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The history of opium in China began with the use of opium for medicinal purposes during the 7th century. In the 17th century the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking spread from Southeast Asia, creating a far greater demand.[1]

Imports of opium into China stood at 200 chests annually in 1729,[1] when the first anti-opium edict was promulgated.[2][3] By the time Chinese authorities reissued the prohibition in starker terms in 1799,[4] the figure had leaped; 4,500 chests were imported in the year 1800.[1] The decade of the 1830s witnessed a rapid rise in opium trade,[5] and by 1838, just before the First Opium War, it had climbed to 40,000 chests.[5] The rise continued on after the Treaty of Nanking (1842) that concluded the war. By 1858 annual imports had risen to 70,000 chests (4,480 long tons (4,550 t)), approximately equivalent to global production of opium for the decade surrounding the year 2000.[6]

By the late 19th century Chinese domestic opium production challenged and then surpassed imports. The 20th century opened with effective campaigns to suppress domestic farming, and in 1907 the British government signed a treaty to eliminate imports. The fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, however, led to a resurgence in domestic production. The Nationalist Government, provincial governments, the revolutionary bases of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the British colonial government of Hong Kong all depended on opium taxes as major sources of revenue, as did the Japanese occupation governments during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945).[7][8] After 1949, both the respective governments of the People's Republic of China on the mainland and of the Republic of China on Taiwan claimed to have successfully suppressed the widespread growth and use of opium.[9] In fact, opium products were still in production in Xinjiang and Northeast China.[10][11]

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