A review of “No Smoking” for the nation: Anti-cigarette campaigns in Modern China, 1910-1935, by Wennan Liu.
This brilliant, meticulously researched dissertation by Wennan Liu, graduate from Fudan University in Shanghai and recent PhD from Department of History at University of California, Berkeley, considers three major anti-cigarette campaigns in modern China: the first initiated by American missionary Edward Waite Thwing (1868-?) in Tianjin in 1910, the second led by retired Qing official Wu Tingfang 伍廷芳 (1842-1922) in Shanghai on the eve of the Revolution in 1911, and the third major anti-cigarette campaign a part of the New Life Movement launched by Chiang Kai-shek between 1934 and 1935.
All three campaigns were unsuccessful. There is no historical evidence that these campaigns brought about significant, long-lasting changes in the consumption patterns of cigarettes across China. Wennan Liu argues that they were “weak in organisation and implementation, because there was no reliable social infrastructure and resources to sustain the campaigns, and also because the civil society and the government lacked co-operation” (p.2). These failures, however, do not diminish their historical importance — unsuccessful campaigns require at least as much sociological explanation as those which did obtain the desired outcomes. As Wennan Liu points out (p.13), the rhetoric, practices and contexts of these exercises in mass persuasion — why they were launched, how they were organised, which groups of actors were involved, what knowledge and evidence were marshalled, and so forth — can illuminate a host of important historical issues.
These issues, which Liu patiently dissects in her dissertation, include: the transnational circulation of medico-scientific discourses concerning smoking and tobacco use; late-Qing social elites, foreign missionaries and their reform agenda; styles of reasoning in mass persuasion and public relations in China; the activities of big companies such as British-American Tobacco around the world; taxation, economic protectionism, the establishment and struggles of the Chinese cigarette industry; the various dynamics and tensions between different levels of the Republican government. The style of writing of this dissertation is exemplary in its clarity and straightforwardness. There is a careful balance of historical detail and argumentation, making this rich and absolutely compelling study accessible to Chinese historians and non-specialists.
Being one of the most important commodities around the world in the twentieth century, the history of tobacco and cigarette-smoking has been covered by a wide range of scholarship. More recent studies in the English language include: Allan Brandt’s The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America (New York: Basic Books, 2009); Eric Burns’ The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007); Matthew Hilton’s Smoking in British Popular Culture, 1800-2000 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000); Cassandra Tate’s Cigarette Wars: The Triumph of “The Little White Slaver (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Ashes to Ashes: The History of Smoking and Health edited by Stephen Lock, Lois Reynolds and E.M. Tansey (Amsterdam: Rodolpi, 1998); Jordan Goodman’s Tobacco in History: The Cultures of Dependence (London: Routledge, 1994); and my personal favourite, Richard Klein’s Cigarettes are Sublime (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995).
For China specifically, there is Sherman Cochran’s classic Big Business in China: Sino-Foreign Rivalry in the Cigarette Industry, 1890-1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980); Carol Benedict’s brand new Golden-Silk Tobacco: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); Timothy Brook and Zhou Xun’s contributions in Smoke: A Global History of Smoking edited by Sander Gilman and Zhou Xun (London: Reaktion Books, 2004); and shorter treatments in Elizabeth Perry’s Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labour (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995, Chapter 7), Karl Gerth’s China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Centre, 2004); and Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China by Frank Dikötter, Lars Laamann and Zhou Xun (London: C. Hurst, 2004, see pp.201-206).