Underworld of the East

The Underworld of the East

James S. Lee (1935)
introduction by Mike Jay /Green Magic Press 2000


James S. Lee, a mining foreman from Yorkshire, spent many of the years from around 1895 to 1910 working in the British colonies of South East Asia, where he developed a passion for exploring local customs and, in particular, exotic drugs. His memoirs, published twenty years later, offer a unique narrative of trading a drab working life in Edwardian Britain for one of encounters with man-eating tigers, riding across India on its first motorcycle, and experimenting in the jungles and slums of Asia with hashish, cocaine, opium, morphine and other drugs unknown to Western science.


Underworld of the East is now published in French as Les Tribulations d’un Opiomane.
This edition includes a new introduction by Mike, which appears in English in Strange Attractor Journal 4.


“A wildly entertaining tale of Victorian excess, danger, intrigue, Eastern promise…I’d imagine William Burroughs delighting in this book of back alleys, strong drugs, shady characters in far flung corners of old British empire.” Beat Scene

“Mike Jay has done historians of medicine an immense favour by saving James Lee’s classic tale of drug use from obscurity…it makes us rethink some of our preconceptions about the ‘typical’ drug user of the early twentieth century.” Medical History

“A superb strand of lost history” Bizarre

“An open-minded record of Asian people and customs…unusual for its time in its unabashed defence of copious narcotic consumption.” Times Literary Supplement

“Mike Jay is to be commended for bringing this obscure classic of drug writing to a new generation of readers. His enlightening introduction not only gives us the historical background of Lee’s journeys to the East but also tells us exactly why we should be reading this book today.”
Richard Rudgley