Chinese and their liquor

From Southern Weekend | Translated by 王珏 | Edited by Key


The Spring Festival has just passed. Everyone had his or her own way of celebrating it. However, there is something common most Chinese shared during this time, and that is, drinking.

For most Chinese, drinking is a special thing. It is not only a consumption behavior but also a way to socialize with others. To some degree, it even represents the most typical Chinese philosophy of life.

During happy times such as celebrating the New Year or other festivals, Chinese drink; when feeling down, for example, being rejected in love or frustrated, they also drink. Historically, scholars and gentlemen loved drinking, and it is said only by drinking could Li Bai (an excellent poet in Tang Dynasty) have written hundreds of poems. Likewise, emperors, generals and ministers were also fond of drinking, say, Cao Cao and Liu Bei (both emperors in Three Kingdom Period) defined heroes while warming the alcohol and Zhao Kuangyin (the founder of Song Dynasty) relieved his general of military power by a cup of distilled spirit. Therefore, through drinking, thrilling situation was turned into peace as if nothing happened. As for the civilians, their lives couldn’t be without alcohol too, especially when getting together with friends. As a result, no matter in the formal settings or in the society, alcohol is always a medium with endless possibilities which works smoothly and exercises a combination of inflexibility and yielding. Now in the modern world, when the seniors of many multinational enterprises are sent to China, they have to receive training on Chinese situation and cultures, with eating and drinking being the two important aspects. Becausein China many delicate and crucial affairs, even those hard-to-solved problems would find their way out at the table. As the saying goes, “being close friends, bottoms up!” And after several cups of spirits, the atmosphere will be different. But meanwhile, the numerous and ever changing drinking culture makes westerners puzzled and scared. What makes them surprised and admiring is, Chinese people are still updating this extensive and profound table etiquette.

Of course there must be strong material foundation behind the continuous innovation of Chinese alcohol culture. China ranks first in liquor-making. According to some experts, producing a liter of distilled spirit needs 3 to 5 or even more kilograms of grain. As some information shows, distilled spirit production in China reached 8.908 million kiloliters in 2010, consuming at least 26.724 million tons of grain. If calculating by 389 kilograms of grain per capita per year, the grain consumption in distilled spirit production equals the consumption of 68.7 million people which is about 3 times the total population of Beijing. However, according to the experts, the real grain consumption in distilled spirit making industry per year must be higher than the statistics nationally published due to the facts that the statistics only come from large and medium-sized enterprises and many companies including that ones are left out because the management in this industry doesn’t keep the pace of its development.

There’s no doubt that the massive market demand and profit is backing such amazing production. Since the beginning of 2011, the price of top liquor such as Maotai, Wu Liang Ye Liquor, Jiannanchun Liquor has gone up. After the increase, the factory-gate price of the most popular Fei Tian Maotai containing 53 percent alcohol has reached 619RMB, and the ordinary Maotai was priced at 959 RMB in the retail dealers’ whose price now is more than 1000 RMB and up to over 1400 RMB in Guangzhou. Although Maotai Co. Ltd then announced it would restrict the terminal retail price, the fact is that Maotaiwas in short supply during the raise in price, for instance, the stock in 30 Maotai franchised stores in Beijing were almost sold out which makes the price restriction nothing but an empty shell and drive the price increase in second and third-class distilled spirit. At the same time, it is given out that the price of the used bottle which contained the Maotai spirit produced in 1980 is up to more than 10000 RMB. Interestingly, the corporation claimed all these were to better balance the interest among state, consumers, enterprises, dealers, investors and other relevant sectors. Compared to this statement, Wu Liang Ye Co. Ltd said more frankly, “We are just meeting the demand of consumers’ status.” Additionally, a piece of thought-provoking news broke out in 2009 as if making a footnote for the liquor merchants: Two Henan government liaison offices in Beijing jointly paid at one time 660 thousand yuan for 777 bottles of fake Maotai.However, for the ordinary people who don’t need such special status (symbol), liquor are just like the tragedies and comedies staged realistically in every city at every night. For the boys and girls getting high at the bar, or the drunker on the streets after heavy drinking, alcohol, is not out of reach, but the accessible magic that can change lives. The drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter events which caused 5 deaths and 4 injuries by Zhang Baoming in June 30th in Nanjing and 4 deaths and 1 injury by Sun Weiming in December 14th in Chengdu respectively seemed like an invisible black curtain behind the busy tables and these very traffic accidents played a direct role in the”absolute ban on alcohol” when operating motor vehicular. In the fight between liquor and life, the latter defends itself instinctively.

Liquor, Sometimes freely runs through Chinese people’s throats and their lives, what it conquers is more than just stomachs. How to make liquor better our life? However, the issues and problems triggered by liquor may be more complicated as time goes by, just like these pictures taken scattered in years in the streets and restaurants, which are not photographers’ casual encounters.


August 27, 2007 night, people happily drinking in the bar.


June 30, 2010, a drunk man passed on out the street


August 13, 2010 night, the girls drank to vent emotions


May 19, 2007 morning, workers were cleaning up empty bottles in scrap yards


April 17, 2010, cheers, in China, a lot of important things are resolved with liquor on the table


April 30, 2006, a man died of drink driving


March 2009 18 night, the security patrol in front of a bar.

Photos by  Li Jiangang | 李建刚

  1. Looking at the last photo, I first thought it was the picture of bed with six black socks thrown under it.
    The “socks” turned out to be security guys 🙂

  2. How can no one point out that Chinese “liquor” is awful, and only those who have not tasted anything else would accept to drink it.

    1. Because you are the expert on the world’s spirits and liquors. What other brilliant insights might you share with us???

  3. @Curren$y

    you’re an idiot. Go to Dongbei and see if you can last one day drinking with Chinese people there.

    People like you: misinformed, self-righteous and all talk. Talk is cheap, especially anonymous talk on the internet.

    1. Thats because they are accustomed to their form of liquor. Take them out of their environment and give them real liquor from a real international or indisputed brand of any type of liquor. When I go out with my Partners which are Chinese they always get Bai jiu which I can’t handle because of the taste and the probability that its not any liquor im used to. So I’ll usually bring 3 bottles of a color per event. These guys can go thru bottles of their shit like it water and drive home if there weren’t so many cops. But after a 500ml of Rum, Whiskey, or Vodka or Champaign these guys gotta be carried out. For 1 they don’t drink responsibly, they underestimate the real value of alcohol content in these spirits. They think they are weak because they lack the burn and the immediate effects. Same thing happened when I took my buddy from Mexico and was once commended for Chugging 2 bottles of wild turkey in less than an hour and staying awake to talk about it. He challenged my partners to drinking contests. He beat the guy on how fast and how many bottles he could clear but I had get his stomached pumped while my partner stumbled home.

      Dongbei people are no more less Chinese than people from Shenzhen. No matter where he goes the chinese will always outdrink him on their own liquor.

  4. Is it true, in Taiwan, you can pay a small ‘puke’ fee and the bouncers will allow you to stay in the bar after you’ve hurled all over the dancefloor?

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