Opium and addiction in a cross-cultural context: De Quincey’s ‘Confessions’ (1821) and the Chinese novel, Romantic Illusions of the Fool of Yangzhou (Fengyue meng) (c. 1848)

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This essay examines De Quincey’s representation of opium ‘addiction’ in the cross-cultural context of Britain and China in the light of recent revisionist medical discussions of addiction and dependence, and revisionist historical writing about opium use in nineteenth-century China. De Quincey’s representation of the opium user is compared to that of China’s first ‘city novel’, Courtesans and Opium: Romantic Illusions of the Fool of Yangzhou believed to have been written in 1848 (trans 2009). In this complex fiction, opium smoking is presented as a largely pleasurable and common pastime which has the potential for danger if abused by the unwary. It is not connected with dreams and nightmares, or figured as a stimulus of, or analogy for, the creative imagination. It offers a fascinating view of the leisure world of nineteenth-century China, where recreational opium smoking is common and not problematic when undertaken moderately.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-321
Number of pages13
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021


  • Addict
  • Addiction
  • China
  • De quincey
  • Drugs
  • Opium

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