Modern Chinese history in red and white

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-01-31 06:52:09

Moutai Town in Southwest China's Guizhou province springs to view after about four hours of bus ride from capital Guiyang. The town by night is a work of colorful lights, and by daylight, it is veiled in mist on most winter mornings. I recommend the road trip through the lush countryside, though nearby Renhuai city will likely open an airport soon.

On a recent visit to the facilities of Kweichow Moutai Group, the country's biggest maker of bai jiu (white liquor) with a market capitalization of more than 260 billion yuan, I read words of praise for Moutai, the drink, from foreign politicians, diplomats and Chinese poets in the public company's many in-house journals.

That Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, founding fathers of the People's Republic of China, helped nurture the brand to its present-day popularity are among well-know stories in the media.

Prior to my tour, as part of a team of invitees, I drank Moutai just once over my nearly 18-months' stay in China. Although I hadn't quite discovered the liquor on first try, I recall liking it and likening it to tequila, except that Moutai burned slower in the throat.

The "53 percent" tag on Moutai bottles may have deterred me because until then, "40 percent" alcohol by volume was the most I had achieved while tasting Swedish-made Absolut Vodka. Traditionally, I've had a stronger gut for softer alcoholic beverages.

At the onset of my journey to the town, I had expected to be overwhelmed by the "national drink of the PRC", but still I desired the exposure to its production processes, for in many ways, the coming-of-age story of Moutai jiu (liquor) seemed to run parallel to that of New China's rise.

From tales of the Red Army's liberation of the area from Kuomintang rule to the creation of a local economy in one of the country's most underdeveloped provinces to the drink's lifeblood that is provided by the mystic Chishui River flowing through the town - the Moutai bottle contains it all.

The history of Chinese bai jiu, however, dates back to 2,000 years ago.

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