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Morphine syringe, Chinese, metal/glass, maker unknown, China, [1925].

Made [1925]

This crude hand assembled syringe has a glass barrel with a horizontal cross piece of twisted wire and a brown residue still evident in the barrel. The head of the metal plunger is embossed with Chinese characters and the name 'Kosmos-Brenner', a German lamp manufacturer using this trade mark from 1899, suggesting it was initially a wick winding knob. An attached cardboard label reads, 'Morphine Syringe Used for cheap injections to Chinese Coolies'. Morphine was injected by some Chinese doctors ...


Object No.


Object Statement

Morphine syringe, Chinese, metal/glass, maker unknown, China, [1925].

Physical Description

Morphine syringe, Chinese, metal/glass, maker unknown, China, [1925].
Syringe with glass barrel and metal plunger. The head of the plunger is embossed with Chinese characters and the wording 'KOSMOS BRENNER'. A horizontal cross piece on the barrel is made of twisted wire. A cardboard tag has the wording, 'Morphine Syringe Used for cheap injections to Chinese Coolies'. Probably dates from the early 20th century.


On syringe plunger, embossed: Chinese characters and "KOSMOS BRENNER".



65 mm


55 mm


15 mm






This glass morphine syringe, together with other medicinal related objects, was held at the Asian Studies Department of the University of Sydney since the late 1950's, and later donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1994. It was part of a small collection of Chinese artefacts and medicinal substances related to traditional cultural practices, thought to have been collected in China in the first half of the 20th century by an Australian protestant missionary J. Whitsed Dovey (1887-1956) for missionary education.

Opium was used medicinally in China since ancient times but the introduction of smoking saw its recreational use spread so that opium smoking became a widespread cultural ritual during the 19th century. After the isolation of opium's most potent alkaloid, morphine injection was promoted by late 19th century European physicians as a faster and more scientific medical treatment. Around the same time Protestant missionaries in China led a campaign against the widespead habit of opium smoking. When the government began to control opium it became more expensive than imported injectable morphine and heroin. Missionary health services promoted and distributed morphine pills as a cure for opium addiction at the same time that many poorly paid workers, such as coolies, switched from opium smoking to the cheaper injectable morphine.

Dikotter, Frank et al, 'Narcotic Culture: A Social History of Drug Consumption in China', British Journal of Criminology, 2002, 42, p317-336


Credit Line

Gift of Asian Studies Department, University of Sydney, 1996

Acquisition Date

16 July 1996

Cite this Object


Morphine syringe, Chinese, metal/glass, maker unknown, China, [1925]. 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 6 April 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Morphine syringe, Chinese, metal/glass, maker unknown, China, [1925]. |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=6 April 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}


This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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