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Chinese Wine and Culture

The enjoyment of fine wines and liquor is a common cultural heritage found in all countries worldwide. In China, wine has always been an integral part of society and its history just as rice, salt and oil.

In ancient days, wine was often used as an offering to express reverence to ancestors or as a toast to relatives and friends during a feast. It was also an enjoyable accompaniment for writers and poets who were often deep in thought in creating poetry or philosophy. When it came to wine, class barriers were non existent. It was intimately connected with the banquets of ancient emperors and kings, scholars and merchants, as well as the ordinary peasant. There exist thousands of designs of wine vessels, some small, mostly large but all having a significant connotation.

As early as 7000 years ago, the use of grain in fermenting and making wine was found to be widespread during the Shang Dynasty (18th-11th centuries BC). Inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells as well the discovery of winery sites indicate that early Shang era people had already utilized wine to worship their ancestors or enjoyed their reserves especially after a bountiful harvest. For the most part, a successful grain harvest became the criteria by which successive governments decided whether or not to lift a ban on wine making or to impose a heavy a wine tax.

Because of China's vast territory and abundant resources, there are differences in the available types of crop, water quality, and brewing techniques of each region. That meant that there was a wide choice of outstanding wines with particular regional features. The medicinal properties of certain liquor have been noted in thousands of ancient medical texts. Poets and writers, after tasting a fine wine, would always record its brewing technique or write poems or monographs complimenting the texture, aroma, and other excellent qualities of the particular brand.

There are many amusing anecdotes from the Chinese drinking culture. For example, Tao Yuan-ming, the prominent Chin era poet, had the greatest love of fine wine. He brewed his own stock and leisurely enjoyed tasting his ever-expanding inventory. He managed to successfully combine wine with literary creation, and therefore his poems are considered to be " wine imbued ". The Wei era literati on the other hand were not as creative and simply enjoyed doing nothing but drinking to their hearts' content.

Good drinking stamina was and still is a requisite in Chinese society. One had to be able to hold their liquor and engage in merriment but not lose control or composure by making a fool of oneself or harming others. There exist unwritten rules on how one should embrace the virtues of drinking but at the same time engage in self-restraint. Quite often modern day business transactions are negotiated under such conditions.

During a feast, playing finger-guessing games with excited shouts much like battle cries was quite common and known as "a wine battle". The opposing guests, competing like two armies facing each other on the battlefield, played finger-guessing games and thought up new songs, impromptu poems, sang in unison, danced and generally made merry. All this became part of the exciting atmosphere at most banquets and feasts.

Not much has changed in regards to appreciating wine in today's society although the quality of available wine and liquor has improved vastly with newer brewing technologies. The ancient traditions of cherishing good wine with good food is still alive and will always be an integral part of the Chinese psyche.