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OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16

China's Youngsters are Turning On, Tuning Out

ALSO
Invisible Fences: Authorities keep a rein on kids partly by not telling them what is and isn't allowed

Xianxian loves E. The impetuous, 19-year-old Shanghai girl has tried cocaine and marijuana, but lately she has come around to the mainland's hottest new drug—ecstasy. Dancing wildly in one of Shanghai's so-called "head-shaking bars," she pulls out a brown-and-white striped pill. "I want to get my head shaking like my ass!" she says.

Even in communist China, where more than 50 drug traffickers were executed in the month of June alone, kids still find ways to get wild. The number of officially registered drug addicts totaled 681,000 last year, up 31% from 1995. The real number of users—most of whom are young people taking recreational drugs—is far higher, of course, particularly in metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai. A senior U.S. drug official estimates that the total population of drug users in China could be as high as 12 million.

Ecstasy is far and away the most popular drug among the young set. Called yaotouwan (head-shaking pill) in China, it gained a foothold first in Hong Kong four years ago, exploding in popularity after raves began to dominate the territory's nightlife. More recently, the multicolored pills have become popular on the mainland as well: ecstasy is convenient, hip and, perhaps most importantly, relatively inexpensive. One hit generally costs less than $20. Cheaper pills are produced mostly in Hong Kong and neighboring Shenzhen; pricier brands can come from as far away as the Netherlands.

The old warhorse heroin still plagues an older set of drug users, particularly among the poor in southern Chinese cities and in western Yunnan. Heroin users account for 62% of the addicts registered with the authorities. Produced mostly in Yunnan or nearby Burma, heroin usually costs an inexpensive $18 a gram. It's seen as a low-class high among discerning urban hipsters.

More popular in mainland metropolises—particularly in the more freewheeling south—is cocaine, while marijuana still has its adherents in China and in Hong Kong, where it retails on the street for around $160 per ounce. LSD has only recently begun to make an appearance at mainland raves, where "ice" or methamphetamines—produced in China—have held sway for the past six years. So far there's no uniquely Chinese high. The nation's youth are mirroring trends among their counterparts elsewhere in Asia and in the West—getting wired in more ways than one.

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

government ALSO IN YOUNG CHINA: GOVERNMENT
National Pride: Patriotism makes a comeback

Sport: The basketballer denied an outside shot

Invisible Fences: Authorities keep a rein on kids partly by not telling them what is and isn't allowed

Getting High: Ecstasy becomes the urban drug of choice

Country Girl: A villager moves to the big, bad city

Getting Green: Activists seeking to avert an environmental disaster are tapping the ranks of the very young

Home Sweet Home: Citizens now aspire to buy a flat

Looking Inward: Today's artists are beginning to explore individual rather than collective themes

Big Think: Intellectualism did not die with the 1980s

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