Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition across Southeast Asia

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Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

Wednesday, February 26, 20202:00PM - 4:00PM208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place
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Opium was once integral to colonial rule in Southeast Asia. The drug was a major source of revenue for European 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 who delegitimized the taxing of opium, which in turn made major anti-opium reforms possible.

Diana Kim is Assistant Professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a core faculty member of the Asian Studies Program. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago (2013) and held a Postdoctoral Prize Fellowship in Economics, History, and Politics at Harvard University.


Diana Kim
Assistant Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Matthew Walton
Assistant Professor of Comparative Political Theory, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Centre for Southeast Asian Studies

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