Olive Yang was a widely mythologized genderqueer lesbian opium-pioneer in the 1950s heyday of the Golden Triangle. After escaping an arranged marriage with a noble cousin, Olive felt that she had no choice but to lead a life of banditry with an anti-communist rebel army supported by the CIA. As her smuggling empire grew, she became so powerful and infamous, novelists were inspired to write about her evil ruthlessness and beauty. Yet, Olive’s real life and identity remained a mystery to many.
To the Kokang people whom the Yang family once ruled, Olive was both folk-hero and villain. To the communists Olive’s men harassed, she was the saboteur of the historic Sino-Burmese border agreement. To the generals who jailed her at the dawn of the Burmese military era, she was a national security threat. And to at least one man at the CIA, she was “Miss Hairy Legs.”
Opium Queen is a journey to uncover the true story behind the propaganda and legends. Declassified intelligence documents portray Olive as a critical operator in one of the most important fronts of the clandestine Cold War against China. Through extensive interviews with the Yang family, Olive emerges as a complex anti-hero, searching for a way to live as an open homosexual, in an era when such a lifestyle was considered deeply shameful in Burma. The great military alliances that facilitate narcotics traffic in Myanmar today are Olive’s lasting legacy in the Golden Triangle, as is the disenfranchisement of the people of Kokang. Through the story of Olive’s formidable life, Opium Queen examines historic events that underpinned critical diplomatic relationships between the U.S., Myanmar, and China; and were at the root of Myanmar’s current political crisis.
Investigative journalist Gabrielle Paluch spent six years living in Myanmar and Thailand, reporting on both countries for Voice of America, the LA Times and other publications on a wide range of subjects including: natural disasters, coups, trafficking, migrants, parliamentary politics, elections, religious violence, civil war, and foreign investment.
In 2016, she earned an MA from Columbia University’s Graduate School in Journalism and was awarded the H.L. Stevenson Fellowship for her groundbreaking reporting on female genital mutilation in Thailand. She spent the duration of the fellowship reporting from the AP’s Bangkok Bureau. She is currently a contributor to McClatchy’s investigative unit, focused on real estate and money laundering investigations. She has been selected as a SABEW Goldschmidt Fellow for 2018 and won a Best in Business award from the Society for Business Editors and Writers in the Explanatory Reporting category for her contributions to an investigation into Donald Trump’s real estate deals across post-Soviet states. She is based in New York City.