“Red” Poppies and Nanniwan: A Second Look

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Though of course we can not be sure (the documents are gone), there DOES however seem to be a much better organized drug trade nearby, though outside the pale of the all-too-visible Yenan “Special Area”.

The counties listed in (Party?) documents as “command” poppy plantations – if that is the right term – are specified (again by Chen) as
河曲县、保德县、偏关县、神池县、宁武县、五寨县、平鲁县、朔县、and 岢岚县 (by contrast, whatever or wherever the evil existed in the “Yenan” base area proper, it was simply “pervasive, ubiquitous” – that is, unsystematic and probably off-and-on).

There are at least two or perhaps three reasons for the relative intensity of the poppy planting in this relatively small and isolated subsector.

(1) The area as a whole (W half of the Lvliang Mt Planteau, is exceedingly “ravined” out: a plus for guerrilla and hiding; the SA is not
(2) Has a 1-crop summer growing season of 120-180 frost free days and
For ningwu:
日照总时数平均为2835时,日照百分率67%,年平均太阳总辐射142.3千卡/平方厘米,年平均气温为2-6℃。 8760 hrs/yr
78.4 per/km
25 pct of LAND IS arable For cereals)

(4) Learning and Practice- from where, by whom? Probably the most important, the on-the-ground cultivators (those who took up poppy-growing – not all did or could have) would have (and would have HAD TO) acquired expertise in cultivation and harvesting from BEFORE the “poppy campaign” got started, apparently in early 1942. From the ethno-anthropological literature on poppy/opium in the SW China and N. Thailand (Hmong/Miao), it seems clear that, as with most cash crops, arriving from the outside, and not simply extracted from “the wild”, the opium poppy’s planting etc. had to be learned over several seasons of trial and error. As did (even more so) the details of maximizing the yield and quality of the opium syrup extract. Even before planting experiment began, SOMEONE (a neighbor, an itinerant merchant more likely) had to help identify those corners of the household plot(s) that would give the best yields; then, returning periodically (esp. at “harvest time”) show the cultivators how to maximize quality and packaging. Remember: these were (relatively) non-indigenous flowers, which had started their history as hilltop or hillside efflorations in geo-zones much further south where high-altitude daily sunlight and predictable seasonality of rainfall (the monsoon- around whose “windows” planting could be times) were taken for granted. In the Shanxi-Shaanxi-Mongolia frontier, these conditions could not be assumed: ways of limiting risk by scatter-planting had to be concocted, and perhaps as well as ways of enriching the earth with mulch or nightsoil, even preparatory plowing.

(By contrast, none of this problematic experimentalism obtained when staple cereals were cropped: millet, sorghum, wheat or (rarely) wetfield rice)

Given these unpredictabilities and the dangerous loss of food self-sufficiency as land was transferred into poppy, it seems most doubtful that any poor peasants would have tried the “new” crop unless it was either NOT new, or there was some degree of pre-capitalization by the local authority (ies) (one hesitates to say “government” since so much was under 8RA “warlord” supervision). Or unless – and this is MY best hunch – there was a considerable margin of fallow or abandoned land – along the base of or slopes of foothills, for example, and subject to severe erosion from sandstorm or monsoon downpour – too unproductive for regular cereals planting that might be tried out with no risk to the main (standard) food-crop harvest. As best as can be told, such land needed some terracing for water retention and landslide protection, but there was no guarantee the terraces would be there the next year.

Ningwu Collapsed Hillside – to be re-terraced – the problem is the hilltops are just too steep and rocky….)

Ningwu jpg

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