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How Do People on the Streets of Beijing Feel About China's New Drug Crackdown?

Drug arrests have increased by 72 percent this year, and foreigners are increasingly worried about being detained and deported if they're caught with illicit substances.
September 4, 2014, 3:25pm

Photo via Flickr user David Berkowitz. All other photos are by the author

The ongoing government crackdown on drugs is the talk of the town here in Beijing. Foreign English teachers and bar owners are bugging out over the campaign, which has included a raid on a club in a popular raving district that resulted in the rumored deportation of five foreigners. During the raid, the cops sealed off the exits and made everyone pee in a cup. Those with traces of illegal substances in their system were taken downtown. The state-controlled media, meanwhile, is having a field day with the arrest of several Chinese celebrities, including Jackie Chan's son, on drug-related charges. A booming homegrown meth industry has also been the target of government law enforcement.

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China has 2.6 million drug users according to the country’s Ministry of Public Security. This latest crackdown has seen a 72 percent rise in drug-related arrests over the past year, said state-run news agency Xinhua. Up until the start of the campaign, authorities have mostly looked the other way on drug use in China’s gritty capital, and most people have been able to indulge themselves to their hearts' content (up to and including snorting ketamine off tables). But things are changing and a lot of foreigners are up in arms over it. Existing laws don’t require you to have drugs on your person to get busted; just having a bit of THC in your pee could get you thrown in the slammer and, if the recent sting operation is any indication, deported.

But foreigners are always complaining here. What matters more is what your average Chinese Beijinger think about the government campaign and drugs in general. I spoke to some of the common folk to find out.

"Peter Philadelphia," a 23-year-old third-year philosophy student. 

VICE: What do you think of this drug situation?
Peter Philadelphia: I think we must clarify the definition of drugs. I believe that some drugs can give you inspiration, such as marijuana. You can gain some inspiration through it. But in China the law forbids it, so we should think about whether drugs should be legal or illegal. We should think about it! Not just if it’s bad for health or for the body. Drugs are just a thing, an object. You can use drugs to do bad things. You can also use drugs to do good things. It depends on the person.

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What about testing whole crowds of people?
I think that urine tests are against personal rights. You should respect a person’s free will. This is a dilemma, the public and the individual. Some people, like artists, have weird habits, like taking drugs for inspiration. From my perspective, these kinds of people should be able to do it, to improve creativity.

So they should be legal?
I think the law is for the public, not the individual, sometimes. People have their own habits. Drugs are not good for public security, so they are against the law. I think if the country cares about the individual more it will respect the person’s choice. I think taking drugs is a personal choice, not a thing that is necessarily bad. It’s just a choice, someone’s free will. But I think the country cares more about public security, so they ban drugs.

Nowadays economic inequality is very big. The most important problem in China is the empty mind: No religion. No belief. The only belief is money. This is a very big problem for China nowadays. Drugs can make people live in a dream. Why do they want to be in a dream? Because they think the reality is not very good, so they prefer to go to a dream world.

"Wang Jin," a 22-year-old police officer.

Have you heard about the drug crackdown?
Wang Jin: Of course I’ve heard about the drug crackdown. It’s a part of my job. I think it’s the right policy. Drugs are bad for people. It affects your daily life and is terrible for your health. All drugs are bad. There are a lot of them. Heroin, marijuana, dolantin, speed. On my beat I’ve seen people who look like they're on drugs. They appear skinny with blotchy skin. When I see people like that I’ll take them into the station for a urine test. It’s mostly Chinese who we inspect. Foreigners are harder because they don’t have an ID card that we can easily scan into our system. But if foreigners are taking drugs then I also have a right to take them to the station. Everyone must obey the law of the land.

"One," a 25-year-old bass player in a punk band.

Has this drug crackdown had an effect on your profession?
One: The drug crackdown is everywhere on the news. It’s pretty common in China, drug use, especially in the pop scene. It’s not hard to get drugs if you have money. All kinds of drugs. I did some before. Cocaine, LSD, weed. Weed is pretty easy to get. I don’t like them though. When I did LSD I was sitting at a bar. I was scared. It was five years ago when I was 20, so drugs should be illegal. Weed is OK. Weed is not a drug. Medicine can be legal. Only the ones that darken our hearts should be illegal. Lots of people in the music community do drugs. Not cocaine, but heroin. I don’t know why. Asian people aren’t that strong. We can’t really stand that kind of thing. It ruins everybody. When I see people who do drugs they look really tired, they’re dizzy, they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

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Where do musicians get their drugs?
Most of the drugs we can buy are from foreigners. Lots of black people selling drugs in lots of places. Weed and cocaine you can buy from the African people. But for the heroin you should probably buy from a professional drug dealer. They must be Asian. One of my friends was in jail for three years because he did drugs, and he also sold drugs. A musician. I know lots of musicians who are doing drugs now.

Someone told me they thought drugs might be good for creativity. Do you think so?
If you look at the 1960s and 1970s rock and roll music from the West, most of the musicians did drugs. It seemed like the drugs were helping them with the music. But in China I don’t think so. The musicians and pop stars are doing drugs because they have lots of pressures. They have to relieve them. I don’t think they do drugs to help them with the music because it seems like they don’t really make good music when doing drugs. It doesn’t get your brain clearer and doesn’t allow you to put 100 percent energy into the music. I think there are different chemical processes when Asian people do drugs and Western people do drugs. When we are doing them it’s all about the drugs. We can’t do anything else.

"Tao Bei Shan," a 60-year-old retired army officer.

The government is cracking down on drugs. Is that a good thing?
Tao Bei Shan: We should strongly enforce the drug ban. Drugs are bad for society, bad for individuals, bad for the heart. That they are good for creativity is a bullshit idea. If you want to get inspired, check out the real world. If you want to create something, check out the real world. Taking drugs is a kind of stimulation, but it’s bad for health, so it's better to stay far away from it. Drug enforcement is a global problem, not just China’s. Cracking down on drugs is good for the nation, the common folk, and the world, so I support it.

Liang Wu Hua, a 42 year-old baker.

Liang Wu Hua: Drugs are far away from my life because I’ve never seen them in the real world. Before, my family lived in the countryside and we didn’t have anyone doing drugs there. I am very busy with my bakery, so I don’t have time to do much else. The government should definitely crack down on drugs. The celebrities have money so they can afford it. Taking drugs is something rich people do, not the common folk.

Gabriel, a 24-year-old student of Chinese medicine.

VICE: What can you tell me about this drug crackdown?
Gabriel: All the drug dealers are getting arrested by the Chinese government. They’ve disappeared from Sanlitun [a popular clubbing district in Beijing]. That’s what I heard. And my roommate hasn’t smoked [weed] for a while now. I heard they shut down a club and asked all the foreigners to take a urine test. If you’d been smoking weed, you got deported. I think it’s normal. This is what the Chinese government does. Maybe the drug industry is too crazy, so the government wants to shut it down. But they can’t shut it all down.

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But do you think they should shut it all down?
I think drugs should be legal; all drugs. If you have a knife you can cut yourself. You can cut food. You can cut whatever. You can do whatever with the knife. You can commit suicide with the knife. So what’s the difference with drugs? You can take it as entertainment, you can be addicted, you can be killed by them. Smoking cigarettes is also addictive. If that’s legal, then everyone should know how to control themselves. Why are drugs illegal? Because too many people have overdosed.

Jacking off is addictive. If you do it every day, three times, four times a day, you’ll be a dead man. You’ll be a zombie or something like that. Drugs are the same. You have to make a balance. You have to control yourself. But you cannot avoid jacking off because it has a function in society. If it had no function people would forget about it. Drugs have the function of helping people forget their troubles. Because smoking and drinking cannot take you to that state, only drugs can take you to that level.

Sounds like you've tried some drugs.
I ate a brownie in Amsterdam. Crazy shit! It lasted so long, like five hours. Your body is so soft, everything is in slow motion, and you keep smiling and seeing illusions when you close your eyes. I heard voices. I don’t know. That was my first time. And I went to see a fucking show as well. Like two people humping. It was boring. The man couldn’t even get hard. There are two things legal in Amsterdam: smoking weed and prostitutes. But I only did it once.

Note: Interviews have been edited for readability. In some cases, interviewees submitted their English names and in others, fake names were given.

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