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.
- De quincey