In the inter-war period, the “white” goes from light to shadow

In the inter-war period, the "white" goes from light to shadow

Moist heat and desperation numb the sugar cane fields of the Kagi region in southwestern Taiwan. Since the end of the Great War, in 1918, production is idling: sugar has become a luxury product and its consumers have become rare. The Japanese settlers no longer know what to do with this island, annexed in 1895. The Ensuiko company, owner of the plantations, in need of money, one of its young leaders suggests the name of an ideal investor: his own father. , Baron Korekiyo Takahashi, Minister of Finance to Emperor Yoshihito. Takahashi agrees to invest 100,000 yen and convinces a friend to pay the same, but on one condition: give up sugar cane and prefer coca. This Andean plant, which does not grow naturally in Asia, will find fertile ground here.

Korekiyo Takahashi, Minister of Finance to Emperor Yoshihito, in Tokyo in 1934.

From the specially erected refinery, a drug soon emerges, cocaine, which the Japanese are going to trade. And too bad if this substance is banned from Western nations. On the contrary, the fact of assuming the monopoly of the black market is an invaluable asset in the eyes of the empire. The Ensuiko company, renamed Taiwan Shoyaku, is not alone in this niche: a handful of pharmaceutical companies obtain a label from the Taiwanese state to get started.

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One of them, the Sankyo laboratory, can count on an exceptional recruit, freshly returned from America: Jokichi Takamine. Discoverer of adrenaline and pioneer of laxative drugs, this scientist cut his teeth at Parke-Davis, the leader in cocaine in the United States, before Prohibition froze the market. Because in the wake of the American Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, international treaties have in turn put drugs out of the game. Meager quotas, reserved for medical use, curb the production and trade of cocaine. Peru and Bolivia, the historical suppliers, are neglected. Who would want to export a plague? The terror of overdoses outweighs the supposed virtues of this legendary plant. The “coke” thus makes Asia its “new world”. A discreet industrial and commercial conquest, started by the Netherlands, strong in their eastern colonies, then by Japan, with hegemonic ambitions…

Flight over a “coconut” nest

At the start of the war, coke was nevertheless present in the “medical kits” of British soldiers; it was prized by French and German airmen, and supplied to Australian and New Zealand troops in preparation for the assault on the Dardanelles… But its ban – in 1916 in England and France – drove it underground. We soon find his trace in the illegal bars of London’s East End, where soldiers on leave slum. In Paris, she is favored by the prostitutes of Montmartre. “Again and always the coco”, title The Popular in September 1918. The article tells of a traffic tried in court, where “a Spaniard, Pepe Ortiz”a “Belgian deserter, Laenens”, “a woman from the mound”said “Lina the Russian”, “a neighborhood pharmacist” and ” a dancer “. Scandalized by the ravages of “the terrible, the depressing, the fatal cocaine”the reporter describes “glassy eyes, weary gaits” consumers.

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