s one-party governmental system has felt the thudding threat of an augmenting cyber population; once before sheltered in a cocoon of CCTV party propaganda, adept online gamers are now able to breach the communist party’s famous ‘Great Firewall of China‘, accessing otherwise censored websites such as Facebook and Youtube as well as information on international news, foreign blogs, government scandals and anti-government forums. In 2009 this created a platform for Baidu‘s [China’s largest search engine] ’10 mythical creatures’, names for mythical Chinese creatures transformed into derogatory internet terms as a means of undermining government restraints on online and offline freedom in China.

Are Chinese government concerns for online gaming rooted in a wish to cleanse a nation intoxicated by addiction or a desire to tighten political grip on the increasingly slippery political fish that is the cyber population? A land famed for its Confucianism and extraordinary educational values- why is China losing its once ambitious scholars to the virtual world? What will become of the children of modern China?

Perhaps history holds the answers.

      China Through the Ages

1950’s to 1960’s

In 1961, Communism ruled its great red hand over China; Chairman Mao‘s attempt to rapidly manufacture steel and redistribute rice with the Great Leap Forward (三年自然灾害 ) was a notoriously great leap backwards as rice production failed to meet targets and exaggerations of harvest yields made in order to keep violent officials at bay resulted in huge produce miscalculations. Local household goods melted in citizens’ back gardens to help boost the iron industry had resulted in tonnes upon tonnes of unusable scrap metal whilst rice had been redistributed away from the countryside meaning villagers were left to suffer a famine 5 times more deadly than Hitler, killing over 30 million.

How has history affected the people of modern China? Much villainizing of Mao Zedong has been done by western media, yet with rice transported to every town he passed through and waves of golden fields greeting him at every turn throughout his tour of China during the 3 years of the Great Leap Forward- is Chairman Mao as much to blame for China’s suffering as we perceive him to be?

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Shaped by both the struggles and peaks of prosperity of their time, this is the story of one family, it is equally the story of a nation…

1960’s- 1970’s

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With more than 30 million dead and survivors still reeling from the famine, Chairman Mao wanted to not only rebuild a broken country left knee-deep in poverty, he wanted to build an army. 人多力量大 ‘more people, more power’, Mao’s infamous and infinitely destructive four little words pronounced in an effort to increase China’s birth rate have resonated through decades like time-travelling razor blades infiltrating Chinese society.

By the late 1960’s, the People’s Liberation Army was already growing in power; however, to avoid take-over by Marx’s so termed Ruling Class and to assure communism reigned freely over his motherland, dissidents and scholars needed to be disposed of- so began the great Cultural Revolution. Wealthy families were accused of being capitalist and their houses were ransacked for money, treasures and cultural artefacts by government officials. Schools were shut down, most museums, ancient buildings and scriptures were burned, non-communist theatre performances and literature were made illegal and during the famous 100 Flowers Movement, Chairman Mao gave poets 100 days of literary liberty to allow their literary talents to flourish free-from communist constraints, after which he had them executed as anti-communist.

With the Great Cultural Revolution in full swing, Maoist propaganda was distributed throughout towns and cities while statues of ancient Chinese ancestors & philosophers alongside a plethora of cultural relics were destroyed, only to be re-constructed decades later.

With the Great Cultural Revolution in full swing, Maoist propaganda was distributed throughout towns and cities while statues of ancient Chinese ancestors & philosophers alongside a plethora of cultural relics were destroyed, only to be re-constructed decades later.

In 1968 China's birth rate was slowly beginning to increase, average family size was 3.5 and depite Maoist propaganda to increase equality of the sexes, with hierachical Confusionist values emphasising women's low status still common, wives were left to manage the family. Pictured here in her favourite hat and coat with her house-wife mother and one of her three older sisters- how would this two year old leave her footprint on the earth?

In 1968 China’s birth rate was slowly beginning to increase, average family size was over 2 and despite Maoist propaganda to increase equality of the sexes, with hierarchical Confusionist values emphasising women’s low status still common, wives were left to manage the family. Pictured here in her favourite hat and coat with her house-wife mother and one of her three older sisters- how would this 1 year old leave her footprint on earth’s capricious soils?

1970’s-1980’s

Following the Cultural Revolution, schools that had been closed down were re-opened and young people sent to the countryside to make steel for the Great Leap Forward started to make their way back to the cities in search of work; however, they had missed out on many much needed years of education and as they entered into adulthood were to exhaustingly juggle work and family whilst also attending night-time education programs as they faced the prospect of competing with their educated younger counterparts for work. In 1976 Deng Xiaoping introduced new economic reforms as part of an initiative termed ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics‘, which opened up free trade, allowing small-scale businesses to flourish and would soon radically change the shape of China.

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10 years after the previous photo was taken, Maoist propaganda had proven a success, women’s rights were improving, China’s waning birth rate had been re-ignited & the People’s Army was growing in size and strength. In a small village on the outskirts of the industrial city of Tianjin, that small pre-school 1 year old was now a young girl out helping her father in the fields; less than one mile away, alongside his brother [pictured left], her future husband was waving goodbye to his home town and setting out on a journey as one of the People’s Liberation Army soldiers- in 6 years the two would finally meet.

 1980’s- 1990’s

As the late 1980’s rolled by, Mao’s endeavours to instigate change & ignite the nation’s power through a baby boom had backfired dramatically- China’s population size was exploding exponentially; family planning initiatives had not proven effective enough and China’s population increase was set to cause a heavy exhaustion of national resources. To minimise damage the One Child Policy was introduced- a policy that would result in forced abortions, an abundance of female infanticide and an imbalanced male to female population ratio as families craved a male heir, but a scheme that would ultimately reduce a worryingly large population size.

After his father returned home from the army, Da riri's parents eventually met and married, by 1991 they had had Da Riri and by 1996 (as pictured) Da riri was still and would remain their only child- they were a one child family unwilling to face the heavy government fines and lack of education subsidies for having a second child, they were a symbol of their time.

After his father returned home from the army, *XiongJun’s parents eventually met and married & in 1991 they had had *XiongJun. By 1996 *XiongJun (as pictured) was still and would remain their only child. They were a one child family unwilling to face the heavy government fines and lack of education subsidies for having a second child; they were a symbol of their time.

1990’s- Present

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Although officially still maintaining China’s status as a communist country, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms enabled China’s huge commercial growth post-1979.

China’s One Child Policy withheld young couples the human right to choose their family size but without the financial burden of multiple children -compounded by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms- allowed Chinese families to prosper. With both parents typically working, it fell to retired grandparents to take care of the children. From the famine of the Great Leap Forward to the constriction and educational destruction of the Cultural Revolution, having lived through Maoist China many did not wish to see their only grandchild endure hardship as they once had. Modern China has thus become burdened with a generation of pampered over-indulged youths- otherwise termed ‘Little Emperors’ (小皇帝) – easily susceptible to the modern charms of material goods and online gaming.

Auspicious golden fish are believed to bring the promise of wealth upon it's owners.

Capitalism takes over- in the homes of many families and business men one can often find auspicious golden fish that are believed to bring the promise of wealth upon its owners.

Pride, shame and keeping face remain pillars of modern Chinese society and although the technology-preoccupied younger generation’s material needs are often catered for, China’s only children must now bear the weight of parental expectations to make one’s family proud and to care for one’s elders financially that would have once been shared among siblings.

Is it the promise of an imagined land free from the pressures of filial obligation, education, finance and reality what makes the virtual world so appealing to China’s overworked and emotionally overburdened students? 

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17 years on, much has changed in China- ’10 years ago we were the richest family in my village of 5000- we were the only ones who owned a television’ explains *XiongJun. Today *XiongJun and his fiance both own an Iphones 5 and an Apple laptop and are planning to start their own one child family. In what sort of a China will their children and their children’s children live? 

Traditionalism and family values remain interwoven into modern Chinese lifestyles and following the One Child Policy, bonds between cousins have particularly strengthened as only children look to their cousins for sibling-like friendships to quench the loneliness of a one child family.

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Two decades on, *XiongJun’s father raises a glass with his brother-in-law and nephew either side. Traditionally toasts are raised throughout the meal to show hospitality and men unable to handle their alcohol risk losing face- still as it was 40 years ago, a serious social taboo in Asian culture.

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40 years after his death, Mao’s legacy lives on and it is not a legacy entirely tainted by famine and disaster as- for whatever ends- he managed to raise women’s social status dramatically. Unlike his house-bound grandmother, *XiongJun’s mother is an independent woman with her own network of work-friends and successful career as an accountant as the abolition of foot-binding marks its 100 year anniversary.

丁爱你一万年- 'I will love you for 10,000 years' Da Riri inscribes his future promise onto a tree.

丁爱你一万年- ‘I will love you for 10,000 years’ *Xiong Jun inscribes his promise onto a tree.

Countless tyrannical emperors war lords, thousands of citizen beheadings, the invention of paper, printing and the compass, the cultural renaissance of the Tang dynasty, the Sino-Japanese war, the opium war, the cultural revolution, the baby boom, the one child policy and economic reform- 华山 Hua mountain has been a loyal silent witness to China's ancient illustrious history.

Countless tyrannical emperors and war lords, citizen beheadings, the invention of paper, printing and the compass, the cultural renaissance of the Tang dynasty, the Sino-Japanese war, the opium war, the cultural revolution, the baby boom, the one child policy and economic reform- 华山 Hua mountain has witnessed China’s illustrious ancient history, a silent loyal guardian of the nation’s secrets.

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Just as their bronze age forerunners from the Zhou dynasty, come rain or shine, umbrellas are the accessory of choice for the 21st century Chinese.

Just as for their bronze age forerunners from the Zhou dynasty, come rain or shine, umbrellas are the accessory of choice for the 21st century Chinese.

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Much has changed and much remains unchangeable, methods of old for once used for transporting the rich are still employed in certain areas for carrying wealthy tourists.

Much has changed and much remains unchangeable, methods of old for once used for transporting the rich are still employed in certain areas for carrying wealthy tourists.

Women of the hangluo ethnic minority preserve tradition in Longsheng, leaving hair to grow for a lifetime.

Women of the hangluo ethnic minority preserve tradition in Longsheng, leaving hair to grow for a lifetime.

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The dragon rice terrace of Guanxi province prepares for another day of cradling its undulating emerald body in the sunshine.

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With their almost inhumanly flexible ligaments, acrobats of the famed Chinese State Circus embody 2000 years of Chinese tradition.

With their almost inhumanly flexible ligaments, nimble acrobats of the famed Chinese State Circus embody 2000 years of Chinese tradition.

Armani suited CEOs in BMW's speed past as others employ rather more traditional modes of transport in Shanghai. Boasting the fastest growing economy in the world thanks to Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms of the 1970's, China also possesses one of the world's largest wealth disparities as small-town farmers are unable to keep up with high inflation rates kick-started by the few wealthy entrepreneurs in whose hands the majority of the country's wealth lies.

Armani suited CEOs in BMW’s speed past as others employ rather more traditional modes of transport in Shanghai. Boasting the fastest growing economy in the world thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms of the 1970’s, China also possesses one of the world’s largest wealth disparities as small-town farmers are unable to keep up with high inflation rates kick-started by the few wealthy entrepreneurs in whose hands the majority of the country’s wealth lies.

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The Bund at midday- Shanghai’s most photographed spot feebly conceals itself beneath a familiar dusty blanket of daytime smog.

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Post-economic reform, China has opened up to the international world; foreign countries have had strong influences on culture and made way for advancements in Chinese technology that have been showcased at events such as Shanghai’s World Exposition.

Shoulder to Shoulder, 3 friends ride home into Chinese polluted sunset.

Shoulder to shoulder, three friends ride home into China’s polluted sunset.

The national addiction for online gaming grows in strength but not enough to eclipse youthful love of sport; basketball and ping-pong are two sports that enrapture China's youth and continue to bring earn the country international glory with olympic success every four years.

The national addiction for online gaming grows in strength but not enough to eclipse youthful love of sport. Basketball and ping-pong still enrapture *XiongJun’s generation and continue to earn the country international glory with Olympic success every four years.

The Future

‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’ -Napoleon

What does fate have in store for China’s children of tomorrow?

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Reveling care-free in their youth, *XiongJun and *TingTing set out kite-flying- aside from online gaming, it is the preferred weekend past-time of many young people in China. Yet, with a generation of pampered only children left to carry the weight of an ever more ageing population, the road ahead is perhaps not as rose-tinted as it seems for China’s only children.

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40 thoughts on “The Story of China: Opium War to Online War

  1. Social traditions, politics, and geology shall determine the future… I supsect that plate tectonics will be the determining factor over the long haul. But that is centuries in the future as the Pacific plates subduct under Japan, Korea, and China, and the Indian plate pushes the Himalays further north.
    Oscar

  2. Rachel: Thanks for checking The Boat & Yacht Report’s Photo Op out. Greatly appreciated. Have been through your postings here and am greatly impressed. Keep up the excellent work and feel free to send me any pictures and write up you feel would fit in to what I am doing. All the best! -Capt. Ken

  3. Great article. And images, perfect for emphasis. My brother lives in South Korea and also mentioned about gaming addiction and clinics to help prevent. It is very interesting that not just there but everywhere, gaming is a choice for many young people. But i think its problematic, like you post suggests. Thanks for this

  4. Personally so many memories. I’ve been exactly where some of your photos where: Longshen, the Bund, etc. Very well written post. As other commenters have written, online gaming is also an issue in South Korea. There are still many young people without access to computers. The high school where I taught restricted student access to computers, as the students explained it to me, for fear of what the kids would do. The students had access at home or their smart phones, if they were rich enough to have them. The difference between the haves and have nots is astounding and they live side by side. Thanks for this post. Enjoyed your incite.

  5. there is such thing as ‘internet rehab camp’?? wow. i’m stunned. i will never understand this addiction as i’m never really into internet gaming. ps: a great collection of photos, by the way.

  6. Fantastic post. Thanks for the “follow” and resulting discovery of your blog. I don’t understand China – my knowledge of China is limited to ancient history.Your blog looks like an incredible source of insight 🙂

  7. Pingback: British Motives In The Opium Wars | Mercedes Semaan's Blog

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  9. This was the most fascinating article I have read in a long, long time. It was so good If I was a teacher I would have my students read this. In fact, I will be talking about your blog, and this article on my radio show Sunday. I learned more about China in this one article than I have in all my years on this planet (too many years to admit to :o) Well done!

  10. Pingback: Opium to Online #Addiction: #China’s – Extraordinary #History #Photography | johndwmacdonald

  11. Pingback: North Korea: A Modern Portrait of the Past? | Globe Drifting

  12. Pingback: Shanghai women’s liberal views on sex during the Mao Era | China Daily Mail

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