This section is from the book "The Beverages of the Chinese; Kung-fu or Tauist Medical Gymnastics; the Population of China; A Modern Chinese Anatomist and A Chapter in Chinese Surgery.", by John Dudgeon. Also available from Amazon: Kung Fu, or Taoist Medical Gymnastics.
The evil effects which are caused by indulgence in brandy, and of which the Chinese are sensible, are to be ascribed to the higher homologues of ethylic alcohol. To wine, manufactured by the addition of starch sugar before fermentation to a grape most poor in sugar, must be ascribed the head-ache and unpleasant symptoms produced, even when taken in small quantity. This starch sugar is obtained from the inferior potato starch, and leaves behind a quantity of unfermentable residue, which, like fusil oil, is poisonous.
Spirits are said to be adulterated with arsenic and pigeon's dung, the object being to accelerate and increase vertigo, and so add a fictitious strength to the spirit. The tobacco of the water-pipe is also credited with being steeped in opium and arsenic. I have sometimes wondered whether the use to which pigeon's dung was put in the seige of Samaria, as mentioned in II Kings, VI, 25, where it is said the famine was so great that an ass's head sold for so much and the " fourth part of a kab of dove's dung was sold for five pieces of silver," was not similar to this practice in China! The scriptural record obviously implies that it was eaten, and grain is not supposed in a siege to be so plentiful as to permit of waste of this sort unless they wished to drown their sorrows, deaden their privations, or increase their martial courage. I know not whether this substance in question produces this effect. In seasons of drought and famine, Imperial Edicts are issued against the distillation of grain, it being considered more in accordance with the will and harmony of heaven and the necessities of the situation that the grain should be preserved for the food of man and beast and as seed for the future harvest. The people consider this a wise step on the part of the " father of his people," and no opposition is offered to it, although such Edicts are rarely carried out in practice, as in so many other matters Chinese where the theory is excellent. It is very seldom, however, that this course requires to be adopted.
In a review of the reasons which make for temperance in China, the absence or restrictions of social life, the exclusion of the female sex, the ceremonies between hosts and guests, the general politeness of society, the etiquette of the family relations, official and literary status, the nature of the drink consumed, the mode of partaking of it at entertainments, etc., do not favour immoderate drinking, and therefore ought not to be overlooked. Our social customs in the West have done much to foster the consumption of spirituous beverages. They lead up to and maintain much of our drinking. In China, the seclusion of women largely accounts for the absence of the social element. This condition, therfore, has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The guests drink only when called upon by the host. It is on such occasions, as may naturally be supposed, that the most wine is drunk. Such entertainments take place among the officials at the closing and opening of the seals when the month's holiday at the New Year takes place, and at births, marriages, funerals, official promotions, and the opening of places of business. At such times, and these are the only social gatherings in China, the amount of drinking depends largely upon the hilarity and bon-homie of the host. No guest would dream of drinking ad libitum, or whenever he felt disposed; the periods and quantity are to a large extent regulated by the host. If he sip his wine when he calls upon the table, the guests take their queue from him. Should he call for the glass to be emptied, the guests must have some valid excuse for not following his example, and indicate the thorough draining of the vessel on their thumb nails. If the conversation be lively or argumentative, and particularly if the host be talkative and given to story-telling, very little wine is drunk; if a man of considerable liquor capacity, he will fill glass after glass and pledge the entire table, or engage in an encounter with any guest who chooses to accept his challenge. No one would ever dream of calling for wine for himself; the attentive host, or one's own servant who is in waiting, will attend to this. Moreover, all through the meal there is only one sort of wine furnished. Although the Chinese have a variety of wines, chiefly medicated, it may be stated generally that there is only one in use, the Shao-hsing or Yellow Wine, which contains much less alcohol than our mildest sherry, with which it is sometimes compared. This is a matter of some moment, as much of our immoderate drinking and intoxication arises from the great variety of wines. Mixing of liquors is acknowledged to be very injurious, especially when the varying densities of the fluids drunk is imperfectly appreciated. The importance of this point, and the German saying in relation to it, will be keenly appreciated by any one who has suffered from ignorance or indiscietion in tin's respect. If we followed the custom so largely prevalent on the continent, and kept ourselves to a good sound claret which would stand aqueous dilution, if necessary to a considerable extent, we should have less. drinking and intoxication. It is somewhat remarkable that the wine producing countries are so free from the habit of intoxication: and this is doubtless the reason why taking wine is approvingly spoken of in our sacred writings.
Again, spirits are never presented at official or ceremonial repasts. This would be considered a low and vulgar beverage to present to the guests. As the Chinese saying has it, - "Wine is the polished gentleman; samshoo, the rowdy." It is worth noting, too, that the wine is invariably drunk warm, because when cold it is much less palatable. The Chinese rule is to introduce meats and drinks, as far as possible, at the temperature of the body. Again, the wine is sipped rather than drunk; at least, the guests often try to beg off with a sip instead of emptying the cup, especially towards the end of the meal. It should be noticed here, too, that the cups are excessively small, - more like liqueur glasses. They are thus enabled to take a goodly number without being in the least affected, or at all exceeding the bounds of sobriety and moderation, and thus satisfying all the calls of hospitality. The necessity of drinking the wine warm may have originated the smallness of the cup. The size, at any rate, is to be commended. Our various glasses, as a rule, especially for spirits and the stronger alcoholic wines, are much too large. Our people argue that glasses were made to be filled. It is not considered polite or hospitable to half fill a glass. The size of the glass often adds to the amount drunk, people seldom taking the size into consideration. We often try to deceive ourselves by the use of such language as "only a thimble-ful," a quantity often, if measured, of no mean amount. What keeps the Chinese a sober people is very largely without doubt to be attributed to the fact that wines and spirits are, as a rule, partaken of only at meals. The system is then in a condition to bear up better against the evil effects of the indulgence than if the stimulants were taken on empty stomachs and debilitated constitutions. I wish here, in the strongest manner possible, to emphasize this most important point, and would therefore call particular attention to it. It is so also in the case of opium; the craving returns after, never before, the meal has been partaken of. I dread to think of the infinitely greater evils and misery which opium would produce, if the habit preceded the sustenance of the body. The opium debauchee's appetite is at best but miserable and inadequate, and it would be still worse if opium took more largely the place of it. If the glass of beer or wine were limited among our people to meals, we should probably not have occasion for the present crusade against this most stupendous evil.