Poisonous Pandas
Chinese Cigarette Manufacturing in Critical Historical Perspectives
Edited by Matthew Kohrman, Gan Quan, Liu Wennan, and Robert N. Proctor



Matthew Kohrman

The purpose of this book is to throw open a critical portal onto the production of cigarettes, challenging orthodoxies within tobacco-control research that have long prioritized consumption. Instead, we offer a historiography that unravels decades of accumulated veiling that has covered, protected, and nurtured the cigarette industry in the most populous country in the world. As a gateway into a long-ignored area of study, this book is a provocation to others to take up shovels of their own, to dig into the past of cigarette manufacturing and marketing in China, and to uncover new policy-pertinent knowledge about the greatest health calamity of our day, how it has come to exist, and how it may be quashed.

On a sweltering Raleigh summer day in 2013, an eerie event occurred in the office of North Carolina’s Department of Agriculture. With the department’s life-sized wooden Indian standing nearby, officials announced amidst smiles the signing of a contract that made it easier for local farmers to sell a crop to a faraway client.

Nowhere in the press release for the event was it acknowledged that the farmers’ product, flue-cured tobacco, is both addictive and toxic when consumed.1 Nor was there any mention that the new contract is facilitating a human annihilation, perhaps the largest in recorded history.

Farmers in North America are not alone in selling to this buyer. In East Africa, South America, and sizable swaths of Asia today, there are farmers who are also growing and curing leaf for the client, an agro-commercial leviathan of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The leviathan goes by two interchangeable monikers: the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA) and the China National Tobacco Corporation (otherwise called “China Tobacco”).

The dual naming convention betrays the conflation of government and big business that underlies the commercial tobacco sector in contemporary China and in much of the world. It also conveys something of the centripetal trajectory of STMA/China Tobacco manufacturing: using leaf bought around the world, its factories produce cigarettes that are almost all sold in the PRC. What the double naming communicates poorly, however, is any sense of China Tobacco’s enormity. This corporation has become far larger, by nearly all measures, than its closest global peers, even though its manufacturing and sales are mostly limited to one country. Responsible for two out of every five cigarettes rolled, packed, and shipped worldwide today, China Tobacco produces more cigarettes now than the world’s four largest publically traded tobacco companies combined: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Imperial Tobacco.2

A common mythology is that, owing to public health interventions, the cigarette epidemic is something of the distant past. Public health campaigns, to be sure, have succeeded in bringing down the prevalence of smoking, particularly among the well-educated, in a number of countries. In China, college educated residents are less likely to smoke today than they were a decade ago, and the total number of cigarettes sold nationwide during 2015 and 2016 retreated for the first time in decades.3 Anyone who suggests, however, that Big Tobacco is on the verge of collapse, whether in China or worldwide, is gravely misguided. The cigarette business, born on the eve of the nineteenth century, has continued to generate huge profits in the twenty-first century, and, based on current trends, the number of daily cigarette smokers around the world is projected to continue climbing, especially in low- and middle-income countries.4 More cigarettes will be produced and sold worldwide in the year of this book’s publication than in 1990, and three times as many cigarettes in the year 2020 will be rolled and smoked than there were worldwide in the middle of the twentieth century.5 Indeed, far from crumbling, the cigarette business in many regions of the world has continued to be a money-making machine.6 China Tobacco has certainly been cashing in. It reported double-digit growth in annual profits during the initial three and a half decades after its founding in 1982. Over a twelve-year period alone, from 2000 to 2012, its profits jumped 800 percent, making China Tobacco one of the world’s thirty largest companies in sales for any industry.7 By 2010, it was churning out more profit than the entire worldwide operations of Walmart.8

To make this leviathan ever more lucrative, the factories that manufacture cigarettes across China hunger for unlimited access to tobacco that is better in quality and lower in price. How to satiate such a demand, though? In 1982, a founding mission of China Tobacco was the overhaul of domestic leaf production, involving heavy-handed investments in rural management and infrastructure. This overhaul has been a mixed blessing for villagers. Whereas farmers in the post-Mao era have otherwise become free to choose what they want to grow and to sell crops to the highest bidder, when it comes to cultivating tobacco today, they are regularly micromanaged by local cadres and required to sell leaf below market value to agents of China Tobacco at prices preset by Beijing. For cigarette factories, though, the overhaul of leaf production has been a bonanza. Domestic tobacco harvests tripled in volume between the early 1980s and the early 2010s. China now leads the world in tobacco tonnage, producing more leaf than that of the next nine largest tobacco-growing countries combined.9

The overhaul was so bountiful that by 2012, leaders within China Tobacco began worrying about oversupply and they tapped on the brakes, reducing the country’s output of flue-cured leaf some 17 percent in the ensuing three years.10 But a seeming scarcity of “high quality” leaf persisted, so the corporation extended a program of lapping up leaf of specific types wherever it could worldwide. This scarcity can be attributed to technical shortcomings out in the fields of China, but even more so to shrewd decisions made in boardrooms of the country’s biggest tobacco enterprises, decisions to increasingly market cigarettes rolled with “superior” tobacco as being, at once, safer and more socially respectable. Especially coveted now by a mounting clientele across China are cigarette brands filled with tobacco meeting the highest criteria set by industry graders. Regions like Yunnan and Guangxi have become renowned for cultivating large quantities of leaf meeting those criteria, yet their harvests are simply not enough. As a result, in locales as distant as Brazil and Zimbabwe, executives of China Tobacco have been signing contracts and building logistics centers in order to ease their factories’ access to top-grade leaf.11 Ms. Liang Zhanhua is one such executive. It was she who in June 2013 stood in the office of North Carolina’s Agricultural Commissioner and triumphantly announced an agreement to open China Tobacco’s first North American leaf-buying facility—in the heart of America’s traditional tobacco belt. The only somber face in the room, at least the only one visible in the photo released by the Department of Agriculture, was that of the office’s wooden Indian mascot.

Native Americans were first mistaken for “Indians” in the fifteenth century. Soon after, the business of producing and selling tobacco became entangled with the rise of nation-states. Born at the intersection of Europe and North America, the political novelty that was the nation-state facilitated growing dependencies between Nicotiana tabacum and “the people.”12 So significant had such dependencies become by the mid-twentieth century that nations not only frequently extended locally owned cigarette-making enterprises preferential credit and subsidies, but they had created specially empowered government offices to monitor, assist, and even invest in such enterprises. The twentieth century also saw many nations building their own field-to-factory tobacco monopolies. State ownership of cigarette manufacturing declined somewhat after the end of the Cold War, but alliances between government and cigarette producers remain strong today worldwide. These alliances, of course, have had everything to do with money and tobacco’s addictive elixir, nicotine. Since the Age of Discovery, profits and taxes generated from tobacco’s unique capacity to hook people quickly on nicotine have been tantalizing, ostensibly inescapable financial resources for nation-states.

Some readers might be hoping for this book to provide theoretical ballast to a question of economics. After James Bonsack patented the first automated cigarette rolling machine in 1880, how did so many nation-states, flying under different political economic colors, come to not just nurture the buying and selling of tobacco leaf, but also invest in the highly mechanized business of producing cigarettes? Was there a single formula for what Allan Brandt has called the “cigarette century,” transcending localized economic structures (capitalist, communist, or other)?13 Was it, for instance, the adoption of applied economic principles born at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, originally championed by statesmen like Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay under the monikers of the “American school” and the “national system” and more recently disseminated under designations like “import substitution industrialization”?14 Was it the prescriptions of Hamilton and Clay—namely, extracting capital from increasingly efficient agriculture, reinvesting that capital in large infrastructural projects, establishing high tariffs, and championing specialty exports—that was the special sauce which came to nurture nation-state/cigarette manufacturing assemblages in the twentieth century up and down the Americas, across Asia, throughout Europe, and into parts of Africa?

A problem with such a line of inquiry is it could all too easily drop us into a rabbit warren of theory too narrow for the empirical material covered by this book and requiring too much in the way of comparative evidence from other countries. It would also distract from questions and themes that this volume’s contributors see as being far more important for the study of cigarette manufacturing in China. Poisonous Pandas brings together a group of formidable thinkers from a variety of disciplines: sociology, history, anthropology, public health, economics, and political science. We have joined forces out of a common curiosity about contemporary China, frustration with a gaping hole in scholarly research, and a conviction that interdisciplinarity can catalyze needed antidotes to a pressing social problem. Whereas China’s pre-1949 tobacco industry has received substantial scholarly attention,15 the same cannot be said about the industry from the mid-twentieth century forward.16 In assembling this volume, our main goal is to begin redressing that lacuna, offering a foundation for a new area of research: critical historical studies of the PRC’s cigarette industry. This historiography will be an indispensable springboard, we hope, for future research and policy making that tackle the contemporary tobacco endemic at its very source.

Like others at the top of a newly formed Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao Zedong came to be an avid reader of history, a heavy cigarette smoker, and big proponent of cigarette industrialization. How did experiments with cigarette manufacturing by the CCP before “liberation” augur the governance of cigarette supply chains in a nascent People’s Republic as being something tantamount to “serving the people”? In the early 1950s, what did it take to convince regional authorities to nationalize a war-torn privately owned cigarette industry and prioritize it during ensuing waves of Communist Party upheaval? How did social, symbolic, and financial processes of Maoification lay the groundwork for a massive expansion of both cigarette manufacturing and cigarette consumption? Beyond profits and white sticks, what else did the newly nationalized industry “produce,” enabling it to transmogrify cigarette making and smoking, especially among men, into performances of citizenship? During the final years of the twentieth century, as new medical discourses about tobacco’s toxicity increasingly circulated worldwide, what prompted Beijing to double down as a hub of tobacco governance, such that in 1982 it became the home of the newly created China National Tobacco Corporation/State Tobacco Monopoly Administration? Since then, how have different regions within China’s vast network of cigarette manufacturing adapted to contradictory forces such as post-socialist decentralization, a unified management system under China Tobacco, and the rise of global tobacco control as promoted by agencies like the World Health Organization, funders such as the Gates Foundation, and networks of public health activists?

In addressing these questions, this book prioritizes three themes.


“Cigarette normalization” is the first theme. By that phrase, we mean more than simply how the behavior of cigarette smoking has become perceived as normal. After all, for many people in and outside of China today, the behavior of lighting and smoking a cigarette is something to avoid and disdain. Our aim, instead, is to shed light on how the cigarette’s widespread availability as a consumer product has come to be viewed as unremarkable, expected, and commonplace. Cigarettes have become canonical elements of consumerism around the globe, despite resistance to tobacco smoking dating back as early as King James I (1566–1625) and Emperor Chongzhen (1611–1644) and despite intensifying public health campaigns during the last fifty years. Today, from cafés to pharmacies, and from grocery stores to petrol stations, cigarettes are widely available for purchase in nearly all countries, often prominently displayed in close proximity to candy, snacks, and beauty products. How did the cigarette become so commonplace?

No doubt, part of the answer lies is the rapid development of mechanical production. Machine makers enabled cigarettes to become widely available over a relatively short historical span, no less so in China. In 1880, about ten billion cigarettes were produced worldwide,17 and most of those were made entirely by hand. By 1949, at the time of the PRC’s founding, some eighty billion cigarettes were being produced annually in China alone, nearly all machine-rolled. By 1976, Chinese domestic production of cigarettes had increased sixfold to 491 billion per annum, even after all the chaos of the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). Furthermore, by 2010, using freshly imported machinery—purchased from companies like Germany’s Hauni Corporation, Italy’s GD, and England’s Molins—China Tobacco was reporting that its factories were generating over two trillion sticks annually, under more than a hundred different Chinese brands, comprising over 95 percent of the PRC’s cigarette sales.18

All the while, nicotine has become one of the most heavily consumed psychoactive drugs on the planet.19 A billion people in the world are now hooked on nicotine, burning through some six trillion sticks a year, modulating moods, food cravings, and cognitive focus. It was first during the early twentieth century that cigarettes became regularly available for sale in China, at least in cities. This was also a period during which the opium trade was being eradicated, a timeline that has prompted several scholars to suggest that the cigarette’s initial success in China might be attributed to it having been a legally convenient psychoactive salve for a population undergoing chemical withdrawal.20

The century-long normalization of the cigarette in China, like elsewhere, must be viewed as more than a process of simply chemical addiction. In other cultural contexts, it is well understood that machine-rolled tubes of finely cut tobacco leaf are not just nicotine-delivery devices.21 So too in the People’s Republic, for years the cigarette has been as much a psychotropic conduit as a symbolic “semaphore” and as much a mood modulator as a cultural patois of self and society-making.22 Across China, the symbolic signaling that is the cigarette has become so significant that a situation now exists where smokers and nonsmokers alike often have little choice but to engage in that signaling as they go about their daily activities of work, social interaction, status differentiation, and choreographies of belonging and exclusion. I hate how this space stinks of cheap cigarettes. Here, have one of mine . . . No, no, try one of mine, they’re much better. Wow, you can afford those cigarettes? It still makes me feel uncomfortable being with a woman who is smoking in public. No, thanks, I don’t smoke. I quit, on my willpower alone. Children shouldn’t smoke. Smoking is so dangerous. Come on, have one. My family is from XX province so we like to smoke cigarettes made there. Folks who smoke are usually of lower quality. I wish my husband would try quitting again. Real men smoke. How pathetic, you’re still buying that brand; it’s time to move up; those are for country bumpkins. These are just a few of the many cigarette-related refrains one regularly hears in the PRC.

Perhaps even more than wine in France and automobiles in the United States,23 for folks residing across China, the if, what, when, how, where, and with whom you smoke has taken on tremendous cultural significance, all of it dependent on the unquestioned expectation that cigarettes are readily manufactured, sold, and lit. Interpersonal relations, social valuation, and material success have all become contingent, in varying degrees, upon one’s ability, indeed necessity, to navigate contacts with cigarettes. Managing those contacts has become all the more complicated in recent years with the proliferation of public health warnings and smoke-free regulations.

By what means did the cigarette become such a complicated, yet expected, even normal, part of daily experience in China, helping to define self, space, and status? And how has the country’s sprawling tobacco industry contributed to this cultural assemblage beyond simply making a multitude of highly addictive products?

What we know is that, as the twentieth century began, early entrants to the machine-rolled cigarette business in China struggled to sell product. Initially, people showed little interest in this commercial category. If tobacco was to be bought, the favored forms at the dawn of the 1900s were snuff and loose leaf for pipes. To create market footholds, cigarette manufacturers such as British American Tobacco and Nanyang Brothers began underwriting the development of new cultural media, such as packaging, advertising, and film, blanketing large tracts of the country with positive cigarette messaging.24 This messaging emphasized the cigarette, not as any opiate substitute, but rather as a means to define oneself along various continuums, from traditional to modern, male to female, local to national, provincial to cosmopolitan, self-made to life-of-the-party. What we also know is that cigarette companies, in their early messaging, often tried to embed cigarette symbolism into ideas about Chinese essence and national origins. Much of this was done through brand development and product placement; innumerable cigarette labels like New China, Big China, and Nationalism (Xin Zhongguo, Da Zhongguo, Aiguo) were introduced and heavily promoted. Something worked, because, by the middle of the twentieth century, cigarette smoking had become a common habit and form of personal expression, especially among the well-heeled, well-educated, and politically prominent.

How did patterns of change and continuity regarding cigarettes as a symbolic semaphore relate to the ways the country’s tobacco industry was reorganized and expanded under the Chinese Communist Party? And how did CCP activity ahead of its victory in 1949 lay the groundwork for those patterns?

To whet your appetite for chapters of this book, let me offer a brief answer to those questions by staying with the relationship between cigarette normalization and branding. Cigarette makers experimented heavily with brand names in the middle of the twentieth century. They generated a legion of new labels, hundreds of them, and they regularly redesigned the packaging of successful brands as many as several times a year. Some of the symbolic gambits that they first introduced have remained remarkably consistent over the years, from the 1930s all the way up to the present. For instance, the industry has held fast to uses of iconography significant to national consciousness. Some prominent examples of this genre today are the labels Xiongmao (panda), Chunghwa (a metonym for China), and Zhongnanhai (a former imperial garden in Beijing and current leadership compound for the Chinese Communist Party).

Looking back at the last half century, one can also spot sizable symbolic changes in branding—some apparently short-term and tactical, some more long-term and strategic. In general, cigarette marketers in the young People’s Republic steered away from imagery and meanings smacking of bourgeois, capitalist production; spurned were many of the overtly “foreign” motifs that had been used by outfits like British American Tobacco in the 1920s and 1930s. Designers dutifully embraced themes befitting the revolutionary spirit of the age and the many political campaigns that accompanied Maoist nation building. Some of their templates were cigarette brands initially introduced by cottage factories run by divisions of the People’s Liberation Army in their pre-1949 base camps. Examples of the many new cigarette brands introduced in the 1950s include Liberation, Land Reform, Anti-American (a Korean War–era innovation), Manual Labor, Bumper Harvest, and Great Leap.25

Especially important to mention at the outset of this book is that locality and gender were two other shifts in the symbolism of branding after 1949. Many cities in the newly founded PRC became namesakes for cigarettes. Labels like Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Tianjin, often with an iconic image of an esteemed city landmark, appeared in bold lettering on packs. By contrast, a swift erasure regarding gender occurred. What had been scores of pre-revolutionary brands overtly catering to women, like Beautiful Woman, Little Sweetheart, Flying Woman, and Rich Girl (Meinü, Qingren, Feinü, Funü), quickly disappeared after 1949, and only a few brands touting female themes would appear over the next fifty years (Female Soldier and New Woman, for example). In late imperial China, both men and women had used tobacco, often snorting from small containers of snuff or puffing on pipes filled with chopped leaf.26 What’s more, during the first half of the twentieth century, marketers regularly promoted cigarette brands with equal vigor, whether they catered to notions of masculinity or femininity. However, codes of conduct had changed noticeably by the 1950s, particularly for women. Whereas possessing cigarettes was deemed all the more salubrious for masculine self-identification in post-1949 China, as a mark of successful Communist manhood, it was redefined in ways far more problematic for women. Maoist propagandists, striving to teach a young nation how to identify evils, both domestic and foreign, regularly portrayed women who consumed cigarettes as frivolous bourgeois “modern girls” or even as prostitutes and traitors.27

The reorganization of industry sweeping across China after the Communist takeover in 1949 greatly influenced many aspects of cigarette normalization—that is a theme that unites most chapters of this book. Branding again provides a purchase to consider these processes. As was the case for many commercial sectors, Beijing dictated that cigarette companies across China during the 1950s were to be gradually nationalized, merged, and placed under the administrative thumb of provincial and municipal party authorities. During this transformation, local party officials used the cigarette pack as something of a megaphone to trumpet their ability to build local goodwill and to fulfill Beijing’s mandate of industrial reorganization. Local officialdom did this by emblazoning packs with provenance information: large text on each pack stating the name of the local cigarette factory in which the sticks were produced (e.g., the Shanghai Cigarette Factory, the Wuhan Cigarette Factory). Before 1949, cigarette packs in China rarely demarcated place of manufacture. The new practice of boldly stating factory of origin on packs also allowed local officials to claim credit among their constituencies for providing the public access to both a substance long prized in China (tobacco) and a product category (the cigarette) which newspapers of the day flaunted as regularly smoked by the nation’s new leaders.

It is easy today, in an age of commercial abundance, to overlook the significance of access to something like cigarettes in the early years of the People’s Republic. For most citizens, the 1950s and 1960s were decades textured by comparative scarcity. Even what we might consider the most inexpensive consumer goods were regularly hard to come by. City authorities distributed their factory-demarcated cigarettes for sale to constituents via governmental shops, but also for free, a perk of city residency managed through household ration coupons. As the 1960s progressed, many cities issued ration coupons to their residents for a wide array of basic necessities. Ration coupons were again a type of megaphone for local officialdom. Cigarette coupons regularly stated that they were issued by a city’s People’s Government and that they were redeemable for cigarettes made by the city’s recently nationalized local factory. Through these coupons, cigarette normalization took a giant leap forward, with cigarettes becoming recognized as both a basic necessity and an entitlement of city life, on par with rice, sugar, meat, cloth, and bicycles. Holding up a megaphone has its risks, however. Local city authorities needed to be especially careful that cigarettes under their supervision would not clash with tenets of the party line. After 1949, this meant rooting out any and all symbolism smacking of bourgeois excess, sex work, or anti-revolutionary sentiment. Fearing sharp disciplinary rebuke, few local party leaders overseeing cigarette manufacturing dared to permit their factories to brand packs overtly directed at women. Instead, the common move was simply to name cigarettes after the factory’s host city. The practice may sound mundane, but it functioned more than adequately for many a conservative, praise-seeking, local official. Likewise, city-based branding was effective at saturating the otherwise generic cigarette in an aura of positive symbolism pertaining to belonging, value, propriety, urbanity, and government authority.

Cigarette brands changed again following Mao’s death in 1976, as steady supplies became more available in village and city alike. Many cigarette labels first introduced during Mao’s reign disappeared. Packs with names like Leap, Open Hearted, Big Star, Contribute, Resilience, and countless others were dropped. Coupon schemes likewise disappeared, and so too went most labels named after cities. Today, the total number of domestic cigarette brands sold in China is well below Mao-era numbers, despite the industry’s accelerating production of the last three decades. The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration has overseen this brand reduction, acting like a gardener tending an overgrown and mismanaged orchard.28 Such brush-clearing has been at the center of the STMA’s organizational mandate: to increase efficiencies, transform scarcity into growth, and make cigarettes the centerpiece of a new consumerist era. Soon after the STMA took over many of the reins of China’s cigarette businesses from local party authorities in the 1980s, it began consolidating and closing smaller cigarette factories in order to engineer economies of scale.

The STMA still permitted a small number of new brands to be introduced, including several, as one might expect, tapping into symbols evoking decidedly pre- and post-Maoist ethics. In the 1990s, we saw new brands like Nobility, West, and E Times. However, the STMA has been steadfast when it comes to gender norms. Relatively few brands generated today by a China Tobacco subsidiary cater overtly to female smokers. Claiming that symbols dictate behavior is always risky, yet academic and everyday observers continue to widely credit the strongly negative meanings, which were first attached to female cigarette usage during the mid-twentieth century, as a primary reason smoking rates have remained so lopsided between men and women. How lopsided? National surveys indicate that roughly 60 percent of men, ages twenty-five to sixty-four, have been daily cigarette smokers during the last two decades. These same surveys consistently show that among women, less than 3 percent have been lighting up.29

Of course, branding and pack design are not the only means by which the tobacco industry in China has come to define and redefine normative relationships between cigarettes and consumer experience. What other mechanisms have been pivotal? And, in particular, how has the industry blended engineering innovations, public relations, popular media, and class and psychographic marketing? We take up both of these questions in this volume.

To better appreciate the significance of the second question, regarding blending, consider a prominent trend for cigarettes in China over the last decade: price expansion. In the 1990s, the STMA did away with Mao-era price caps, allowing tobacco marketers to shrewdly capitalize on a society undergoing dramatic post-socialist socioeconomic stratification. A steep ladder has subsequently emerged between the cheapest brands made in China (now about US$1 per pack at retail) and the most expensive (over US$35 per pack). Such price variation has been effective at transmogrifying cigarettes, as much as any other object in China today, into emblems of class and income. Status pandering is not altogether novel for the cigarette in the PRC, however. Even amidst the most ardent periods of Maoism, ambitious players in China’s cigarette industry subtly positioned some of their products as status symbols, with the most premier of their labels, such as Panda brand, distributed exclusively to party elites. What’s more, at least one of the brands first made for party elites, Yunyan (“Yunnan smoke”), has enjoyed meteoric market growth during the last two decades, and variants of Yunyan now command some of the highest prices of any cigarettes in China. This begs a question that many of the authors here ask: to what degree were mid-twentieth century Maoist tobacco pitchmen the prophets of the country’s contemporary cigarette business?

Imperiled Life

Endangerment is the second of the three central themes animating this book. Researching how things become commonplace, how they become insinuated into everyday life as normal, is a vital line of inquiry for scholars of culture. The importance of studying the tobacco industry of the PRC, though, far exceeds simple matters of cultural insinuation. The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration/China Tobacco has become the world’s largest cigarette maker. Being the largest means that this government-business leviathan owns a title of ignominy like no other. It is arguably the single largest corporate machine of death and social suffering to ever exist.

Industrial manufacturing, to be sure, has imperiled people around the world for well over a hundred years. Dangerous offerings—everything from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, alcoholic beverages to aerosol agents, cleaning compounds to knives, razors, and revolvers—have been manufactured and distributed worldwide since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In recent years, journalists have often shed light on defective products (milk powder, toys, medications, for example) being manufactured in China—matters that, in turn, have become of personal concern to people in Chongqing as much as in Chicago, in Guangzhou as much as in Guatemala City. Factories across China, however, have been manufacturing cigarettes in far greater numbers than anything like knives and razors or, for that matter, medications and toys. Moreover, these cigarette factories of China, by striving to reach ever higher levels of productivity, have been contributing to a global catastrophe that is unprecedented in terms of scale and intensity.

This global catastrophe is already taking its toll. Although it is expected to grow much larger, it has been unfolding around the world for quite some time and is wreaking havoc now. Worldwide, the catastrophe has been the single greatest cause of premature death for more than a decade, even for people in countries as far apart as the United States and New Zealand, where smoking rates have declined significantly since the 1970s.30 Over ten years ago, John Seffrin, CEO of the usually restrained American Cancer Society, categorized the cigarette as being “the most effective killing machine mankind has ever invented.”31 Seffrin went on in 2008 to label the cigarette “the world’s greatest weapon of mass destruction,” testifying that, if the cigarette continues to be consumed at current rates, “it will kill more than 600 million people alive today.”32

Already bearing much of the burden of this global annihilation is China. With over half of its residents today regularly exposed to cigarette smoke (first- and second-hand), and with those fumes being more significant contributors to indoor air pollution than smog in even notoriously congested cities like Beijing, the global cigarette catastrophe is bursting out across the PRC.33 At present, more than a million people per year die from contact with cigarette smoke in the People’s Republic, more than thirty times the number of deaths annually caused by HIV-AIDS.34 Furthermore, assuming that current rates of cigarette smoke exposure persist, morbidity is slated to surge dramatically in the next twenty years, tripling to 3.5 million annual deaths by 2030.35 Conventional thinking attributes this surging death toll to people having “chosen” to smoke. However, we find that explanation inadequate. It is inadequate not simply because it ignores how much, over the last century, the industry and its allies have fostered cigarette smoking as a normative aspect of everyday life. It is inadequate not simply because it ignores that nicotine is one of the most addictive of all pharmacological substances. It is also woefully inadequate because it ignores supply. Statisticians tell us that per capita smoking rates have gone up in China since the 1950s, based on surveys they have conducted on the country’s prototypical smoker, the adult male. Average male smoker consumption grew from a mean of just one cigarette per day in the early 1950s to four cigarettes per day in the early 1970s. That figure rose further to ten cigarettes per day by 1992 and to fifteen cigarettes per day by 1999.36 This was a meteoric rise. However, to primarily attribute this fifteen-fold increase to lifestyle decisions is to fundamentally obfuscate the industry’s own triumphalism regarding manufacturing. It is to obfuscate that a gigantic supply-chain investment made by government authorities, central and provincial, supercharged the surge in per capita smoking. This investment, after all, enabled cigarette production during the same period to jump some twenty-fold (see Figure I.1).

The rise of this manufacturing juggernaut challenges how the relationship between supply and demand is commonly understood. When it comes to cigarette exposure in the People’s Republic, has it been unmet demand getting joyfully sated or, rather, has it been enormous overproduction creating conditions requiring disposal of huge surpluses?

Certainly, given surging torrents of cigarettes across the country, it is little wonder that citizens seeking treatment for all manner of tobacco-induced illnesses have inundated hospitals for some years now. Departments of respiratory medicine, cardiology, and cardio-thoracic surgery have become particularly swamped, facing growing throngs of people pursuing treatment for malignant tumors, emphysema, heart attacks, and other life-threatening ailments. Death brought on by lung cancer alone has soared 400 percent in China during the past three decades.37 Epidemiologists attached to China’s Ministry of Health are quite matter-of-fact regarding causation, attributing nearly all of the country’s lung cancer to first- and second-hand cigarette smoke exposure.38

FIGURE I.1.Cigarette production in China, 1952–2016. National Bureau of Statistics of China,卷烟产量.

Perhaps because of China’s capaciousness, death across the country is all too often represented through the lens of statistics. It must be remembered, though, that lives lost cannot be measured in terms of numbers alone. Anyone dying from tobacco is not just a data point. She is a sister, a mother, an aunt, a former classmate. He is a brother, a father, an uncle, a neighbor. And with their lives deeply embedded in webs of social and affective significance, men and women who die from cigarettes in China tear at the very fabric of human experience, not just of their own, but also of innumerable others. Their death invariably subjects family, friends, and attendant social intimates to protracted periods of suffering, involving grinding emotional, moral, psychological, and financial dissolution.39

Today, the manifold forces of tobacco-induced death have left few in China untouched, and fewer still will remain untouched a decade from now. This rising tide of devastation demands an ethical response from all sectors, including the academy. Looking back is vital for looking forward, the authors of this volume assert. Looking back is vital for nurturing a new ethics and, thus, a new politics about the future. At minimum, to foster popular momentum against the surge of tobacco in China, people spanning numerous social domains need better information about how actors and allies of the cigarette industry have shaped current circumstances in the People’s Republic.

Politicization of Smoking and Depoliticization of the Cigarette Industry

In order to shake the PRC free from its painful role as protagonist and victim in the global cigarette catastrophe much more must be learned about how production works there. Two questions in particular must be answered. First, how have manufacturing units of STMA/China Tobacco come to enjoy so much latitude as to imperil people by inundating them with an item which, if used exactly as intended, kills half of its regular users? Next, what has been done to stem the cigarette endemic in recent years, and how has China Tobacco coordinated with regional manufacturers to thwart those efforts? Both of these lines of inquiry, in their own ways, engage the third of this book’s three themes: politicization and depoliticization.

With those terms, we mean processes by which something is framed as either political, and thus needing human struggle, or nonpolitical—say, “purely” aesthetic or technical—and thus undeserving of contestation. Such framing almost always involves knowledge, but so too affect and history. To clarify all this, consider an example outside of the tobacco realm from East Asia’s past, something that has undergone intense politicization recently. In 1937, during a six-week period, members of the Imperial Japanese Army killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers and perpetrated wide-scale rape and looting in the Chinese city of Nanjing. Several of the perpetrators were subsequently tried and found guilty. Despite their ferocity, these events were largely ignored by Chinese media outlets during the Maoist era (1949–1976), a time when internal class struggle was a political priority. Then, in the 1980s, as Beijing’s reformers started to need new ways to energize the nation, what is now known as the Nanjing Massacre or the Rape of Nanking began to be framed as profoundly political. This framing has transpired through a prolonged multimedia barrage including film, novels, and scholarship. Through this framing, Chinese citizens are encouraged today to experience the Nanjing Massacre as a festering sore on the heart of the nation. And via this framing, China’s leadership is expected to posture aggressively toward the Japanese government and carry out costly military maneuvers to signal that the PRC will never allow Japan to enact such an atrocity on Chinese soil again.

Juxtapose that to the massacre the PRC’s domestic cigarette industry has been visiting upon the country. How is it that an industry first introduced into China by foreigners can currently flood the PRC with a tsunami of toxic products (that are now generating annually three times as many deaths as that wrought by the Nanjing Massacre), yet elicit a popular outcry that is highly circumscribed? In other words, how is cigarette-induced death in China today typically politicized and depoliticized?

One answer is differential problematization. Whereas cigarette smoking has come to be treated as a problem, the industry has not. Much of this began after Mao’s death in 1976, when international tobacco-control discourse began to flow into the country under Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policies. Since then, a growing stream of health advocates, policy makers, and experts from numerous fields have invoked tobacco-related morbidity statistics and pressed the party-state to better instruct the public about tobacco’s toxicity and to implement anti-smoking measures. Most of these tobacco-control specialists have adopted an approach of top-down regulatory intervention designed to condition citizens to avoid making risky decisions regarding smoking. The approach problematizes the behavior of “smoking,” while largely ignoring both the industry and its products. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world’s first public health treaty, has provided impetus, institutional legitimacy, and codes of conduct for this unbalanced approach. The FCTC offers largely a demand-side methodology to resolve a complex public health issue. Much of what it mandates from countries is intervention on behalf of their populations in ways that empower citizens to make better decisions on how to manage the risks posed by smoking cigarettes. Comparatively few FCTC protocols are designed to curtail the worldwide industry’s freedom to produce highly addictive products. No FCTC protocols mandate that manufacturers disclose how their products are made. No protocols mandate that cigarette manufacturers make changes to their products (such as reducing nicotine levels) to make them less addictive. And none actively encourage governments to nurture political consciousness among people—not just about smoking, but also about the industry.

Against this international regulatory backdrop, problematization of cigarette smoking has occurred on several levels since Beijing signed on to the FCTC in 2005. Here are a few examples: The party-state has restricted people’s exposure to commercial speech, implementing a series of ever-tighter bans on cigarette advertising. It has required people to learn a new choreography of locales where smoking is prohibited, implementing smoke-free rules for public spaces. It has required that a small increase in text-based warning labels regarding “smoking” be attached to cigarette packaging. And through the allocation of small sums of money, it has encouraged the flow of knowledge about the dangers posed by cigarette use, increased epidemiological surveillance of consumption, promoted the creation of smoking-cessation clinics in major cities, and funded school-based programs to dissuade youth from taking up the habit. I encourage you to read through these examples again. All emphasize the behavior of smoking and, through indirection, deemphasize the import of the industry.

This trend is not unique to China, of course. It is a global phenomenon, one that has been thinly studied in almost all contexts. Currently, statisticians attribute half a million premature deaths a year in the United States to cigarettes. Yet even in the United States, where tobacco regulators have enjoyed relative success, few people today challenge cigarette manufacturers in any direct way other than plaintiffs enlisted by lawyers. Perhaps this is because, as is the case in China, tobacco control in the United States has done little to nurture a victimology except one of smoker self-blame. Tobacco-control programming in North America over the last fifty years has championed empowering people to make healthy decisions (read: those who do not are negligent), but rarely has it reached out to survivors or their families, let alone encouraged them to mobilize against an industrial offender. There has been popular backing and grassroots activism in the United States during recent decades for numerous social movements, replete with pink and red ribbons, aimed at changing the political economy of breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. However, lung cancer and its principal causal chain are objects of essentially no political activism, even though far more women in North America die annually from lung cancer than from breast cancer, and ten times more Americans die from lung cancer than from HIV/AIDS.40 In other words, China possesses no proprietary claim to the depoliticization of the tobacco industry. Yet, being by far the world’s largest producer of cigarettes, the PRC is arguably the most important setting in which to investigate this phenomenon.

This then brings us to the question: How has China’s cigarette industry worked to avoid being problematized?

Of primary importance has been the ways the industry nuances its status within both government and everyday life. In an era when so many forms of commercial activity have been heavily privatized, manufacturing and sale of cigarettes has remained a governmental fiefdom. State control of a supply chain, particularly in a single-party authoritarian system such as China, inescapably confers a certain respectability on an industry and its signature product. Also, that much of the supply chain remains locally embedded, especially as experienced by citizens, makes this respectability all the stronger. STMA/China Tobacco officials based in Beijing indeed oversee the country’s sprawling cigarette industry today. However, much of what people experience when they reach for a pack of cigarettes is something regional, a product manufactured by a “local” factory entwined in webs of provincial and city-based associations. Domestically produced cigarette packs today still almost never state “manufactured by China Tobacco,” but instead typically state on their side that either one of the country’s older city-based factories (e.g., Changsha Cigarette Factory), post-Mao enterprises (e.g., Guizhou Tobacco Industrial Corporation), or one of the new large “tobacco groups” (e.g., Shanghai Tobacco Group, Hongta Yuxi Tobacco Group) have manufactured the product. Inasmuch as STMA/China Tobacco has been coaxing consolidation of the industry, trying to push factories into “groups,” all manufacturing units carry in their names and emphasize in marketing copy easily recognized identifiers of province- and city-based locales. This betrays the degree to which regionalism continues to define the industry, particularly at the provincial level. Local party officials and the media outlets under their authority regularly encourage people to smoke local brands as a way of taking pride in their community and supporting its economy. Smoke local, the message runs, and everyone nearby will benefit from the profits.

But of course, the money generated by China’s vast cigarette manufacturing infrastructure does not all stay local, as Beijing extracts much of it away. The tobacco industry in the People’s Republic today is as much a Beijing-run state monopoly as it is a set of regionalized public cartels, run along the lines of what Jean Oi has called “local state corporatism.”41 It is a hybrid governmental-industrial assemblage, one in flux, with many internal tensions and regional stakeholders. Through complex webs of personal ties, regulations, and laws, this assemblage uses the powers of the central government to impede both foreign competitors and uncertified counterfeiters. At the same time, it struggles to keep regionally based cigarette enterprises in line with all of Beijing’s edicts and party priorities. For example, China Tobacco manages the inflow of leaf across national and provincial borders, but has struggled to break regional barriers that protectionist local enterprises and provincial party bosses have erected to maximize local cigarette sales. This same tension exists in terms of how many cigarettes are produced in the People’s Republic each year. China Tobacco annually assigns a production quota/cap on cigarette factories, dictating the total number of sticks the factory should manufacture. However, because the local enterprises that manage these factories compete fiercely for market share, a process encouraged by government leaders eager to showcase local GDP growth, enterprises press Beijing for higher quotas, as well as the right to absorb other enterprises during this era of consolidation.

Most citizens are unlikely aware of such organizational gambits, especially given how much they are encouraged to think insularly and clannishly about cigarettes. China Tobacco has been around for over thirty years, and all domestic cigarette enterprises are its subsidiaries, but they are still named in ways conveying not so much central government ownership as local rootedness. Inasmuch as most cigarettes in China today are homogenous tubes of paper-rolled tobacco grouped twenty to a pack, they are diversified under many different labels and flavor profiles, most of which by name, insignia, and fragrance hark back to particular geographic localities and city-based enterprises that were first created during the 1950s. What most Chinese are conditioned to see when they look at a pack of cigarettes is neither industrial machination nor endangerment, but rather, government-endorsed branding saturated by positive homegrown meanings. What they are conditioned to see is a sociopolitically celebrated opportunity to demonstrate pride of place and regional allegiance.

This brings us to another way the industry avoids problematization: its representation of profits. Many residents of the PRC today are well aware that cigarettes are moneymakers for the state, but they know little else about industry finances, whether it is in terms of how revenue gets generated or distributed.42 Before the 1980s, tobacco revenues were treated like most government matters: as state secrets. In the early 1980s, this seemed to change when agencies overseeing tobacco and its taxation began releasing annual and, more recently, quarterly reports to the public. The purpose of these reports, however, has been not so much transparency as self-serving political theater. Each report generally states very little, yet is always issued with great fanfare, touting that its findings reaffirm that tobacco is a “pillar” industry for the nation and for the party, contributing as much as, if not more than, any other industry to the government’s mandate to “serve the people.” What else is to be learned from the content of these reports is that, in general, government revenue from cigarettes, nationwide, as well as within many provinces, has been growing rapidly over the last three decades. According to one such report, in 1981, the tobacco industry generated some 7.5 billion yuan in “income and taxes.”43 By 2012, that figure had grown more than a hundredfold, reaching 864 billion yuan (US$140 billion).44 The reports also allow for a general appreciation of how much cigarette-related taxes have come to make up a sizable portion of all government revenue collected in China. In 2010, for example, the country’s cigarette-related taxes equaled one out of every fourteen yuan of revenue collected by the central government.45

If little information has been available regarding industry earnings besides a few eye-popping statistics wrapped in political theater, even less transparent has been the expenditure of the money generated by cigarette manufacturing and sales. How has this vast influx of money been applied to governmental budgets across the country, and what has it bought? Regarding depoliticization, we might assume that being such a cash cow for the state, and one growing fatter by the decade, the country’s cigarette industry has been able to curry favor and dampen dissatisfaction within the highest corridors of the Communist Party. Likewise, we might assume that party leaders, especially those based in the tobacco heartlands of China—like Yunnan, where the tobacco industry was generating almost 80 percent of provincial government revenues in the late 1990s—have been susceptible to industry co-optation, if not outright corruption, and, in turn, themselves actively lobbied supervisors in Beijing for pro-tobacco policies. Finally, we might presume that the industry has, sometimes stealthily and sometimes with flourish, spent money over the years to divert public attention from its responsibility for the hazards posed by its products. Simply presuming that industry income and taxes have been so deployed, however, is insufficient. We must also ask and document: By what means has tobacco money been actively directed in ways generative of depoliticization? And we must ask and document: What roles have industry actors and their proxies played in using corporate largesse to depoliticize the disease and death created by the cigarette business?

These questions are more difficult to answer when it comes to China Tobacco and its subsidiaries than to other large cigarette producers in the world today. Anyone with Internet connectivity today has easy access to tens of millions of pages of internal corporate documents from the likes of Philip Morris, Imperial Tobacco, RJ Reynolds, British American Tobacco, and Lorillard, dating back to the early years of the twentieth century. Most of these are documents that have entered the public domain through lawsuits in North America, and they are now viewable for free at the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents website. Based on this huge archive, historians have revealed myriad ways cigarette manufacturers active outside of China have budgeted large sums of money over the years for efforts to defuse, distract, and dupe the public.46

Such revelations beg inquiry into transpacific mimesis. In what ways have subsidiaries of China Tobacco been replicating the spending priorities of their foreign competitors, diverting some of their cash flow to wrap themselves in a cloak of distortions? In what ways have the subsidiaries been devising novel techniques? My own research—notably numerous interviews carried out over the last decade and time spent in the library of the Yunnan Academy of Tobacco Scientific Research, one of China’s largest industry-funded quasi-scientific public relations institutions—has illuminated for me that at least since the founding of the STMA in 1982, Chinese cigarette manufacturers have closely studied how foreign companies have defused public opinion about the dangers posed by cigarettes. What’s more, a small but growing body of knowledge, comprising journalistic reporting and preliminary academic inquiry, suggests that China Tobacco subsidiaries have gone well beyond study. STMA subsidiaries, it would seem, have adopted an armory of familiar techniques of obfuscation, misdirection, disinformation, and denialism, all designed to divert public attention and policy makers from seriously addressing the tobacco endemic, while simultaneously portraying the industry as responsible and ethical.47 These techniques seem to include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Encouraging the public to adopt a perspective of individual responsibility, rather than one of corporate liability, in response to risks posed by tobacco;
  • Introducing purportedly “low-tar” products sometimes designated as “light,” which are then marketed as safer alternatives (when in fact they are just as deadly);
  • Thwarting initiatives requiring cigarette packs to carry effective warning labels;
  • Generating misleading “scientific” knowledge about cigarettes, smoking, and secondhand smoke;
  • Blocking tax reforms designed to lower cigarette consumption;
  • Trumpeting philanthropic whitewashing, as when tobacco enterprises give away funds to bolster non-tobacco-related causes like poverty alleviation, rural educational advancement, and natural disaster relief.48

The publication of Poisonous Pandas comes at an especially timely moment for exposing the inner workings of disinformation campaigns like these. Environmental protest has become increasingly common across the PRC during the last decade. Outfitted with new knowledge, villagers and urbanites alike have become intolerant, litigious, and even rebellious when menaced by industrial polluters, including state and private enterprises. China Tobacco and its subsidiaries have avoided any such collective defiance so far, in part because of their success in managing popular appreciation of endangerment. Any casual observer in China has witnessed an upswing in tobacco-control knowledge during the last three decades. Multiple channels—the media, schools, and popular culture—communicate information about dangers inherent to cigarette smoking. This is borne out by survey data. By 2010, most Chinese adults, as high as 80 percent, were “aware” that tobacco smoke causes “disease.”49 In addition, by 2010, twice as many adults (77 percent) were aware that “smoking” causes lung cancer than had been the case just four years earlier (39 percent). All this appears to be good news for public health. The bad news is that, owing in part to industry activity, tremendous gaps remain in popular knowledge about tobacco’s toxicity and the forty-odd life-threatening diseases caused by exposure to its smoke. Consider three of the leading causes of death in China today: heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. As of 2010, 80 percent of adults were unaware that cigarettes cause all three conditions. Meanwhile, most adults remained poorly informed about the health effects of secondhand smoke. Four out of five did not know that secondhand smoke causes both lung disease among children and life-threatening heart and lung conditions among adults.50

One of the most important channels through which the industry has been conditioning what the public knows (and doesn’t know) has been warning labels. Cigarette packs in China have carried warnings for over a decade. The State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, however, has consistently blocked all efforts to expand the form and content of warnings. At present, warnings are abjectly innocuous, deploying the most tepid language to describe a risky behavior (but not a dangerous product). Labels state in small print that “smoking is harmful to health, quitting can reduce health risks.” This wording could not be better for the industry. The phrasing affords industry advocates grounds to claim that they have acted ethically—cautioning citizens and encouraging them to behave responsibly—while, in fact, leaving the public largely ignorant of the depths of endangerment at work.

Equally insidious has been industry marketing that toxins inherent to tobacco can be easily limited by smoking “safer cigarettes.” Recently, small e-cigarette enterprises have contributed to this outlook. However, more significantly, conventional cigarette enterprises in China have transmitted decades of “light” messaging. In a recent national survey, 86 percent of respondents were unaware that the term “low tar” does not mean “less harmful.” The industry’s “low-tar cigarettes are safer” rhetoric, it should be noted, has not taken root simply among the general public. Half of college-educated citizens nationwide, including 54 percent of medical professionals, now accept as truth the industry’s low-tar cigarette/safe cigarette canard.51

So, here’s how the chapters of this book are laid out. In Part One, we detail how the early Communist leadership embraced cigarette manufacturing and how that embrace sowed the seeds of normalization, depoliticization, and endangerment present today. Liu Wennan describes what is probably the first instance of the Chinese Communist Party managing the business of cigarettes. This occurred during the Anti-Japanese War (1937–1945) in a rustic region of northwestern China that was an important base for the incubation of the CCP. Sha Qingqing explores tense debates among party leaders and cigarette manufacturers during the early 1950s regarding how nationalization of the industry would proceed. He focuses on the country’s first National Cigarette Industry Conference, held in Shanghai, a city in which over a hundred tobacco companies were manufacturing products at the start of 1949. Huangfu and Kohrman examine cigarette production during one of the most tragic periods of the Maoist era, the Great Leap Forward. They conclude that the campaign’s turmoil helped foster and normalize a number of characteristics typifying China’s twenty-first-century cigarette sector. These include mass consumption, governmental stewardship of commercial logistics, localization of production, cigarette content as object of innovation, and prioritization of industrial minutia over human harm.

In Part Two, we describe various ways that the industry has benefited from visual culture and historical representation in its efforts to normalize cigarettes and depoliticize their harm. Carol Benedict surveys Chinese images of smoking in advertisements, cartoons, and propaganda posters from the 1920s to the 1970s. She shows that these illustrations vividly inscribed Maoist ideals of smoking and masculinity at the same time that they telegraphed improprieties of female smoking that had emerged in the 1930s and were carried over after 1949. Matthew Kohrman turns from visual media to historical discourse. Taking us on a stroll through a newly built museum devoted exclusively to the cigarette, he shows how the industry has come to use historical representation in an effort to inoculate its employees against rebuke and instill in them a proud sense of vocational ethics.

In Part Three, we consider two offshoots of the PRC’s tobacco industry—taxes and corruption—that have been indispensable for normalization and differential politicization. Kohrman, Gan, and Hu offer one of the most detailed descriptions to date of evolving policies regarding tobacco revenue in the PRC. They reveal that, in recent years, although cigarette-related taxes have been mostly garnered by the central government, the country’s complex web of tax policies has incentivized local cigarette manufactures and provincial leaders to expand production. Cheng Li maps dynamics among elite politics, local governments, and tobacco industry interest groups. Focusing on Yunnan Province in the early post-Mao era, he reveals key features of tobacco governance, including how provincial leaders have coordinated with factories to lobby leaders in Beijing and how tobacco-related corruption has penetrated many levels of the party-state.

In Part Four, we delve more fully into ways the industry has tried to depoliticize tobacco in the age of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention treaty. Kohrman, Sun, Proctor, and Yang take up the history of “light cigarettes” in China, outlining how filter-tipped cigarettes were first piloted in 1959 to fête government leaders. Then, to boost government revenue, a number of enterprises switched over to filter-tipped cigarette production during the early stages of the Deng era (1976–1997), marketing them as more modern and higher quality. In the late Deng years, the rhetoric of “light cigarettes” was ramped up, supervised in the 2000s by a STMA-orchestrated “low-tar, less-harm” public relations campaign. Gan Quan and Stanton Glantz interrogate relationships that have grown over the last fifty years between the tobacco industry and China’s academic institutions. They demonstrate that, in the 1990s, during a time when the public was growing increasingly concerned about dangers posed by smoking, the industry turned more and more to academic scientists to participate in tobacco research and increasingly used them in efforts to counter public health messaging. Wu Yiqun and her colleagues analyze two Chinese-language books about the FCTC written by industry researchers that were published in the last ten years and which touted themselves as being “scientific achievements” safeguarding the interests of consumers and the nation. Released by a reputable Beijing press, these books are industry manifestos, unabashed handbooks in public health interference, each laying out a set of “best practices” for thwarting tobacco-control policies.

In his Afterword, Robert Proctor provides us with some closing thoughts, bringing to bear his vast experience researching, writing, and challenging the machinations of the tobacco industry elsewhere in the world.

Despite a slurry of distortion and cynicism uncovered by this book, my coauthors and I remain hopeful. It was a spirit of hopefulness that initially brought us together on the grounds of Peking University in 2012 to discuss how we could open up a new area of research on tobacco. Something else brought us together as a group then and has animated us ever since. All of us believe that it is vitally important to draw on a variety of academic backgrounds to better understand how cigarettes in China are made. An upshot of our interdisciplinarity fervor is that, unlike most existing books about tobacco, this volume both considers production seriously and recognizes it as involving far more than simply making objects. Cigarette production is a wide-ranging process, we posit, one involving an interdependent mix of objects, webs of meaning, social relationships, government regulation, scientific research, systems of labor, spatial and class differentiation, embodied dispositions, and competing ethics.

Why go so big and broad on production? At issue is simultaneously a central plank in public health and all those people who are regularly imperiled by tobacco smoke worldwide. More to the point, at issue is whether tobacco prevention continues to inch along shackled by ill design.52 Tobacco prevention in China and elsewhere can easily continue to focus narrowly and often fecklessly on control of consumers and their behavior. It can easily continue to pose the problem at hand as mostly one of how to help people avoid making misguided decisions to smoke. Or tobacco prevention in the twenty-first century can become more substantial and consequential. It can expand its aperture and start to abrade actively the filaments of production that engulf the world annually with trillions of freshly rolled cigarettes.53 The chapters of this book are designed to examine existing patterns and break homogenous notions of what has been and what could be. We advocate an approach supportive of smokers’ desires to quit, to be sure, but one that probes more fervently into all that’s involved in producing cigarettes themselves. Ours is a call for a new history and ultimately a new political approach toward tobacco. What is needed, what this book strives to kindle, is an open-ended historical appraisal of tobacco manufacturing, a roomy reckoning of all manner of remnants: whether its corporate reports, newspaper images, tax codes, recollections of bureaucratic wrangles, discarded packaging, or even museum galleries.

Directing the bright light of historical reckoning on little-studied remnants carries the promise of conjuring new consciousness and hitherto unimagined social action.54 The time has come for cigarette production in the People’s Republic to feel that light.


1. “China Tobacco International Opens Company in N.C.,” North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, June 27, 2013,

2. “Tobacco 2016: New Insights and System Refresher,” Euromonitor International, 2016, retrieved from Euromonitor Passport database.

3. Paul McClean and Lucy Hornby, “China Tobacco Sales Fall for First Time in Two Decades,” Financial Times, June 20, 2016.

4. Ver Bilano et al., “Global Trends and Projections for Tobacco Use, 1990–2025: An Analysis of Smoking Indicators from the WHO Comprehensive Information Systems for Tobacco Control,” Lancet 385, no. 9972 (2015): 966–76.

5. Michael Eriksen, Hana Ross, and Judith Mackay, The Tobacco Atlas, 4th ed. (Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2012), 28; “Market Sizes, Historical/Forecast,” Euromonitor International, retrieved from Euromonitor Passport database.

6. Gary A. Giovino et al., “Tobacco Use in 3 Billion Individuals from 16 Countries: An Analysis of Nationally Representative Cross-Sectional Household Surveys,” Lancet 380, no. 9842 (2012): 668–79.

7. China Tobacco, Specifying Two Aims, Strictly Controlling Total Production: Improving the Industry’s Control Over Production of Cigarettes and Tobacco Leaf (规范两端 严控总量行业加强卷烟和烟叶生产总量控制) (Beijing, 2013),

8. Daryl Loo, “China’s Tobacco Monopoly Bigger by Profit Than HSBC, Walmart,” Bloomberg News, March 6, 2012.

9. Eriksen et al., Tobacco Atlas, 52.

10. National Bureau of Statistics of China, s烟叶产量.

11. “Brazilian States of Alagoas and Bahia to Export Tobacco to China,” Macauhub, 2012,; Andrew Meldrum, “Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Making a Comeback,” Global Post, May 10, 2012,; and “China Tobacco International Opens Company in N.C.”

12. Iain Gately, Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization (London: Simon & Schuster, 2001).

13. Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America (New York: Basic Books, 2007).

14. For a discussion of the rise of the American school of applied economics in China, how it was initially formulated by the likes of Hamilton and Clay, how it was exported to Bismarck’s Germany by Friedrich List, and then transmitted into Asia via Japan, see James Fallows, Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System (New York: Vintage, 1994); Arthur Kroeber, China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Joe Studwell, How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region (London: Profile Books, 2014).

15. Sherman Cochran, Big Business in China: Sino-Foreign Rivalry in the Cigarette Industry 1890–1930 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980); Wennan Liu, “No Smoking” for the Nation: Anti-Cigarette Campaigns in Modern China, 1910–1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); and Carol Benedict, Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550–2010 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

16. Some Chinese-language literature exists regarding the mainland tobacco industry from the mid-twentieth century to the present, but much of it is far from empirically rigorous. Having been funded by one or another China Tobacco subsidiary, these texts have usually been designed to do little more than celebrate the commercial achievements of their sponsor subsidiary.

17. Judith Mackay and Michael P. Eriksen, The Tobacco Atlas (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2002), 30.

18. Liu Tienan and Xiong Bilin, Yancao jingji yu yancao kongzhi (Tobacco economy and tobacco control) (Beijing: Economic Science Press, 2004), 141–42; Hong Wang, “Tobacco Control in China: The Dilemma between Economic Development and Health Improvement,” Salud Publica de Mexico 48, Supplement 1 (2006): 140–47; “The Chinese Tobacco Market and Industry Profile,” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2012,; and Cheng Li, The Political Mapping of China’s Tobacco Industry and Anti-Smoking Campaign (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2012), 18.

19. World Health Organization, Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004),

20. Frank Dikötter, Lars Laamann, and Zhou Xun, Narcotic Culture: A History of Drugs in China (London: C. Hurst, 2004), 201–2.

21. Richard Klein, Cigarettes Are Sublime (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).

22. On the cigarette as “semaphore,” see Peter Hessler, Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory (New York: Harper, 2010), 233.

23. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984).

24. Cochran, Big Business in China.

25. Wang Tianpei, “Ingenious Character, Yunnan Tobacco Advertising” (独具特色的云南烟草广告), Hongyun Honghe 34, no. 4 (2012): 46–51.

26. Timothy Brook, “Smoking in Imperial China,” in Smoke: A Global History of Smoking, ed. Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 84–91.

27. Benedict, Golden-Silk Smoke, 199–239.

28. Between 2001 and 2014, the total number of brands nationwide decreased from 1,183 to 89. It should also be noted that, during this same period, manufacturers increased the number of variants within brand families. Just as Philip Morris sells several variants of Marlboros in most parts of the word today—e.g., Reds, Golds, 72’s Edge, Smooths—Chinese cigarette manufacturers today sell variants of most of their brands, packaging them in distinctive ways and pricing them at different levels. By 2015, the total number of variants of Chinese cigarettes had grown to over 870. See Steve Shaowei Xu et al., “Trends in Cigarette Brand Switching among Urban Chinese Smokers: Findings from ITC China Survey,” paper presented at the 11th Asia Pacific Conference on Tobacco or Health, Beijing, 2016.

29. This is among adults twenty-five to sixty-four years of age surveyed between 1996 and 2010. Gonghuan Yang et al., Smoking and Health in China: 1996 National Prevalence Survey of Smoking Patterns (Beijing: China Science and Technology Press, 1997); and Qiang Li, Jason Hsia, and Gonghuan Yang, “Prevalence of Smoking in China in 2010,” New England Journal of Medicine 364, no. 25 (2011): 2469–70.

30. World Health Organization, Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2009: the MPOWER Package (Geneva: World Health Organization, 2009); “Health Effects: How Does Smoking Harm Us and What’s in a Cigarette?,” Health Promotion Agency, 2010,; and “Tobacco Statistical Snapshot,” National Cancer Institute, 2012.

31. John Seffrin, “National Conference on Tobacco or Health/Tobacco—Greatest Weapon of Mass Destruction,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 20, 2002.

32. Adam Gorlick, “Tobacco Companies Compared to al-Qaida,” Stanford Report, Stanford University News Service, May 21, 2008,

33. “Second-Hand Smoke Greatest Source of Indoor Pollution in Beijing: Study,” Xinhua, September 12, 2012,; World Health Organization, “Tobacco in China,” 2013,

34. 2012 China AIDS Response Progress Report, Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China, 2012,[1].pdf; and World Health Organization, “Tobacco in China.”

35. “Experts Raise Estimates of Deaths Caused by Tobacco-Related Illness in China,” Xinhua, January 6, 2011,

36. Richard Peto, Zheng-Ming Chen, and Jillian Boreham, “Tobacco: The Growing Epidemic in China,” CVD Prevention and Control 4, no. 1 (2009): 61–70.

37. Jun She et al., “Lung Cancer in China: Challenges and Interventions,” Chest 143, no. 4 (2013): 1117–26.

38. Ministry of Health, Report on Smoking and Health in China: Tobacco Control and Lung Cancer Prevention, 2006 (2006 nian Zhongguo xiyan yu jiankang baogao: Kongyan yu feiai fangzhi) (Beijing: Ministry of Health, 2006).

39. Li Xiaoliang, The Loss Is Not Just Health (Shiqu de bu zhi shi jiankang) (Kunming: Yunnan Publishing Group, 2013).

40. “Lung Cancer Fact Sheet,” American Lung Association, 2012, (accessed August 2013); and “HIV in the United States: At a Glance,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013, (accessed August 2013).

41. As Divakara Babu Chennupati and Rajasekhara Mouly Potluri, “A Viewpoint on Cartels: An Indian Perspective,” International Journal of Law and Management 53, no. 4 (2011): 252–61, explain: “A cartel is a formal (explicit) agreement among competing firms. It is a formal organization of producers and manufacturers that agree to fix prices, marketing and production. Cartels usually occur in an oligopolistic industry, where there are a small number of sellers and usually involve homogeneous products. Cartel members may agree on matters such as price fixing, total industry output, market shares, allocation of customers’ allocation of territories, bid rigging, establishment of common sales agencies and the division of profits, or [a] combination of these. The aim of such collusion is to increase individual members’ profits by reducing competition. One can distinguish private cartels from public cartels. In the public cartel, a government is involved to enforce the cartel agreement, and the government’s sovereignty shields such cartels from legal actions” (253). Jean Oi, “Fiscal Reform and the Economic Foundations of Local State Corporatism in China,” World Politics 45, no. 1 (1992): 99–126, describes “local state corporatism” as follows: “Fiscal reform has assigned local governments property rights over increased income and has created strong incentives for local officials to pursue local economic development. In the process local governments have taken on many characteristics of a business corporation, with officials acting as the equivalent of a board of directors. This merger of state and economy characterizes a new institutional development that I label local state corporatism. I want to make clear that ‘corporatism’ as used here differs from its use in previous studies. By local state corporatism I refer to the workings of a local government that coordinates economic enterprises in its territory as if it were a diversified business corporation” (100–101). Also see Barry Naughton, “Implications of the State Monopoly over Industry and Its Relaxation,” Modern China 18, no. 1 (1992): 14.

42. Hu Dewei [Teh-wei Hu], ed., China Tobacco Tax: Historical Changes, Current Situation and Reforms (中国烟草税收: 历史沿革, 现状及改革) (Beijing: China Taxation Press, 2009).

43. Li, Political Mapping of China’s Tobacco Industry, 91.

44. “Tobacco Industry Pays to the Nation’s Finance System 716 Billion Yuan, a Rise of 19%” (烟草行业2012年上交国家财政7166亿 同比增19%), Xinhua, January 17, 2013,

45. “Our Country’s 2010 National Tobacco Industry’s Taxes and Profits are 604 Billion Yuan” (2010年我国烟草行业实现工商税利6045.52亿元), Central People’s Government, January 18, 2011,; and National Bureau of Statistics, 2011 China Statistical Yearbook (Beijing: China Statistics Press, 2011), 277.

46. Brandt, The Cigarette Century; and Robert Proctor, Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

47. Matthew Kohrman, “Smoking among Doctors: Governmentality, Embodiment, and the Diversion of Blame in Contemporary China,” Medical Anthropology 27, no. 1 (2008): 9–42; Matthew Kohrman, “New Steps for Tobacco Control in and outside of China,” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 22, no. 3 Suppl (2010): 189S–196S.

48. Zhou Ruizeng and Cheng Yongzhao, ed., Research for Countermeasures to Handling the Influence of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO《烟草控制框架公约》对案及对中国烟草影响对策研究) (Beijing: Economic Science Press, 2006); Yuanjin Ni, “Xinhua Insight: WHO Official Urges China to Print Graphic Warning Labels on Cigarette Packs,” Xinhua, July 15, 2011,; John Garnaut, “Losing the Battle in a Country Where Tobacco Sponsors Schools,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2012; Xie Guangrong, “Agency of the Guizhou Provincial People’s Political Consultative Conference, Guizhou Tobacco, Donates Rice and Water to Xifeng Drought Area” (贵州省政协机关, 贵州中烟向息烽旱区捐赠矿泉水, 大米), 2013, (accessed September 2013); and Gonghuan Yang, “Marketing ‘Less Harmful, Low-Tar’ Cigarettes Is a Key Strategy of the Industry to Counter Tobacco Control in China,” Tobacco Control 23, no. 2 (2013): 167–72.

49. Yan Yang et al., “Awareness of Tobacco-Related Health Hazards among Adults in China,” Biomedical and Environmental Sciences 23, no. 6 (2010): 437–44.

50. Ibid.

51. Yang, “Marketing ‘Less Harmful, Low-Tar’ Cigarettes.”

52. Matthew Kohrman and Peter Benson, “Tobacco,” Annual Review of Anthropology 40 (2011): 329–44.

53. Zhang Xiliu, “Smoking Control Should Start from Control over Tobacco Companies” (控烟应从控烟企开始), Fazhi wanbao (Legal Evening News), May 25, 2015, (accessed September 2015).

54. Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1968).