Wine plays an important part in Chinese lives and has a long history. Just like such daily necessities as rice, salt and oil, liquor also has a close relationship with Chinese people‘s lives. According to some scholars, China is one of the countries with the longest history of making liquor. They believe that the history of making wine can be traced back to the period of Shennong‘s reign more than 7,000 years ago. He was a legendary ruler, also sometimes called Yandi, who is supposed to have introduced agriculture and herbal medicine.
At that time, the ancestors of Chinese people gave up their nomadic lifestyle and opted to live in compact communities in the Yellow River valley. The plantation of various kinds of grain laid the foundation for making tempting wines. Other scholars hold the view that the technique of making Chinese liquor originated in the Xia Dynasty (c.2100 BC-c.1600 BC) Yi Di and Du Kang are considered to be two founding fathers of the profession of making liquor. According to historical records, it was Yi Di who made great efforts to make mellow wine with fermented glutinous rice at the order of the then monarch, Yu. The wine made by Yi Di tasted good. He asked Yu to sample the top-quality wine, hoping to receive rewards.
After tasting the wine, Yu was satisfied with its unparalleled taste. However, the monarch set no store by the wine producer‘s ability. The monarch estranged himself from Yi Di instead of rewarding him. In the eyes of the monarch, the mesmerizing wine was wicked because indulging in excessive drinking could make him lose his reason and harm his country. Du Kang, living in the Xia Dyanasty, is also credited with making top-notch liquor with Chinese sorghum. According to historical legends, Du Kang stored some cooked Chinese sorghum seeds inside a hollow tree stump on a winter day. In the spring of the following year, a fragrant aroma wafted from the tree stump into the nostrils of Du Kang. Afterwards, Du Kang found that it was the fermented sorghum seeds which gave off the alluring fragrance.
This accidental discovery gave rise to his inspiration of making liquor with fermented sorghum seeds. In addition to medicinal liquor, the wines drunk and favored by ordinary Chinese people are mainly made from cereal, fruits and fermented cow‘s or mare‘s milk. Among all Chinese spirits, the yellow rice wine (Shaoxing wine) is probably the most popular. The history of the wine certainly dates back to the Spring and Autuman Period (770 BC-476 BC). The city of Shaoxing belonged to Yue State at that time. Before launching attacks on other states, the kings of Yue state would pour yellow rice wine into the river. The kings‘ soldiers then vied with each other to drink the wine by jumping into the river. They believed that the wine played a key role in boosting morale.
In addition, ordinary people were also enamored with the fragrant yellow rice wine. In ancient times, family members would set out to make Shaoxing wine with rice shortly after a girl was born. Having poured the well-prepared wine into bottles, they would cover the bottles up with soil underground. They did not touch them again until the girl grew up and was ready to be married. Only before the wedding ceremony was held did the girl‘s family members unearth the bottles full of yellow rice wine. During the wedding ceremony, the bride‘s family members would entertain all the guests with the old wine. Such a kind of yellow rice wine is called nu‘erhong.