Colonialism, Anti-Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism in China: The Opium Question at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal

  • Neil Boister
Part of the World Histories of Crime, Culture and Violence book series (WHCCV)


Partly a system of moral disapprobation, partly a system of trade prohibition, the foundations of the modern international drug control system arise from China’s opium problem of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The bizarre morality play that began with the opium wars where European states fought to preserve their opium trade to China reached its finale with the contest between Japan’s and the USA’s versions of drug control played out the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. This chapter explores the hypothesis that debates on the appropriate responses to opium at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East played a crucial role in ending one kind of imperialism—the British/European enforced supply of opium into China—and introducing another—the US-buttressed moral-hegemonic enforced suppression of opium. The tribunal provided a venue to the USA for achieving hegemony over the global drug system by condemning Japanese behaviour and ratifying the US policy of prohibition. The chapter uses the Tokyo Trial as a space to interrogate these transitions. It traces the perspectives of the three main players—the colonizer, Japan—the colonized, China—and the neo-colonizer, the USA, through the evidence tendered about drug control at the trial. The paper examines to what extent the main normative tool at the trial—the rapidly weakening crime against peace—succeeded in providing an avenue for the normative buttressing of international drug prohibition in the post-Second World War period.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil Boister
    • 1
  1. 1.Waikato UniversityHamiltonNew Zealand

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