Westerners that drink baijiu for the first time often experience one, uniform reaction – “seriously? This is the national drink of China?”
Baijiu can certainly be an acquired taste. Once the palate adapts, it becomes clear why this is such a celebrated spirit in its home nation. All the same, you’d be forgiven for scratching your head as to why baijiu is so overwhelmingly popular in China.
In reality, there is not one single reason why baijiu has risen to such a prominent station in China. Rather, there are four core explanations. To understand these will provide insight into Chinese culture and understand the importance of baijiu.
Baijiu And Spirituality
Alcohol has long been linked with spirituality and religion in China, dating back to ancient times. Early Chinese citizens considered alcohol and opiate consumption to be a way to grow closer to God, and even communicate with the spirits of the dead.
Countless celebrated legends in China revolve around intoxication. The fabled poet Li Bai, a renowned baijiu enthusiast that allegedly sold a mink vest on his deathbed to finance one final taste of baijiu, claimed to, “raise my cup to toast the moon on high” in his poem Drinking Alone Under the Moon.
Xin Qiji, a celebrated military leader turned poet, also opened a famous verse with the lines, “I wrote this for fun when drunk. A thousand hands held high to heaven, swept along with a torrent of shouts.”
To this day, alcohol endures as a part of the spiritual and cultural fabric in China. Alcohol sits alongside tea as an essential beverage in China. To decline a shot of baijiu could be misconstrued as rejecting the very customs of the nation. This should always be taken under advisement.
Further Reading: Drinking Baijiu – Chinese Customs & Traditions
Baijiu And Dining Culture
Dinner is an important – some may say sacred – part of the day in China. No matter where families may reside, or how busy their day-to-day lives may be, it is considered hugely significant to gather around the dinner table and dine together.
Baijiu, and other alcohols such as wines, are an important part of this mealtime ceremony. Baijiu is rarely a solitary spirit, sipped alone in a comfortable armchair. Instead, it is a communal experience. Baijiu is poured into a jug and placed in the middle of the table before being shared among all diners. Indeed, it is considered the poorest of manners to refill your baijiu glass without at least offering to top up those of your dinner companions.
As a result, baijiu is not merely a drink. It’s part of a great Chinese tradition that brings families and friends together. There is a saying in China, “there is no banquet without baijiu.” Whether invited to dine with the leading politicians of the country on a diplomatic mission or welcomed into a private residence for a home-cooked meal, this adage is abided by.
As a result, baijiu is to be celebrated. While the taste may take some getting used to for those with a firmly western palate, enjoying baijiu with a meal is no different to consuming a fine red wine with dinner. Just like western wines, the aroma of baijiu is often tailored to match the taste and ingredients of food.
Further Reading: The Best Food to Accompany Baijiu
Baijiu The Social Lubricant
This is something that western audiences can very much relate to. Just like party seekers in Europe and America, Chinese nationals use alcohol to relax, loosen their inhibitions and enjoy themselves in a social setting. Naturally, the potency of baijiu ensures that this happens swiftly.
Baijiu is also a critical element of doing business in the country. Chinese business executives famously work hard and play even harder – and expect the same commitment from any western company they do business with. An evening of consuming baijiu, often to celebrate the successful conclusion of a deal or trade, is a common tradition.
Once the baijiu bottle is open, the interaction ceases to become about business and instead focuses on interpersonal dynamics. In the west, we are constantly advised not to grow intoxicated in front of professional contacts. To do so would be considered improper at best, and outright misconduct at worst.
The reverse is true in China. Chinese business professionals expect their colleagues and partners to drink and be merry with them. If you are capable of walking out of a bar or restaurant without stumbling, you will likely be viewed with suspicion. Baijiu is a great equaliser in Chinese social circles, ensuring that everybody that partakes is equally inebriated by the end of the evening.
Further Reading: How To Drink Baijiu
Baijiu And Medicinal Purposes
Baijiu is also celebrated for its medical properties. For anybody familiar with V.I.P Jiu 8, this should come as no surprise. The list of ingredients reads like an ancient remedy for a range of ailments. To this day, baijiu is considered the path to positive physical, mental and emotional health in China.
Part of this is due to the purity of ingredients and production techniques of superior baijiu. With over a thousand active bacteria involved in the creation of baijiu, taking a shot is akin to purchasing expensive supplements from a health food shop. Baijiu has often been linked to a strong immune system and the presence of antioxidants.
Consumed in appropriate moderation, baijiu is also claimed to lower cholesterol, improve digestion and blood circulation, minimize the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and improve brain performance and memory. We are not healthcare professionals, so please do not quote us on this. We are merely relaying the beliefs of Chinese nations – and explaining why baijiu remains so popular in the country.
Further Reading: Is Baijiu Healthy?