In the past, the Chinese character “jiu” has often been mistakenly translated as “white wine”. This lazy translation ignored the fact that China produced almost no wine. Actually, “jiu” refers to all alcoholic beverages. The two main varieties of traditional Chinese alcohol are yellow rice wine and white liquor.
In China, alcohol is also called the “Water of History” because stories of liquor can traced back to almost every period in Chinese history. It is believed that China has about 4,000 years of history. A legend said that Yi Di, the wife of the first dynasty’s King Yu invented the method to make alcohol.
In ancient China, since alcohol was regarded as a sacred liquid only when people made sacrificial offerings to Heaven and the Earth or ancestors was it used. During the Tang dynasty, liquor was popular and was highly praised by many famous poets. It was served as a designated offering for the Royal Ancestral Temple during the Yuan Dynasty.
After alcohol became an ordinary drink, many customs concerning alcohol formed and evolved which had and have various relationships with Chinese daily life.
There are two basic types of Chinese alcohol, fermented and distilled.
Fermented alcohol is usually called “huangjiu” or “yellow rice wine.” Huangjiu is usually made from rice or wheat. Huangjiu is normally heated prior to serving. The most famous brand of huangjiu is Shaoxing.
Distilled alcohol is called “baijiu”, literally “white alcohol/ liquor”. Baijiu is clear, water-colored and very potent. White alcohol is typically distilled from sorghum, although other grains may be used. Most renowned brands include Moutai, Wuliangye, Gujing and so on.
Although wine drinking is a common cultural heritage enjoyed by various peoples world-wide, the wine drinking culture of each people is different. Chinese ancestors either used alcohol as a libation to their forefathers to express reverence, or to enjoy by themselves while writing poetry or prose, or to toast their relatives and friends during a feast.
In modern times, Chinese people have always celebrated important occasions with alcohol. They will invite their close friends to a drinking session when someone moves in a new house, marries, starts a new business, even when their children get in a good school.