Accompanying China’s economic reform and open-door policy in 1978, illicit drug use re-emerged in the late 1980s, and gradually developed into a serious social problem. Heroin was the dominant illicit drug consumed in the new drug epidemic, and the number of female heroin users has increased rapidly in the country. Using intensive interviews with 131 female heroin users and field observations between 2005 and 2008 in Kunming, Yunnan Province, this research explores the drug-using careers of female heroin users in China under changing social contexts in the reform era. It investigates the impacts of sociological and individual factors on women’s heroin use in each developing stage of their drug use careers. It also examines the social and legal consequences of women’s heroin use by looking at connections between women’s heroin use and criminality. Lastly, this research analyses and ascertains the impact of China’s narcotics control policies on women’s drug use careers.
Huan Gao is Professor of Criminal Justice at California State University, Stanislaus. She was an academic visitor in the Centre for Criminology at University of Oxford in 2022 (Trinity Term).