The Fujitsuru Mystery: Translocal Xiamen, Japanese Expansionism, and the Asian Cocaine Trade, 1900-1937

Peter Thilly, University of Mississippi
Nazir Ahmat, arrested for possession of Fujitsuru cocaine in Singapore, 1928. Source: British National Archives.
Download Article (609.17 KB)
Abstract

This article examines the Asian cocaine trade of the early twentieth century. It argues that the distribution of cocaine into Asian colonial ports was controlled by people from southeastern China who took advantage of a convergence of factors: consumer markets in India and Southeast Asia, shifting political winds surrounding drug use, the rise of Japan, and the translocal nature of southern Fujianese society. Xiamen was not only a port but also the hub of a society that was omnipresent in the maritime world of early twentieth-century Asia: natives of southern Fujian resided in Calcutta, Singapore, Rangoon, Manila, and Kobe, constituting a huge percentage of the crew and passengers of the steamships that connected those places. The implications of this story are relevant to two important themes of this special issue: the history of control and evasion in maritime Asia, and, relatedly, the ways in which states sought to extend their jurisdiction over the seas. Fujianese cocaine smugglers saw an opportunity when colonial governments banned cocaine imports, and took advantage of their place within the Japanese imperial sphere to acquire drugs and penetrate colonial markets. The evidence presented here thus highlights the place of opportunism and entrepreneurialism within the wider history of state efforts to control trade.

Keywords: cocaine, drugs, smuggling, China, Fujian, Xiamen, Singapore, India, Japan, maritime history, East Asia, Southeast Asia