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Opium Culture: The Art and Ritual of the Chinese Tradition Paperback – November 29, 2005


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Opium Culture: The Art and Ritual of the Chinese Tradition + Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction + The Art of Opium Antiques
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Park Street Press (November 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594770751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594770753
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Unique among books on the topic, [Opium Culture] takes a nativist view of the customs surrounding opium in China, dispersing the romance and propaganda that have clouded this most storied of vices. Opium is presented as herbal medicine whose alkaloids produce a hardy balance of effects that aren’t stuporous, but stimulating." (Charles Hayes)

"This book is among the best I have read on this powerful plant medicine that is so important in traditional and modern medicine. Any student, health professional, herbalist, ethnobotanist, lover of Chinese culture, or person interested in the history of medicine will want to own and read this book." (Steven R. King, Ph.D., HerbalGram, No. 75)

"In this book, the timeless mysteries of opium, the nectar of the gods that has entranced alike the seekers, visionaries, and lost of the ages, are delved with an intimacy and depth of knowing as never before. This is, simply and superlatively, the best and most entrancing exploration into the fabulous, forbidden, and little-understood world of opium; simply and superlatively, the only book written from within that world, the only book about opium worth reading through which one truly may enter that world." (Nick Tosches, author of Hellfire and Power on Earth)

"Every aspect of opium is covered, from how it came to be smoked for pleasure in China to its connections to Taoism, Chinese medicine and traditional Asian custom. Add quotes and insights from literary and artistic figures and you have a text which is packed with sociological insights." (Diane Donovan, California Bookwatch, May 2006)

From the Back Cover

SOCIOLOGY / ENTHEOGENS 

Opium. The very sound of the word conjures images of secret rooms in ­exotic lands, where languid smokers lounge dreamily in a blue haze of fragrant ­poppy smoke, inhaling vapors from long bamboo pipes tilted over the ruby flame of the jade lamp. Yet today very little accurate information is available regarding a custom that for 300 years was central to the lives of millions of people throughout the world.

In Opium Culture Peter Lee presents a fascinating narrative that covers every aspect of the Chinese art and craft of smoking opium. Starting with a concise account of opium’s long and colorful history and the story of how it came to be smoked for pleasure in China, Lee offers detailed descriptions of the growing and harvesting process; the exotic inventory of tools and paraphernalia required to smoke opium the Chinese way; its transition from a major healing herb to a forbidden substance suppressed by the modern pharmaceutical industry; its connections to the I Ching, Taoism, and Chinese medicine; and the art, culture, philosophy, pharmacology, and psychology of this traditional Asian custom. Highlighted throughout with interesting quotes from literary and artistic figures who were opium smokers, such as Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Emily Hahn, and Graham Greene, the text is studded with gems of long forgotten opium arcana and dispels many of the persistent myths about opium and its use as a relaxant.

PETER LEE was born in Peking, China, in 1936. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley and the Sorbonne in Paris and has worked as a writer, translator, magazine editor, and professor. He now lives in retirement in Thailand.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Isaksson on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Peter Lee's Opium Culture - which just as its title says tells of more or less every single little detail that has to do with the Chinese opium culture - is an extremely thorough and detailed book. Well, is that a good or a bad thing? It's both, actually.

But let's start with what's good. Lee doesn't only describe opium the drug, but also the great importance it has had for especially Chinese culture (even though the Chinese definitely weren't the first ones to realize its narcotic and medicinal potentials; those things were known thousands of years before the Chinese caught on), how national and international politics have been affected by it, all the savage wars started because of it, and much, MUCH, more. The books is simply packed with interesting and often quite disturbing information, and Lee makes sure to give equal space to both the negative as well as the positive sides of opium use.

So, what's bad, then? Well, the fact that it from time to time becomes almost too detailed, especially the long and very thorough instructions on how to prepare the opium pipe, the different tools used and how to use them, what material they're made of, and so on.

But then again, Lee set out to paint a complete picture, and that's exactly what he did. However, it's quite likely that many people will be upset, since what he's talking about and describing is, after all, something that the Man has decided to be criminal. And many of those complaining will most likely accuse Lee of trying to make his readers into devoted opium smokers.

But that's not fair at all. And why not? Because Opium Culture has tons of information about the horrible aspects of drug addiction.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Asia Galleries on November 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
I work for Asia Galleries in San Francisco where we sell a lot of Antique Opium Artifacts. This book is one of books we use to identify our dampers, pipes, lams, and scrapers. This book is really helpful.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on May 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Chinese art and culture of smoking opium is covered in a survey which includes addiction, withdrawal and medical issues as well as cultural insights and a social history. The result is a well-rounded survey in OPIUM CULTURE: THE ART & RITUAL OF THE CHINESE TRADITION. Every aspect of opium is covered, from how it came to be smoked for pleasure in China to its connections to Taoism, Chinese medicine and traditional Asian custom. Add quotes and insights from literary and artistic figures and you have a text which is packed with sociological insights.

Diane C. Donovan, Editor

California Bookwatch
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By bentley on August 31, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just what a historical novelist is looking for, the color of the pipe, the look of the smoke, the cloying, decadent opium den. Nice copy as well.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Barbara A. Matz on February 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you think you are in the know, here's a book that will vastly expand your knowledge of this topic. It is written clearly by an author who speaks from the heart, with vision, experience, and many years in the Orient amongst the Chinese. It's time for the world to take a close look at this subject and throw off the traditional unfounded taboos. This will be the definitive book on Opium Culture for years to come. A must read!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gordon D. Janssen on August 9, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is good as an introduction to opium use for the novice, who know nothing about the subject. The beginning chapters speak of the history and trade. The middle chapters are interesting, filled with question & answer interviews and poetry. However, they occupy way too much space in this book.
The remaining chapters explain the "how to", which is factual and seems to be from personal experience.

In my opinion ONLY, the book doesn't remind me of a Chinese author/scholar, but more of an American writing on the subject, one who certainly does have the knowledge and experience to do so.

Summed up, it is a decent book for a reader's initiation to the subject of opium.
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