Smoking and Stimulants: Opium

One plant. Multiple stories.


There was a sanctioned opium trade in the 19th century which has an enduring legacy and marked and shaped the lives of cultures all over the world. Here are some of those stories.


Empire of Opium by Royce Ng

EMPIRE OF OPIUM from Pitt Rivers Museum on Vimeo.


Royce Ng is a Chinese-Australian artist currently based in Hong Kong working in digital media and performance who deals with the intersections of modern Asian history, trans-national trade, political economy and aesthetics. His work, the Opium Museum, is a multi-part performance cycle that looks at the role of opium in the formation of the Modern Asian state, focusing on the historical regions of Manchuria and Zomia. 


 For this intervention project at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Royce edited together fragments from his research, travels and the Opium Museum trilogy performances into a short film and wrote a brief personal narration on the relation between Hong Kong and opium history and his own project.


To find out more about Royce Ng’s work and to view a preview from Queen Zomia (2nd chapter of the Opium Museum trilogy) click on the following links:


Out of the Sea like a Cloud  by Fiona Foley


Out of the Sea like a Cloud from Pitt Rivers Museum on Vimeo.


Fiona Foley is a Badtjala woman, artist and an academic from K’gari (Fraser Island), Queensland, Australia. Her film Out of the Sea like a Cloud draws on the oldest known Aboriginal song, which records the Badtjala sighting of Captain Cook and crew on the Endeavour, as it sailed past Takky Wooroo, K’gari/ Fraser Island in 1770. Foley brings Indigenous Knowledges to the fore in the film by profiling and building upon the surviving words of the Badtjala song handed down over generations.


The film also pulls on another thread of Queensland history, the legal use of opium in the state of Queensland prior to the introduction of the 1897 legislation, The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act. Foley’s book Biting the Clouds: A Badtjala perspective The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act will be published in November 2020.


To view the complete short film and learn more about Foley’s work, the history of the Badtjala on K’gari and opium in Queensland click on the following link:


VICE World News host Zing Tsjeng delves into her own family history to explore the time when the British Empire was one of the worst drug pushers in history and got China hooked on opium. Empires of Dirt is a show about Europeans getting rich at the expense of everyone else. VICE World News host Zing Tsjeng uncovers the ugly history of the European colonial empires they don’t teach us in schools. Countries around the world were looted for their treasures, people were oppressed and exploited and European powers relentlessly profited. The far-reaching repercussions of colonialism are all around us, from our financial institutions to the food we have in our cupboards at home – and it’s about time we took notice. (Empires of Dirt, VICE).

How Britain Got China Hooked on Opium



Thank you toVICE for allowing the PRM to share their work.