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.
In the East of the Kiang provinces, included formerly in the Wu kingdom, there was a wild vine called ying-yu the grapes of which were small and sour. In the fermentation of wine, the chii is generally used; but when the grape or honey is used, the chii is not necessary. In the ancient book Chan Kwo T'se is related the story of the Emperor's daughter and -till, the fabled inventor of wine. The Shuoh Wen gives Tu K'ang+otherwise known as Shao K'ang as the first maker of wine. The Herbal says wine is still older than this, and goes back to the days of Hwang Ti
Mr. Sampson (Notes and Queries, Vol. Ill, No. 4, Page 50) is inclined to think the grape vine is a native of North China, and that superior varieties only were brought from Western Asia. The quotations from Sze Ma-tsien about the grapes and wine of Fergana and of Cophene in Afghanistan, as given in the Description of Western Regions, in the Han dynasty, and as being introduced into China by Chang Chien and + Mayers says of him that he was one of the early distillers (?) of wine from the grains of rice, and hence classed with I-tih. His name is sometimes confounded with that of Shao K'ang, of the Hia dynasty, 2079 B.C.
* Before the time of the Han, Lung-hsi, an old name for the South-eastern corner of Kansuh, did not belong to China. The vine, as here stated, was introduced into China, 122 B.C. others at that time, are adduced. The author of Ming Ch'uan Tsa Yen is quoted, who maintains that, though grapes have been known in China from time immemorial, it is yet true that they were brought by Chang Chien from Fergana; for these latter were of a different kind to those previously known. Chinese authors write of the grape and the wild variety, some as distinct plants, some as forms of the same tree, and both existent in North China. One author says that the envoys of the Han introduced a new sort of grapes
Hue holds that the vine was extensively cultivated in China at an early period, and quotes Sze Ma-tsien (163 B.C.) as speaking of a certain rich man who had a vine-yard, out of which he made 10,000 measures of wine yearly. The reference here, as we have already shown, is to the extensive production and great consumption of wine in Fergana. Huc also says that the poems composed under the dynasties of Yuen and Han prove the extensive use of the juice of the grape. He here quotes two dynasties, 1000 years apart, and transposes them. No one doubts the prevalence of grape-growing and wine-drinking under the two dynasties named. Wine was very commonly drunk, and caused a good deal of mischief. Both grapes and wine, at the periods above mentioned, were largely sent as tribute or friendly offerings from the states of Central Asia to the Chinese Emperors, and were employed as complimentary gifts between the Emperor and his high officials.
The vine, Huc continues, has been sacrificed to the culture of cereals, owing to the immense population of China, and the necessity of reserving the land for food.
He thinks it indisputable that the vine was known to the Chinese long before the Christian era, and that grape wine was in use under every dynasty and every reign to the 15th century. The grape is now sparingly cultivated, only for eating either fresh or dried. He speaks of the great consumption of corn spirit, by which be doubtless means the ordinary samshoo. Corn brandy, he says, was not know in China at so ancient a date as wine, - not earlier than the end of the 13th century. It was only then that they became acquainted with the process of distillation. He says they hit upon, by mere chance, something like the origin of our own porter. But this does not agree with the statements of their own books. The most commonly used wine, Hue further states, is that obtained from the fermentation of rice. It is a kind of beer. This Chinese wine, although containing little alcohol, easily gets into the head. The Chinese knew of the fermentation of liquors at least twenty centuries B.C.
This subject is not without interest at the present moment, in view of the statement that opium as a stimulant in the East takes the place of alcoholic beverages in the West. This is a very favourite argument with pro-opiumists. No statement could well be further from the truth. Before the Royal Commission on Opium, Dr. Legge said there was little alcoholic liquor drunk in China; and that in 34 years he had seen only one drunken Chinaman. Drunkenness is rare, but not spirit drinking. It is feared by the Commission, and this view is generally held by pro-opiumists, that, by abandoning opium, much evil would result from spirit drinking. Great harm has been done to the Indians by the introduction of spirits, It is feared, if opium were prohibited, that the Chinese would follow the Japanese, and drink a great deal of liquor instead. The Chinese (although, alas! large consumers of opium) are not universally addicted to it, as they are to tobacco, and very largely to wine and spirits. Although the latter can be made to take the place of opium, and as such used as a substitute for it where it is sought to abandon the opium habit, nevertheless ardent spirits are used extensively by opium smokers. The more inveterate smokers eschew drink, as the action of the two articles is known, in one respect at least, to be antagonistic, the one being astringent, the other diffusive in its action. At the same time, spirits are often partaken of, in order to experience the effects of opium more speedily throughout the system. And it is a fact which has often come within my cognisance that, in cases of opium suicides, the chances of recovery after spirits are much diminished. It must be understood then that drinking is by no means the uncommon practice which some believe, among opium smokers. It is very far from being so, too, among the general population. The experience of the Chinese, both as regards fermented and distilled liquors, may be said to be tolerably extensive, and some useful lessons may be learned from them.