Boshe, a postage stamp of a village in China's southern Guangdong province, is not the type of place that would normally make headlines. But on Jan. 2, the town became famous, and for all the wrong reasons. Xinhua, China's largest state-run news agency, reports that on Dec. 29, police arrested 182 suspects, including a man who had once been Boshe's Communist Party chief, and seized about three tons of crystal meth, which the Chinese call "ice," in what state media calls the largest and most successful drug bust in Guangdong's history. But officials warned that the take-down of "Guangdong's No. 1 Drug Village," while symbolically significant, was just the beginning of the province's anti-drug push.
By all accounts, the Dec. 29 raid was massive: Over 3,000 police mobilized helicopters, motorboats, and police dogs to take down 77 drug-production sites, arresting scores of villagers and confiscating guns, knives, and a homemade bomb. (Three police were reported injured in the raid, but are in good condition.) If the Xinhua report is to be believed, this wasn't overkill for Boshe, the "most notorious" drug-manufacturing area under the aegis of Lufeng city, a municipality of about 1.1 million which provincial security official Guo Shaobo says produced more than one-third of China's meth over the past three years. The use of methamphetamines is growing in China: A Nov. 23 U.N. report found that the share of amphetamine users among all Chinese drug users had "continuously increased" over the preceding five years, while the total amount of meth seized in China rose 13 percent from 2011 to 2012.
According to the prominent newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily, despite the village's miniscule size -- about 14,000 residents on far less than one square mile -- Boshe had defied previous attempts to rein in its drug operations, using human barricades of the elderly, women, and children to counter police forces. Meanwhile, local cops, far from busting producers, allegedly actually protected the village industry. State-run paper China Daily reports that Boshe officials also got in on the act, even village party chief Cai Dongjia, the "biggest drug trafficker" in the region. A Dec. 2 report in the widely-read Chinese newspaper Legal Daily described how, by the time of the raid, waste from drug production had formed six-foot-tall piles along Boshe's streets, and most residents had begun using home generators because the local power network could no longer handle demand. Locals told Legal Daily that pollution from meth manufacturing had grown so bad that the lychee fruit for which the village was once known would no longer grow there.
The strike against Boshe is part of "Operation Thunder," which Guangdong authorities initiated in July 2013 in an effort to combat drug trafficking that originated there. So far, the operation has led to the arrest of 10,836 suspects and the seizure of almost nine tons of contraband. Despite these successes, Guo emphasized in a press conference that there was "still a lot of work to do." The results of all raids to date, he told the Legal Daily, were merely "the tip of the iceberg."AFP/Getty Images