[Readings] The Little Red Pack | Harper's Magazine
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From essays and testimonials on tobacco-information websites run by the Chinese government. The state monopoly on cigarettes in China provides 10 percent of government revenue; annual sales amount to 1.8 trillion cigarettes, or approximately one third of the total sold worldwide. Translated from the Chinese.

People often ascribe the inability to quit smoking to a weak will. In reality, it is well known that many great men smoked, like Churchill, Mao Zedong, etc. The smokers all around us now are also people of outstanding character. They have a great deal of determination and strength. The courage that they show in the face of unforeseen events—a courage that many nonsmokers are unable to muster—is unforgettable.

Look at what we know about dictators: Louis XIV, Napoleon, and Hitler all abhorred smoking. Napoleon once instituted a countrywide smoking ban. Dictators are completely opposed to people gratifying their desires. Hitler harbored a rigid, fierce hatred of smoking. The only person whom he allowed to smoke in his presence was Mussolini.

In the midst of war, however, cigarettes prove their unique worth. They can be the most valuable weapons in an arsenal, as valuable as gold, and more valuable than food. A general who is now an official at the Ministry of Defense wrote in a letter: “You ask me what we need to win the war. I tell you, we. need cigarettes, more cigarettes—cigarettes even more than food.” Smoking cigarettes can temporarily conceal brutal reality and help soldiers find a moment’s rest. They not only produce the feeling of being under anesthesia but can help the smoker forget the present and, like a two-faced god, remember the past and dream of the future. A general once said: “The cavalryman who doesn’t smoke is hopeless as a soldier.” His affirmation brings to mind the image of the Marlboro man–deep in the mountains, relying on his own strength as he contends with nature.

Even as people are being executed, the only thing they can think about is smoking a cigarette. In the middle of their last cigarette, they can get past their fear, face their chosen destiny, and calmly accept death. Today, in wartime situations, cigarettes are millions of people’s favorite thing, the last thing left that brings them adventure and meaning.


I majored in Food Studies in college, and I have since worked with tobacco for more than thirty years. I believe that smoking has a definite effect on one’s health. The French use tobacco to treat wounds, as it can accelerate the healing process. This is completely reasonable, because when nicotine oxidizes, it turns into one of the most effective forms of vitamin B.

There isn’t a smoker who hasn’t had the experience of trying to quit several times. Take one of my friends. One day he decided to quit smoking. For one month he didn’t touch cigarettes. But his family felt uncomfortable; they realized that he lacked energy, that he was tormenting himself. As a result, he started to smoke again, and life returned to normal for everybody.

Smoking gives you the feeling of having company. Many people think that friendship is an external thing; in reality, your own actions can become your companion when you are lonely. I used to travel to lots of places by myself, going everywhere under the sun. By the time I was twenty-five, I had covered nearly the whole country. On the road, I was really lonely, so I started to smoke. Of course, smoking gradually became many other things to me with time. When my life becomes a frantic rush, I light up a cigarette and walk calmly for a while. Smoking is itself a sort of mission—not because of the way cigarettes are used but because you grow accustomed to relying on them. It is just like how when you leave home, before you marry, you miss your parents, but later you miss your husband or wife. How could I not smoke?

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