Skip to content Skip to navigation

Poisonous Pandas: Chinese Cigarette Manufacturing in Critical Historical Perspectives

Poisonous Pandas book cover
Gan Quan (Editor), Liu Wennan (Editor), Robert N. Proctor (Editor)
Stanford University Press
2018

A favorite icon for cigarette manufacturers across China since the mid-twentieth century has been the panda, with factories from Shanghai to Sichuan using cuddly cliché to market tobacco products. The proliferation of panda-branded cigarettes coincides with profound, yet poorly appreciated, shifts in the worldwide tobacco trade. Over the last fifty years, transnational tobacco companies and their allies have fueled a tripling of the world's annual consumption of cigarettes. At the forefront is the China National Tobacco Corporation, now producing forty percent of cigarettes sold globally. What's enabled the manufacturing of cigarettes in China to flourish since the time of Mao and to prosper even amidst public health condemnation of smoking?

In Poisonous Pandas, an interdisciplinary group of scholars comes together to tell that story. They offer novel portraits of people within the Chinese polity―government leaders, scientists, tax officials, artists, museum curators, and soldiers―who have experimentally revamped the country's pre-Communist cigarette supply chain and fitfully expanded its political, economic, and cultural influence. These portraits cut against the grain of what contemporary tobacco-control experts typically study, opening a vital new window on tobacco―the single largest cause of preventable death worldwide today.

Review

"This important volume documents the historical and cultural foundations of the world's most massive epidemic: the devastating impact of cigarette smoking in China today. Focusing on cigarette production and consumption over the last century, the authors and editors show how deeply embedded tobacco is in the most basic economic and cultural structures of contemporary China, and how difficult it will be to excise this State-run industry and its addictive, deadly product. Nonetheless, they offer opportunities and hope for stemming this global tragedy." (Allan M. Brandt Harvard University, author, The Cigarette Century)