Home>>>Chinese culture>>>>Chinese Cooking

Chinese Wine, Chinese liquor, Chinese alcohol and Chinese Culture

Jiu - Chinese wine or alcohol

Alcohol is part of Chinese folklore. In modern China, alcohol remains its important role in folklore despite many social vicissitudes. It still appears in almost all social activities, and the most common circumstances are birthday party for seniors, wedding feast and sacrifice ceremony in which liquor must be the main drink to show happiness or respect.

In ancient China, since alcohol was regarded as sacred liquid only when people made sacrificial offerings to the Heaven and the Earth or ancestors was it used. After the Zhou dynasty, alcohol was deemed as one of the Nine Rites and every dynasty put much emphasis on alcohol administration to set up special ministries to manage alcohol producing and banqueting. Later, along with the development of zymotechnics and brewery, alcohol became ordinary drink. Thus, many customs concerning alcohol formed and evolved which had and have various relationships with our daily life.

In Chinese the word for alcohol "jiu" is used to mean all types of alcoholic beverages, from 'pijiu' (beer) to liquors (just called 'jiu') to grape wine ('putao jiu'). The same character is used in Japanese and Korean, for that matter. This lumping together of all intoxicating beverages gives us great insight into the traditional use for alcohol, intoxication. Even in modern China alcoholic beverages are generally classed by the general population by how much intoxication it delivers for the money. From this point of view table wine is at the bottom rung of the consumer preference list, with brandy being much higher.

History of Chinese wine

In China, wine could also be called the "Water of History" because stories about wine can be found in almost every period of China's long story. The origins of the alcoholic beverage from fermented grain in China cannot be traced definitively. It is believed to have 4,000 years history. A legend said that Yidi, the wife of the first dynasty's king Yu (about 2100 BC) invented the method. At that time millet was the main grain, the so-called "yellow wine", then rice became more popular. It was not until the 19th century that distilled drinks become more popular. Traditionally, Chinese distilled liquors are consumed together with food rather than drunk on their own. Although China has a 6,000 year history in grape growing, and a 4,000 year history in wine making, it was not until this century that Chinese wine was recognized in the West.

Wine and Chinese people

Without a doubt, wine occupies an important place in the culture and life of the Chinese people. Wine was intimately connected with most Chinese men of letters. It was also an inseparable part of the life of ordinary Chinese people. The banquets of ancient emperors and kings could not take place without it. Every sort of wine vessel thus became an important kind of sacrificial object. Inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells as well as bronze inscriptions preserve many records of Shang-era people worshiping their ancestors with wine. There were many famous Chinese poet or artist who crafted their masterpieces after getting "drunk". The famous poet Li Bai of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) is known as the "Immortal of Wine" because of his love of alcohol. Guo Moruo, a modern scholar, compiled statistics about Li's poems and found 17 per cent of them were about drinking. Early writers liked drinking and thought it an elegant way to pass the time. Apart from the taste of the drink, they also concentrated on the process of drinking. They created many games to go with drinking sessions involving a knowledge of history, literature, music and poetry. In ancient times, before a battle, a general would feast his soldiers with alcohol and meat. If they won the battle, they would be rewarded with good wine. If a warrior fell in battle, his fellows would scatter wine on the ground as part of a memorial ceremony.

Wine culture in China today
Ordinary Chinese people today have always just used alcohol to help them celebrate the happiness in their lives. In China, a banquet known as "Jiu Xi" means an alcohol banquet and the life of every person, from birth to death, should have pauses for drinking banquets starting a month or 100 days after a baby's birth when the parents invite people in for a drink. When someone builds a new house, marries, starts a business, makes a fortune or lives a long life, he should invite people in for a drinking session. In modern times it is a pity that the games that go with drinking are not the elegant ones of the past that involved poetry or music. Today, drinkers just play simple finger-guessing games along with a lot of heavy drinking. It also seems today that friendship depends only on the volume of drink being consumed. "If we are good friends, then bottoms up; if not, then just take a sip" is a common phrased exchanged during gatherings.

Chinese Alcohol-- Classification --
Alcohol always accompanies delicious dishes either when people first meet or when old friends have a reunion. China produces liquor, beer, wine, yellow wine, and fruit wine. However China mainly produces liquors distilled. The most famous Chinese liquor is Maotai, a 55-percent spirit made of wheat and sorghum that, for centuries, has been produced in Maotai Town, Guizhou province. Besides, Wuliangye and Erguotou are also popular among people.

In ancient times, wine seldom dominated, although there are evidences suggesting it had a long history. Wine and its brewing technology were once introduced from the neighboring regions in the Han, Tang and Yuan dynasties. During the Tang dynasty, wine was popular and was highly praised by many famous poets. It was served as the designated offerings for the Royal Ancestral Temple during the Yuan dynasty, since the ruler was addicted to it.

The amber colored yellow wine is unique product of China and is deemed as one of the three ancient alcoholic beverages in the world.

Alcoholic beverage like today's beer called li, was produced long ago, very little although. When maiden were to become adults, they would drink li to celebrate the time.
Chinese Alcohol-- Alcohol and Social Activities --

Alcohol and arts

Alcohol had great impact on Chinese artists than any other ones, since many of them produced their peak-of-perfection masterpieces drunken, right after drinking. Being drunk and into the state of free production was and is the important tip Chinese artists resort to free their artistic creativity. Many famous poets, such as Li Bai and Du Fu, had excellent performance and left us surprisingly marvelous poems after drinking the mysterious liquid. Not only poem but also painting and calligraphy were raised to higher level by the aid of alcohol. Wang Xizhi, Chinese famous calligrapher respectfully called Calligraphy Saint, retried dozens of times to overwhelm his most outstanding work, Lantingxu (Orchid Pavilion Prologue) which was finished when he was drunken, and he failed. The original one was the best.

Alcohol and health
Chinese people do believe that moderate drinking of alcohol is good to health and excessive drinking will jeopardize physical constitution. As a result, few Chinese, although there are some, will cling to bottles. However, many Chinese do sip a little alcoholic beverage at intervals to keep them fresh and healthy. Some even soak traditional Chinese medicine into liquor to achieve better effect, which was proved to be successful.

Alcohol and sociality
In China, alcohol has internal connection with sociality. Drinking provides more chances for one to make more friends as the old saying says, "Frequent drinking makes friends surrounding". Moreover, alcohol also serves effectively to deepen and strengthen friendship. Since it shows one's friendliness alcohol is always used to relieve misunderstanding and hatred which no matter how strong is.

Alcohol and business
Banquet, is the place where businessmen hunt business chance and slightest rip and change can be discovered and their rivals' business information may be on your hand and help you take the rein, thus greet your success. Certainly, banquet will form, strengthen and consolidate business partnership and alcohol, of course, plays a very important role.

Chinese Alcohol-- Alcohol and Social Activities --

Alcohol and entertainment

Most people have alcohol just for entertainment. It is used to add to the fun during festive times to highlight the happy and exciting moment due to its inciting effect. Surrounding tables and playing drinking games, with glass clinking, people will soar up both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, there are always some drunk after too much consumption.

Alcohol and military

In the vicissitudes of dynasties, wars followed all the way. Alcohol was the only entertainment of the military in the time of cold weapons. It was used as stimulants and rewards for the army men. The stimulating agent can make cowards brave and stir up the exhausted and heighten the morale of the army. Therefore it was the most important and effective material resorted to raise morale before and in the campaign and reward the triumphant military after. According to history records, in the Warring States period, Qin Mugong of the Qing kingdom, poured the insufficient liquor into the Yellow River and drunk with his soldiers. There were many stories like this, and generals who did this always won their wars. In historical novels, alcohol and battles frequently cohabited. Such as in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu, the Chinese Ares, chopped Hua Xiong's head off while his wine was still warm; Zhang Fei, pretending drunk, captured his enemy's fortress easily. In the novel, almost every chapter associates with alcohol.

Classification Liquor

Beer and BeverageChinese liquor, which is one of the six world-famous varieties of spirits (the other five being brandy, whisky, rum, vodka, and gin), has a more complicated production method and can be made from various staples - broomcorn, corn, rice, and wheat. Opinions regarding the origin of this liquor are divided but in the main there are four possibilities varying from the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220), Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), Song Dynasty (960 - 1297) to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), but most people tend to agree that it actually dates from the Song Dynasty. Based on this long tradition, today's distillers create a spirit that is crystal clear, aromatic, and tasty. The most famous brand is Maotai and this holds the title of the 'National Liquor'. It is said that an empty bottle that was once filled with Maotai will emanate its fragrance after a few of days. There are other excellent brands also such as Wuliangye and Luzhou Tequ. These were both award winners at the Panama International Exposition. To facilitate its slow maturing process, the spirit is stored for 4 - 5 years, over which time the full fragrance and flavor develops, thus ensuring that it is a most enjoyable beverage to offer honored guests.
 Yellow Wine

As one of the world's ancient wines, Yellow wine, is unique and traditional in China. With a history going back some 5,000 years, it is renowned for its yellow color and luster. Made from rice and sticky rice, the alcohol content is usually 10 - 15 per cent. After the fermentation process, the wine has a balmy fragrance and is sweet tasting with no sharpness. The wine has a wide appeal and is often used for culinary purposes as well as a beverage. The most popular brands of yellow wine are made in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province and in Shandong, while Hongqu yellow wine made in Fujian.

 Fruit Wine

Fruit wine is mainly made from grapes, pears, oranges, litchis, sugarcane, hawthorn berries, and waxberries and all are quite palatable. Fruit wines possibly have the longest history and there is even a legend that apes brewed wines based on the natural fermentation of fruits; while the man-made wines appeared later. Wine was probably brought into China from the western region in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) and was popular in the Tang Dynasty. Now the fruit wine production is quite widely produced, with grape wine being the most prominent.

 Integrated Alcoholic Beverages

These drinks are created from wine and spirits to which has been added the zest or fragrances from fruits, herbs or flowers. More exotic or medicinal concoctions can contain other plant or even animal derivatives. These blends include wines and medicinal beverages with a very wide range of aromas, flavors and benefits in which the various levels of alcohol and sugar content help to produce styles that are so unique to China. The craft of medical practitioners from ancient times has been well documented and there are many books detailing the art and methods of producing these health products. Alternative medicine is a vital part of tonic day-to-day Chinese life and medicines such as tiger-bone liquor, wolfberry wine, safflower wine, ginseng-antler wine, etc. are still produced and contribute to the extensive repertoire of treatments available.


Unlike spirits and many wines, beer has much lower alcohol content and is most commonly made from barley and hops. Although beer was not produced in China until the early 20th century, the historical records show that as far back as 3,200 years ago a light, sweet wine named 'li' was made using malted barley. It took time for beer to become widely accepted by the Chinese people but in modern China there is a thriving brewing industry and today there are many brands of quality beers which have become well-known and appreciated by beer drinkers both at home and abroad.

Alcohol and its use in China

Sacrifice ceremony - first and still remaining use of alcohol to show respect to ancestors and gods.

Warrior foy - Chinese usually will toast for their warriors' victory before their departure.

Triumph celebration - military tradition held after victory.

Banquet - alcohol appears on the state banquet, business banquet and family feast.

Cold resisting - Chinese people have used it to resist cold for thousands years.

Chinese Alcohol-- Alcohol & Drinking Game (Jiuling) --

At the very beginning, alcohol was mainly a beverage in the ceremonial rites. The drinking games, Jiuling called in Chinese, were just aids for drinking. Certainly there were other aids for drinking, such as archery, chess playing and arrow pitching. Aimed to restrict overdrinking to keep drinkers be gentlemen and preserve courtesy of the time, there were even special designated officials to manage these aids for drinking. Later, drinking games which added entertainment to rites, gradually became artifice to persuade, wager and force overdrinking. Jiuling is a unique part of Chinese culture.

Now Jiuling has many forms, depending on the drinker's social status, literacy status and interests, which can be classified into three categories - general game, contest game and literal game.

General game includes those games every body can play, such as joke telling, riddling and Chuanhua (passing flowers one by one). This category usually appears on banquet for ladies.

Contest game consists of archery, arrow pitching, chess playing, dicing, finger guessing and animal betting. Among these, the latter two are common.

In finger guessing, two players stretch out their right hands, with several fingers sticking out while the others closing to their palm and at the same time, each of them, usually roars a number from nil to ten. If fingers sticking out adds up and the sum equals to a player's number, then he wins and the loser will have to drink. There are many differences in different regions.

Animal betting is a very interesting game every Chinese can play. In the game, one uses his Chopstick to tap the other player's chopstick and at the same time speaks out one of four terms. The other does the same. There are four terms: stick, tiger, cock and insect. The regulations are simple: Stick beats tiger; tiger eats cock; cock pecks insect; insect bores stick.

Literal game is mainly popular in bookworms since they receive good education and have refined knowledge and know the essence of Chinese traditional culture. Intellectuals sometimes play the other two category drinking games too, however they consider those games vulgar. Beaux-esprit and cultured ladies prefer the elegant game, literal game.

Usually literal game is unique and artful literal contest, which requires superior wisdom, broad knowledge sphere and fast response. In order to animate atmosphere, players will do their best to produce original, novel, unpredicted and extremely fine literal pieces improvitori, with quotations from scriptures, history, poems, proverbs, and fairy tales embedded. Many Jiulings of this category, very artistic, are pleasingly worthy of literary appreciation. Bai Juyi, one of Chinese greatest poets, even thought elegant Jiuling was much more interesting than music accompaniment.

Chinese Alcohol-- Alcohol and Drinking Vessels --

Like tea wares, drinking vessels have a long history as a part of Chinese alcoholic culture. All the way, drinking sets witnessed formation and development of it.

According to history record and archeological discovery, there were dozens kind of vessels except cups we use today. The earthen wares archeologists discovered in Shaanxi province in 1983 were authenticated to be the oldest drinking vessels revealed. During the Shang dynasty and the Zhou dynasty, bronze vessels were popular in the north while porcelain vessels with figures carved debuted in the south. Vessels further developed between the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period, from pottery to porcelain with thin coat of enamel. Later in Qin and Han, glass vessel and whelk vessel appeared, and gold and silver cups decorated banquets of the despots. Till the Northern and Southern dynasties, drinking vessels became more delicate and tasteful since intellectuals liked drinking that time. During the Sui dynasty and the Tang dynasty, porcelain pots and cups were common. Then after the Song dynasty, drinking vessels had a big family, consisting of porcelain vessel, bronze vessel, tin vessel, gold vessel, silver vessel, cloisonne vessel and rhinoceros horn vessel. Chinese drinking vessel won a lot of appraisals. Great poets like Li Bai, Wang Changling and Wang Han all wrote poems about liquor of taste and vessel of finesse.

In ancient China, people had strict request for drinking vessels for different liquors. Here are some choices from an ancient researcher for you.

Red wine: if you want to enjoy life, you are suggested to use Luminous Cup which is made of jade produced in Qilian Mountain. It is said that in the cup the liquid looks like blood and reflects moonlight.

Fenjiu (liquor produced in Shanxi): Fenjiu in jade cup looks like amber.

Guanwai liquor (liquor from regions outside of Shanhai Pass): rhinoceros horn cup will enrich fragrance of the liquor.

Kaoliang spirit: Chinese believe it is the oldest liquor, so that it should be drunk in bronze Jue (drinking vessel in ancient dynasties) to feel ancient life.

Herbs wine: since it is made by marinating various kinds of herbs in wine with natural fragrances, it is recommended to use ancient rattan cup to strengthen and enjoy the ancient flavor.

Chinese wine gerneral classification

Chinese wines can be generally classified into two types, namely yellow liquors (huangjiu) or clear (white) liquors (baijiu). Chinese yellow liquors, are fermented wines that are brewed directly from grains such as rice or wheat. Such liquors contain less than 20% alcohol, due to the inhibition of fermentation by ethanol at this concentration. These wine are traditionally pasteurized, aged, and filtered before their final bottling for sale to consumers. Yellow liquors can also be distilled to produce white liquors, or baijiu (see below). White liquors (baijiu) are also commonly called shaojiu, which means "hot liquor" or "burned liquor", either because of the burning sensation in the mouth during consumption, the fact that they are usually warmed before being consumed, or because of the heating required for distillation. Liquors of this type typically contain more than 30% alcohol in volume since they have undergone distillation. There are a great many varieties of distilled liquors, both unflavored and flavored.

List famous Chinese liquors, wines
Fen jiu - this wine was dated back to Northern and Southern Dynasties (550 A.D.). It is the original Chinese white wine made from sorghum. Alcohol content by volume: 63-65%.
Zhu Ye Qing jiu - this wine is Fen jiu brewed with a dozen or more of selected Chinese herbal medicine. One of the ingredients is bamboo leaves which gives the wine a greenish color and its name. Alcohol content by volumne: 46%.
Mao Tai jiu - this wine has a production history of over 200 years. It is named after its origin at Mao Tai town in Guizhou Province. It is make from wheat and sorghum with a unique distilling process that involves seven iterations of the brewing cycle. This wine is made famous to the western world when the Chinese government served this in state banquets entertaining the US presidents. Alcohol content by volume: 54-55%.
Gao Liang jiu - Goa Liang is the Chinese name for sorghum. Besides sorghum, the brewing process also use barley, wheat etc. The wine was originated from DaZhiGu since the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays, Taiwan is a large producer of gao liang jiu. Alcohol content by volume: 61-63%. Mei Gui Lu jiu (rose essence wine) - a variety of gao liang jiu with distill from a special species of rose and crystal sugar. Alcohol content by volume: 54-55%.
Wu Jia Pi jiu - a variety of gao liang jiu with a unique selection of Chinese herbal medicine added to the brew. Alcohol content by volume: 54-55%.
Da Gu jiu - Originate from Sichuan with 300 year of history. This wine is made of sorghum and wheat by fermenting in a unique process for a long period in the cellar. Alcohol content by volume: 52%.
Yuk Bing Shiu jiu - a rice wine with over 100 year history. It is made of steamed rice. It is stored a long period after distillation. Alcohol content by volumne: 30%.
Sheung Jing (double distill) and San Jing (triple distill) Jiu - two varieties of rice wine by distilling twice and three times respectively. Alcohol content by volume: 32% and 38-39% respectively.
San Hua (three flowers) jiu - a rice wine made in Guilin with allegedly over a thousand year history. It is famous for the fragrant herbal addition and the use of spring water from Mount Elephant in the region. Alcohol content by volumne: 55-57%.
Fujian Glutinous Rice wine - made by adding a long list of expensive Chinese herbal medicine to glutinous rice and a low alcohol rice wine distill. The unique brewing technique use another wine as raw material, not starting with water. The wine has an orange red color. Alcohol content by volume: 18%.
Hua Diao jiu - a variety of yellow wine originates from Shaoxing, Zhejiang. It is made of glutinous rice and wheat. Alcohol content by volume: 16%.

Shaoxing Wine(Zhejiang)
Shaoxing Wine(Zhejiang)
Shaoxing is one of five Chinese cities famous for wines. Shaoxing has a history of about 2,500 years making yellow-colored rice wine, which is labeled as Zhuangyuanhong (The Top Red), Jiafan (Rice Plus), Shanniang (The Excellence) and Xiangxue (Fragrant Snow). Crowned " The Best Wine in Asia" , the Shaoxing wine in the brand of(ju Yue Long Shan ...
Fen jiu liquor(Shanxi)
Fen jiu liquor(Shanxi)
According to ancient records,this wine has been produced since the Northern and Southern Dynasties in AD 550.It is the original Chinese wine.It is made from sorghum,a native product of the Shanxi plains,by an accient formula.It is mixed with yeast,fermented in jars for a long period, then steamed and distilled in caldrons and stored for a long period.This...
The hot pot (huoguo)(Sichuan)
The hot pot (huoguo)(Sichuan)
The hot pot (huoguo) has a long history in China. It originated in the north, where people have to fend off the chill early in the year. It spread to the south during the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-906). Later, northern nomads who settled in China enhanced the pot with beef and mutton, and southerners did the same with seafood. In the Qing dynasty, the hot po...
Luzhou Laojiao(Sichuan)
Luzhou Laojiao(Sichuan)
Luzhou Laojiao is one of China's premier wine and liquor producers. Intel cooperated with Sichuan Mobile Communications Co. and Dianji Science & Technology to help Luzhou Laojiao design a wireless collaborative business solution based on a wireless LAN and Intel Centrino mobile technology. In October 2003, the structure for the new wireless collaborat...
Jiannanchun Liquors(Sichuan)
Jiannanchun Liquors(Sichuan)
The famous Chinese liquors Jiannnanchun has enjoyed high fame throughout the world for its unique fragrance, mellow and refreshing taste and linge-ring feeling. By 1986, Jiannanchun ranges have all achieved national recognition of high quality products As early as Emperor Kangxi's regime (1662-1772) of the Qing dynasty Mianzhu daqu began to enjoy its hig...
Wuliangye liquor brewed with 5 grains is appraised as magic liquor of China. As a typical representative of fragrant Da Qu liquor, Wuliangye is the aggregate of the quintessence of the heaven, the earth and the human. Brewed with 5 choice grains including broomcorn, glutinous rice, rice, wheat and corn, by adopting traditional techniques, Wuliangye liquor...
Xi'an Choujiu Liquor(Shaanxi)
Xi'an Choujiu Liquor(Shaanxi)
Xi'an Choujiu Liquor,also named Huanggui Choujiu Liquor,is an ancient famous liquor.The liquor was ever a kind of tribute of Tang Dynasty.Later on,it becomes a liquor employed by the senior leaders of the state to host domestic and overseas guests.Guo Moruo,the most well-known contemporary poet and literati of China,praised it "it is unlike wine,but ...
Dongjiu Liquor(Guizhou)
Dongjiu Liquor(Guizhou)
Dongjiu Liquor adopts high quality jowar as its raw material and the underground spring of Shuikou Temple, which is 8km away from the factory west, as its brewery water, it is produced through unique technology and process. It is appraised to be crystal clear, rich and pleasing taste with remaining flavor.¡¡¡¡Dongjiu Liquor is different with Luzhou-flavou...
Guizhou Maotai Liquor(Guizhou)
Guizhou Maotai Liquor(Guizhou)
Maotai Liquor, the world-renowned wine in China, brewed in Guizhou Province, is honored the National Treasure in its kind. Maotai Liquor is as famous as Usquebaugh of Scotland and Aquavit of France -- the three are renowned as the Three Famous Wines in the World. Dating back to the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, Maotai Liquor has a long history o...
Xiaogan Rice Beverage(Hubei)
Xiaogan Rice Beverage(Hubei)
Xiaogan Rice Beverage is a famous product with over thousand -year history. It is made of local fine glutinous rice and traditional distiller's yeast. Thanks to its pure and fine raw materials and unique production process, Xiaogan rice beverage looks clear, smells fragrant and tastes delicious. In 1958, Chairman MaoZedong praised it as "good taste a...
Dukang alcohol(Hunan)
Dukang alcohol(Hunan)
Dukang alcohol has brewed in combination of the traditional grain brewery technology and the advanced craft ship, with low temperature caching, etc. all these terrific procedures guarantee the high quality of Dukang alcohol. For the alcohol, it has the following features: concerning taste it is clear and clean, fresh and fragrant, sweet and mild, with the... 

Culture Notes:

1. China is full of heavy drinkers, at near all times of the day. Drinking and driving, though outlawed, is common. Due to face and such, it's not as common for a friend or colleague to tell someone that they've had too many and they should leave the keys with the bar and call a cab. An important tid-bit to remember when crossing roads, especially post mealtime.

2. Despite claims of China being very egalitarian in regards to women's rights, it is generally frowned upon in Chinese culture for a woman to be seen drinking (or smoking) much if anything in public. As would be expected, it's not such a big deal at Western-style bars or restaurants; however, it may be something to remember if you're meeting your Chinese boyfriend's parents for the first time.