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Brilliant Chang, Cocaine and Chinatown Nights

Brilliant Chang.
The image below of a woman taking cocaine is, I believe, from the 1910s and is one of the many research pictures I've amassed for my noir novel - a love story and thriller set in 1919 - Chinatown Nights.

Although drugs do not play a huge role in the plot, several of the characters in the novel are i
nvolved in the world of illegal drugs, illicit drinking clubs and other rather suspect activities - including arms dealing.

Woman taking cocaine in the 1910s.

Brilliant Chang, a notable Chinese figure in London in the 1910s and 1920s, who is fictionalized as a character in Chinatown Nights, was alleged to be one of London's primary cocaine dealers (cocaine was a popular drug, then as now) and was the subject of a great deal of police attention.

Chang was charged in 1924 with possession of a single packet of cocaine (a surprisingly small amount for one of the supposed "drug kingpins" of London - probably planted by the police), was jailed and was eventually deported from Britain.

He moved to France, where he met a similar fate, was arrested, charged and deported again.

He was a fascinating man: the son of a wealthy Chinese mercantile family, with interests in Shanghai and Hong Kong. He had an office in the City of London, from which he looked after his uncle's business affairs, and a share in a Chinese restaurant at a prime location in London's Regent Street, from which many of his drugs were dealt, supposedly.

Chinatown Nights weaves a fictionalized Chang together with other characters inspired by real-life figures of the time. The central female protagonist, Lady Shao, has roots in notorious nightclub-owner, Mrs Kate Meyrick, once described as, "The most dangerous woman in London" - as well as the internationally-renowned Chinese-American movie star of the silent and early sound era, Anna May Wong.

Anna May Wong with monkey friends.

(Sources: Marek Kohn's Dope Girls: The Birth Of The British Drug Underground; also The Times of London.)


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