Chinese Alcohol, Chinese Spirits

(Chinaculture.org)
Updated: 2010-10-27 15:07
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Alcohol and the arts

Chinese Alcohol, Chinese Spirits 

Alcohol had a greater impact on Chinese artists than any other social group, since many of them produced their peak-of-perfection masterpieces right after drinking. Being drunk and into the state of free production was and is an important tip Chinese artists resort to 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 poems but also paintings and calligraphy were raised to a higher level by the aid of alcohol. Wang Xizhi, Chinese famous calligrapher respectfully called the Calligraphy Saint, retried dozens of times to outdo his most outstanding work, Lantingxu (Orchid Pavilion Prologue) which he finished when he was drunk, and he failed. The original one was the best.

Alcohol and health

Chinese people believe that moderate drinking of alcohol is good for one’s health and excessive drinking will jeopardize one’s physical constitution. As a result, few Chinese, although there are some, will cling to bottles. However, many Chinese do sip a little alcohol at times to keep them fresh and healthy. Some even soak traditional Chinese medicine in liquor to achieve better effect, which has proven effective.

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 entertainment

Most people drink alcohol just for entertainment. It is used to add to the fun of festive times, to highlight the happy and exciting moment with to its inciting effect. Sitting at tables and playing drinking games, with glasses clinking, people will soar up both physically and mentally with the aid of nature’s most precious medicine: alcohol. Unfortunately, there are always some drunk people after too much consumption.

Alcohol and the military

In the vicissitudes of dynasties, wars followed all the way. Alcohol was the only entertainment for the military in the time of cold weapons. It was used as a stimulant and reward for the army men. The stimulating agent could make cowards brave, stir up the exhausted and heighten the morale of the army. Therefore it was the most important and effective material used to raise morale before and during the campaign, and the reward for a triumphant military. According to historic records, in the Warring States period, Qin Mugong of the Qing kingdom poured liquor into the Yellow River and drank 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. For example, 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 to be drunk, captured his enemy's fortress easily. In the novel, almost every chapter has something to do with alcohol.

Alcohol and its use in China

Sacrificial ceremony - first and still observed use of alcohol to show respect to ancestors and gods. Warrior foy – The Chinese usually will toast to 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.

Drinking Game (Jiuling)

Drinking game (Jiuling) is a very traditional Chinese game. Learning about the cultural facts of the game may interest your drinking in China. It is much more interesting than dicing.

At the very beginning, alcohol was mainly a beverage for ceremonial rites. The drinking games, called “Jiuling” 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 make drinkers stay 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 degenerated into a kind of 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 games, contest games and literary games.

General games include those games everybody can play, such as joke telling, riddling and Chuanhua (passing flowers one by one). This category usually appears at banquets for ladies.

Contest games consist of archery, arrow pitching, chess playing, playing dice, finger guessing and animal betting. Among these, the latter two are most common.

In finger guessing, two players stretch out their right hands with a few fingers sticking out while the others are closed in their palms. Each of them usually roars a number from zero to ten. If the fingers sticking out add up to a player's number, then he wins and the loser will have to drink. There are many different versions of this game, depending on the region.

Animal betting is a very interesting game every Chinese person 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. There are four terms: stick, tiger, cock and insect. The rules are simple: Stick beats tiger; tiger eats cock; cock pecks insect; insect bores stick.

The literary games are mainly popular among bookworms, since they have received good education and know the essence of Chinese traditional culture. Intellectuals sometimes play the other two categories of drinking games too, although they consider those games vulgar. Beaux-esprit and cultured ladies prefer the elegant game, the literary game.

Usually a literary game is a unique and artful literary contest that requires superior wisdom, broad knowledge and fast response time. In order to animate the atmosphere, players do their best to improvise original, novel, unpredictable and well-crafted literary pieces, including quotations from scriptures, history, poems, proverbs, and fairy tales. Many Jiulings of this category are very artistic, and pleasingly worthy of literary appreciation. Bai Juyi, one of China’s greatest poets, even thought an elegant Jiuling was much more interesting than music.

Drinking Customs

Drinking one’s entire glass in a single gulp is a sign of boldness.

Drinking in China is not only about pleasure; it has much to do with respect, self-affirmation, friendship and the perpetuation of tradition. In China, no wedding ceremony is complete unless the bride and groom perform the traditional jiaobeijiu, which requires the couple to drink from their respective glasses while intertwining their arms, without spilling alcohol. The jiaobeijiu is followed by a dutiful toast to each of the newlyweds' parents.

The fact that drinking is so deeply rooted in Chinese culture worries doctors who specialize in alcohol abuse, and some are calling for changes in drinking practices. A law that forbids the sale of beverages with an alcohol content of 0.5 per cent or higher to anyone under age 18 took effect on January 1.

Drinking with One Heart

“Drinking with one heart” consists of two people drinking at the same time, sharing the same wine container. While drinking, each bends his or her arm around the other’s shoulder, ear to ear and cheek to cheek. One person holds the cup (or bowl, pipe) with the left hand, and the other with the right hand, both putting their mouths to the cup and drinking together. They can drain the cup with one gulp, or just take a sip, sing a ballad and take another sip, till they empty the cup.

Various kinds of utensils are used for this way of drinking, including wooden bowls, bamboo pipes, ox horn cups, ram horn cups, and trotter-shaped cups. This custom is shared by many nationalities. It is especially popular among the Yi, Miao, Lisu, Nu, and Dulong ethnic groups.

This drinking custom has different names in different areas, such as “heart-joining drinking,” “unity drinking,” “two people’s drinking” and “duo drinking.” Generally, the aim of “drinking with one heart” is clear: to removing misunderstanding, become friends with the same beliefs or strengthen the friendship between two people or two nationalities or tribes.