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The movie is set in Shanghai in the early Republican era. Cheng Daqi, a young man working at a fruit stall, travels to Shanghai in search of a new life and he meets Hong Shouting, a police chief who is also a triad boss.
Opium has been known in China since the 7th century and for centuries it was used for medicinal purposes. It was not until the 17th century that the practice of mixing opium with tobacco for smoking was introduced into China by Europeans.
The import of opium into China stood at 200 chests (annual) in 1729, when the first anti-opium edict was promulgated. This edict was weakly enforced, and by the time Chinese authorities reissued the prohibition in starker terms in 1799, the figure had leaped; 4,500 chests were imported in the year 1800. The decade of the 1830s witnessed a rapid rise in opium trade, and by 1838 (just before the first Opium War) it climbed to 40,000 chests. The rise continued on after the Treaty of Nanking that concluded the war.[a] (See Growth of opium trade below).
The opium trafficked into China had come from East India Company's operations in Bengal, British India, produced at its two factories in Patna and Benares. In the 1820s, opium from Malwa in the non-British controlled parts of India became available, and as prices fell due to competition, production was stepped up.
These commodities were carried by British merchants to the coast of China, where they sold for a good profit.
With the drain of silver and the growing number of people addicted to the drug, the Daoguang Emperor demanded action. Officials at the court who advocated legalizing the trade so the government could tax it were defeated by those who advocated suppression. In 1838, the Emperor sent Lin Zexu to Guangzhou, where he quickly arrested Chinese opium dealers and summarily demanded that foreign firms turn over their stocks. When they refused, Lin stopped trade altogether and placed the foreign residents under virtual siege, eventually forcing the merchants to surrender their opium to be destroyed.
The drug war is a failure if judged by availability, cost, and corruption that today permeates many places around the globe. What is the answer? There are a few countries that decreased their populations drug use and stopped jailing everyone caught by simply decimalizing. Whatever, what we have now is not working.