Chinese Alcohol — History, Culture, Utensil, Classification, and Etiquette

What Is the History of Chinese Alcohol?

 

In the Xia Dynasty (2070 BC — 1600 BC), using grains to make alcohol, also named millet wine, had been popular.

 

During this period, nobles used Jue, a type of exquisite bronze ware, to place alcohol in sacrificial ceremonies, and to drink it on important occasions.

 
Bronze Wine Cup (Jue) Unearthed from Erlitou Site

Bronze Wine Cup (Jue) Unearthed from Erlitou, Believed the Relic Site of Part of the Xia Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

In the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC — 1046 BC), agriculture further developed, as well as alcohol-making skills. 

Chinese Character of Alcohol, on Unearthed Oracle of the Shang Dynasty

Chinese Character of Alcohol (on Right Side), on Unearthed Oracle of the Shang Dynasty.

When more types of grains were applied in the alcohol-making process, the ruling class tried to limit its production, save money and foodstuff, and avoid any chaos that was caused by over-drinking.

However, the alcohol industry kept developing, both in types and making techniques.

Bottle and Alcohol of the Warring States Period (403BC — 221BC), Unearthed from Tomb of King of Zhongshan

Bottle and Alcohol of the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), Unearthed from Tomb of King of Zhongshan — Hebei Museum

After Zhang Qian (164 BC — 114 BC) opened up the Silk Road and introduced grape, grape wine became an important type. 

Gradually, alcoholic drinks came and popularized on civilians' dining tables, as well as being used to cure disease or relieve pain.

About 1800 years ago, the limitation of alcohol production was finally removed. When people could freely produce, sell, and drink alcohol as much as they want, the industry became prosperous soon.

Part of Painting (Wen Hui Tu) by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135) of the Song Dynasty, Presenting the Feast of Intelligent Scholars

Part of Painting (Wen Hui Tu) by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135), Presenting the Feast of Intelligent Scholars — Taipei Palace Museum

Afterward, drinking is connected to nearly all important occasions, events, and holidays in Chinese culture.

Who Is the Sage of Alcohol in Chinese Culture?

 

Yi Di, an official of Yu the Great, is believed as the person that invented, organized, and further developed alcohol-making technology. 

 

Du Kang, also named Shao Kang, is the most famous, well-acknowledged Sage of alcohol in Chinese Culture that invented alcohol using sorghum.

 

He was an official of the Yellow Emperor, or, in other historical documentations a king of the Xia Dynasty (2070 BC — 1600 BC).

 

Alcohol Utensils in History, Photo by Dongmaiying.

 

What Are the Main Functions of Alcohol?

Nowadays, alcohol is an important part of big ceremonies, to celebrate happiness, forget sadness, and boost courage.

 

In old times, it was also widely used for medical purposes, such as to disinfect, and cure diseases.

 

When, and Who Is Not Suitable to Drink Alcohol?

It is believed unhealthy for people to drink alcohol:

  • When someone is having bad emotions, such as being too sad or angry;

  • When physically uncomfortable;

  • With an empty or too full stomach.

 
 

Important Elements in Chinese Alcohol Culture.

  • Companion

Generally, drinking with family and good friends, people with noble morals, and loved ones.

  • Environment

Alcohol should be appreciated in beautiful and elegant places.

Spring in a pavilion, summer in the countryside, autumn on a boat, winter in the house, or nighttime under the moon. 

Painting "Lan Ting Xiu Xi" by Wen Huiming (1470 - 1559)

Painting "Lan Ting Xiu Xi" by Wen Huiming (1470 - 1559), Presents An Ancient Way for People to Drink from Cups that are Floating in River — Palace  Museum

  • Content

People would play wager games, have intelligent or close conversations while drinking, or write poems; many brilliant poems and articles in Chinese history were created when authors were drinking. 

Ivory Carved Cards Used in Drinker's Wager Games of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Shenyang Palace Museum

Ivory Carved Cards Used in Drinker's Wager Games of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Shenyang Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Main Classifications of Traditional Chinese Alcoholic Drinks.

 

Fruit Wine, or Guojiu