Editor’s Note: Today, the Points blog presents the second part of my (Joe Spillane) reflections on the recently-concluded meeting, “Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History.” Part one of these reflections considered the problem of talking across substances, while today’s comments consider the challenges posed by integrating levels of analysis.
We interrupted the first day of the conference to gather for a group photo near the meeting room where we had already completed the meeting’s first session.
The session, which I chaired, was “Drugs and Empire”–and it highlighted some of the challenges in talked across levels of analysis at our conference. Let’s begin with Zhiliang Su (Shanghai Normal University) and his paper, “Opium and the Progress of Asian History.” Prof. Su offered something of a traditional narrative we would hear repeated several times at the meeting, one in which engagement with opium initiated a series of developments through which, “China lost both its sovereignty and conception and dignity and confidence” (from the translation by Pan Zhang, a Fudan University graduate student). Opium, imposed on China by the British and later by the Japanese, is both the tool and symbol of imperial domination–the antithesis of personal and national sovereignty, with a decided focus on the latter.