China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
During most of the 1912-1936 period, Guangdong was independent from the central government. The Guangdong authorities were facing a dilemma regarding opium and gambling. On one hand they were deemed condemnable social activities, and even to some extent, were regarded as symbols of China’s weakness and backwardness. Their suppression was considered a top priority by the progressive elites. But on the other hand, due to the scarcity of other potential resources, gambling and opium taxes represented an indispensable source of fiscal income. It should never be forgotten that the be-all and end-all of every political authority in Guangdong during that period was the need to secure short-term survival. The example of Chen Jiongming 陳炯明 (who held power in Guangdong from late 1920 to early 1923) is very telling in that regard. Chen was truly committed to suppressing gambling and opium, but this policy led to a critical weakening. Chen proved unable to military overcome rivals who gained profit from opium and gambling. Foregoing such an important source of income was tantamount to political suicide.
The paper will deal with two main issues: first, it will estimate the amount these sources of income represented. Second, the paper will pay a great deal of attention to the various ways of deception used by the authorities who legalized opium and gambling to minimize the visibility of the relevant taxes.