Screencap via the Chinese web forum nx123*
The Chinese Northeast is flooded with meth from North Korea. But with crackdowns from the authorities, Chinese chemists are now cooking up their own batches. Many of the raw ingredients are produced domestically. Motherboard previously reported on the state of meth in China: just like in the US, there are plenty of open spaces in rural areas that are perfect for setting up makeshift meth labs. In a labor-intensive country where blue-collar workers need to work long hours and consecutive shifts, some see meth as a welcome stimulant that helps them earn overtime pay.
Purer meth is packaged as something a bit more luxurious. Visit a karaoke bar in China and you might be offered an “ice-skating” package. “Ice” is the common name for meth in China, and “ice-skating” is the common expression that means doing meth. Some karaoke bars are fronts for brothels, and since users insist that meth heightens their sexual arousal and strengthens their stamina, it's no surprise that the drug has made its way into the escort and entertainment industries. Managers make extra cash by charging johns for narcotic voyeurism. Apparently, some men get off by watching young girls do meth.
Even though the meth karaoke girls of China undergo severe health risks to make money, they are not compensated well. Jingjing is from an agricultural village in Jiangsu, a province on the eastern coast of China. Like many young people in China, she had dreams of living in one of the major cities. After she turned seventeen, she made it to Shanghai, where a friend from her hometown helped her land a job at a legitimate massage parlor. But she wasn't making that much money, and the bills were stacking up, so she moonlighted as a karaoke hostess at night. It wasn't long until her manager was pimping her out as a meth girl, and once she was hooked, the karaoke lounge was the only place where she knew she could get meth. Every time she “ice-skated” with a client, she was paid ¥350 (less than $60). Falling deeper into addiction, she needed more than what she was getting at work. She located a meth dealer by searching online, and told her boss that she could start sleeping with clients for extra income.
Drug education in China is nearly nonexistent. The Department of Propaganda produces numerous “drugs are bad” banners, but they are summarily ignored as the countryside is blanketed by the same red cloth with screened slogans like “Park in a civilized manner,” or “One child is enough.” Information about narcotics comes in the form of dry statistics, like the number of arrests and quantities seized by the security apparatus, but the actual effects of harmful drugs are not commonly known. Jingjing said she had no idea what meth would do to her body because she never learned about it from her parents or teachers. Questions about drugs were met with responses like, “Don't ask about bad things.” She didn't know that once the euphoria wore off, she would be unable to sleep or eat. Her boss kept her groomed but she was losing a lot of weight. She was always tired, and the reason to show up for work was no longer to earn a paycheck, but to keep up with her addiction.
Jingjing said she was eventually fired for “not looking pretty enough.” Even though her boss was the culprit who introduced her to meth, he blamed her for losing weight and not keeping up with her appearance. “What man would want you?” he asked.
Ashamed to return home in her emaciated state, she became a camgirl to make ends meet. She met men online, who paid her to do meth with them via webcam.
Screencap via a news report posted on v.youku.com
In July, a Chinese journalist went undercover (link in Chinese) and managed to snap some photos of karaoke meth girls at work in Xi'an, the city that marks the beginning of the Silk Road.
Chinese authorities have been on a heavy crackdown, seizing stockpiles of meth wherever it's found. A January raid in a southeastern village involved more than 3,000 police operatives who confiscated over three tons of meth. Last month, China executed two South Korean citizens who smuggled North Korean meth into China with plans to move it into their own country. In fact, China has singled out synthetic narcotics in their war on drugs, much to North Korea's chagrin
Jingjing was nabbed too. In my attempts to reestablish contact with her, I discovered that she was arrested by Chinese police in a sting operation. One of Jingjing's old colleagues from the karaoke bar told me that a police officer posed as a john and enticed her to use meth on camera, then asked her to meet him at a hotel for sexual services. When Jingjing showed up, she was arrested. Responding to my enquiries by phone, a police officer in Shanghai said, “We can't talk about this, but if she was using 'ice,' then she is a criminal. We can't talk about criminals.” The police officer was unable to confirm whether Jingjing was actually charged with a crime.
There is no doubt that meth destroys lives, but the Chinese attach extreme stigma to drug addiction, so the punishment for users who are caught can be disproportionately severe. On paper, China abolished its “reform through labor” programs last year, but the reality is that the labor camps were converted into forced drug rehab centers where inmates perform unpaid factory work and can be incarcerated for years without trial—an arrangement previously reserved for those arrested for political or religious reasons.
Addicts in China are not offered rehabilitation or therapy. Instead, they are treated as enemies of the state—a fate that Jingjing will suffer until she is released from secretive incarceration.
NOTE: The thumbnail image was deleted shortly after the author obtained it, so it cannot be authenticated. It is not "Jingjing," who spoke on the condition of anonymity.