..in China the drug became known as “Jesus opium”

By the 1930s, opium was taking a back seat to its more powerful products, morphine and heroin. The evolution was gradual. Morphine had been widely used by Western missionaries in the late 1800s to cure Chinese opium addicts: So in China the drug became known as “Jesus opium.” Then heroin, first derived from opium in 1874 by chemists at Bayer pharmaceuticals in Germany, and launched by Bayer as a patent medicine in 1898, showed promise as a treatment for morphine addicts. Chinese first became opium addicts, then graduated to morphine, then to heroin. By 1924, China was importing enough heroin from Japan each year to provide four strong doses of the drug to every one of the nation’s 400 million inhabitants. In that same year, however, the U.S. Congress, which had only recently banned alcohol, banned heroin as a patent medicine. Immediately, American mobsters, who were doing a thriving trade in bootlegging, plunged into the heroin trade. While European criminal syndicates drew their supplies of opium from the poppy fields of Persia and the so-called Golden Crescent, American mobs found it easier and cheaper to buy from China.

In 1931, Big-eared Tu held a great celebration in his own honor, to inaugurate an ancestral temple in his native village of Kaochiao in Pootung, across the river from Shanghai. Eighty thousand people turned out for the celebration, thousands of them government officials and national dignitaries invited personally by Tu. After everyone went home, the ancestral temple Tu had built became his largest clandestine morphine and heroin factory.

– Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty (1985)

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