Empires of Vice
The Rise of Opium Prohibition across Southeast Asia
Date: October 18, 2019 (Friday)
Time: 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Venue: Room 723, 7/F, Cheng Yu Tung Tower, HKU
During the late nineteenth century, opium was integral to European colonial rule in Southeast Asia. The taxation of opium was a major source of revenue for British and French colonizers, who also derived moral authority from imposing a tax on a peculiar vice of their non-European subjects. Yet between the 1890s and the 1940s, colonial states began to ban opium, upsetting the very foundations of overseas rule—how? Empires of Vice traces the history of this dramatic reversal, revealing the colonial legacies that set the stage for the region’s drug problems today.
Diana Kim challenges the conventional wisdom about opium prohibition—that it came about because doctors awoke to the dangers of drug addiction, or that it was a response to moral crusaders—uncovering a more complex story deep within the colonial bureaucracy. Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence across Southeast Asia and Europe, she shows how prohibition was made possible by the pivotal contributions of seemingly weak bureaucratic officials. Comparing British and French experiences across today’s Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, Kim examines how the everyday work of local administrators delegitimized the taxing of opium, which in turn made major anti-opium reforms possible.
Empires of Vice reveals the inner life of colonial bureaucracy, illuminating how European rulers reconfigured their opium-entangled foundations of governance and shaped Southeast Asia’s political economy of illicit drugs and the punitive state.
About the speaker:
Diana Kim is assistant professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Diana Kim’s research and teaching focuses on the transnational politics and history of markets across Southeast and East Asia, with particular interest in the regulation of vice, illicit economies, theories of crime and disorder, state formation, and legacies of Empire and colonialism. Diana has worked as a consultant for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and her scholarship has been awarded prizes from the American Bar Foundation and the Social Science History Association.