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 yellow wine of the South is made of Chiang-mi or glutinous rice, of which one may see dumplings with dates or sugar in them, covered with leaves, on the streets of the Capital, especially in the fifth moon. In the North, the small glutinous yellow millet is used instead of rice. The rice or millet is first boiled into a paste, and distillers' grains called chu leaven, are ground to powder and mixed with it. The mass thus becomes leavened and loses its viscidity, and resembles rice chou, or porridge; it is then put into a sack and pressed, and the expressed juice is the yellow wine in question. In colour and flavour it resembles some of our weaker pale wines, especially a very mild sherry. Vinegar is made in a similar manner, but with kao-liang and grain husks; and the juice is not expressed, but allowed to trickle. Spirits in the North are made of the red kao-liang, with the addition of the chit made from wheat. Instead of saying that a person has drunk spirits, the Chinese sometimes say he has drunk kao-liang water, - somewhat resembling our euphemism of "mountain dew," or "old man's milk."
The Yao or Drug wines are legion, and answer to our tinctures, and need not here be specified or further referred to.
The residue, in the preparation of the yellow wine, is used in the distillation of a very strong spirit, little inferior in strength to pure alcohol, and like strong whiskey both in its colourless appearance and smoky flavour. Why does Giles define shao tsieu distilled spirit, the ardent spirit of millet, as commonly drunk in North China? The Mongols drink a strong liquor distilled from mutton. They have also a liquor prepared from mare's milk, called koumiss, used in the West in cases of phthisis.
The spirit capacity, tsieu-liang or power of drinking, varies much among the Chinese, as among ourselves. In liquor contests with foreigners, the latter have always prevailed. One catty at one time with guests is considered the largest; four ounces at meals is very common. This is considered rather a large "capacity." This last class, when they are entertaining guests and have recourse to the morra, will drink a catty, and as a matter of course become intoxicated. The common practice at the two daily meals amongst nearly all classes of men (for we except the women, who do not drink) is to take one or two ounces. One hundred Peking large cash (5) will buy one ounce at present; and this is considered dear, the usual price being not more than 3 or 4 cash. Spirits are certainly cheap in China, and one might suppose this fact would favour their excessive use. Notwithstanding the cheapness, the people, as we all observe, are sober. On ordinary occasions at meals, spirits to the value of 1/4d or 1/2d may be drunk. Few people go beyond this, and few could well stand more.
Hue tells us that gambling, drunkenness, and libertinism, are the three great vices of the Chinese that cause pauperism. As to gambling and drinking, he says, in the South they drink less, but play more; the reverse is the case in the North. Their liquors always retain an unpleasant taste, which can be got rid of by macerating various aromatics in them. The people drink this brandy with avidity. "This horrible drink," says Hue, " is the delight of the Chinese, especially of those of the North who swallow it like water. Many ruin themselves with brandy, as others do with gaming. One can hardly imagine what pleasure the Chinese find in imbibing these burning drinks, which are absolutely like liquid fire, and, moveover, very ill tasted."
Spirits are so cheap that all the alcohol and all the spirits required, for example in Great Britain, for industrial pursuits, medical preparations, and general consumption, might easily be imported from China and sold there at a much cheaper rate than the product of our own stills or that of Germany. A leading British merchant in China, my friend the late Mr. T. T. Fergusson of Chefoo, once wrote to me of the possibility with the advent of machinery for coal mining in the future, of large quantities of cheap alcohol being exported to Europe from China. Much cheap and good alcohol is at present produced here, and the impulse given to the production by cheaper coals would enable it to be exported at a cheap rate. This would be a "coming full circle of the wheel," vis a lis our opium traffic with China. A British Consul in China, my friend the late Mr. T. T. Meadows of Newchwang, once strongly urged the cheapening of opium, with the view of making it non-respectable and so strangling the evil. The suggestion was fortunately not acted upon. India, by the way, has it in her power, by doubling the quantity of her poppy growth and reducing the price by one half, to kill the Chinese native growth, rivet her drug upon China, and continue to secure her revenue from this deleterious source. I dread to contemplate the results, in our own country, of the cheapening of the cost of spirits. We are not prepared for such a policy. Were the physiological effects of alcohol upon the system widely understood, we might have less to fear. The main hope of the people in the West, in the mean time at least, is in the raising, or at least maintaining, the duty on spirits. There is perhaps more to be gained from this course than from any partial or local diminution, however sweeping, of the number of licences, or even in local option, to mitigate the evils of this curse. This is our experience with regard to opium in China. Safety for our labouring classes and the common people lies in increased duties. Smuggling can be put down by an efficient preventive service, and the vigilance of the police should prevent the existence of Shebeens.