Tobacco Smoking and the Political Imagination during the Mao Era

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Tobacco consumption jumped from 80 billion cigarettes in 1949 to 1.7 trillion in the mid-1990s as the Chinese smoked “a third of the world’s total”. What led to this? Unlike other regimes from the late Ming to the early Republican era, the CCP mounted no prohibition campaigns against tobacco; neither did it have any policy on its consumption. This article turns to alternative sources: propagandistic art, children’s pictorials and cigarette packs to demonstrate how cigarette smoking was portrayed and communicated, and how these advertisements of that particular era might have contributed to the explosion of consumption in the Mao and immediate post-Mao eras. More than that, the article exposes why the regime left tobacco alone and argues that the CCP is a tobacco regime as it used smoking to serve political ends. More than a generation was lost, not to revolution but to smoking.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-70
JournalThe Social History of Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020

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