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Moutai draws on rich history to forge better future

By Ian Morrison ( China Daily )

Updated: 2015-05-08

Tucked away in a corner of southwestern China noted for its idyllic scenery and diverse ethnic culture, Moutai is as much an intrinsic part of the identity of Guizhou as the province's beautiful green landscapes. In fact, the rich and fertile ecosystem is the reason for the existence of Moutai, China's legendary liquor, which can trace its roots as far back as 135 BC.

Yuan Renguo, a local man who has risen from being an ordinary worker to his current post as chairman of Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd, which is based in the town of Maotai, is justifiably proud of his local area's unique characteristics which give Moutai its unique flavor.

"The natural environment is unique, like it has been created by God," said Yuan, noting that the weather, soil, water and air are the four "mysteries" that make Moutai special.

As Moutai requires the cleanest water and other raw materials, its existence has ensured that the Chishui River, which runs through the area, is the very lifeblood of Moutai as it is the cleanest and most unpolluted of any river in this part of China.

This is in part due to the significant events which took place in this part of the country in the earlier part of the 20th century.

In order to safeguard the quality of water from the Chishui River, Zhou Enlai, China's premier from 1949 to 1976, declared in 1972 that no mining or chemical industry activity should take place 100 kilometers upstream of the river, a regulation which remains strictly implemented to this day.

Premier Zhou's connection with Moutai was very deep, as it was forged in the days of the struggle which led to the foundation of New China.

As Yuan explained, Moutai made a great contribution to the Long March (October, 1934 to October, 1935) and the work of the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, the predecessor of today's People's Liberation Army.

When the Red Army forces arrived in this part of Guizhou province, Moutai not only helped to relieve the troops of their fatigue, it was also used by the local people to treat the soldiers' wounds and help cure them of infections.

Zhou's high regard for Moutai led to it being designated as a liquor for State banquets, and it is also the only alcoholic beverage permitted to be presented as a gift by Chinese embassies and overseas diplomatic missions.

For this reason, it helped to play a role in cementing ties between China and the United States, as it was the liquor with which Zhou toasted then US president Richard Nixon at the State banquet held in his honor on his ice-breaking visit to China in 1972.

And Moutai maintains a deep respect for Premier Zhou, with a golden statue of the late leader taking pride of place outside the company's head office.

Respect is a key aspect of Moutai's corporate culture and it is felt throughout the company's workforce.

Gan Jiangnan, an employee of the administrative office of Moutai's packing department, has worked for the company for four years. She describes working there as belonging to a "big family".

She said she was greatly impressed by the strong feeling of kinship shared by Moutai's employees, and that she felt very welcome by her colleagues when she started working for the company.

The senior staff members look after the younger ones in their life and work. Like in any good family, all of its members are well taken care of. Production line workers at the packing department, the vast majority of whom are women, earn a basic salary of around 6,000-7,000 yuan ($966.6-$1,127.7) per month, a decent wage in an area of China where many young people set out for the nation's more economically developed coastal regions to become the breadwinners of their families.

Meanwhile, workers at the company's distillery, who, like their fellow employees, enjoy full medical insurance, take home an average pay packet of 10,000 yuan per month. This is clear evidence that Moutai is doing its bit to ensure that Guizhou is on the way to building a xiaokang society - a concept popularized by then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s at the onset of reform and opening-up to mean a moderately prosperous society and the more equal distribution of wealth in society.

Local farmers are also benefiting from these efforts. Growers of sorghum, the crop which is the very basis of Moutai, are paid more than the market rate.

Company chairman Yuan Renguo said that in order "to lift farmers out of poverty, we purchase sorghum at prices higher than the market rate".

By doing so, the farmers' average annual income is 1,000 yuan higher than it would be if they sold the sorghum at the market rate.

For Renhuai, the prefecture-level city under whose administration Maotai comes, this is very important, as around 400,000 of its 650,000 residents are farmers, Yuan explained.

This is also a very important way for the company to implement the "Four Comprehensives" as outlined by President Xi Jinping, which are to "comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively govern the nation according to the law, and comprehensively strictly govern the Party".

Aside from its own workers and the local farming community, Moutai also plays an important role in fostering other aspects of local development. Wang Zhifa, head of the public relations office of the company's strategic management department, said that "the company wants to help the local people raise their incomes".

To this end, he explained that small businesses in the area can take advantage of the company's significant influence and reputation to assist their own development.


Moutai draws on rich history to forge better future

 Moutai draws on rich history to forge better future

A sculpture in the town of Maotai depicts fairies in Chinese legends bringing great drinks to the world. Wang Zhuangfei / for China Daily

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