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An Untold Story: The History of Wine in Chinese Culture

When it comes to the history of wine, China is not normally mentioned. The Chinese have historically not considered wine a necessity of life; however, their wine culture has always made an impact on the lives of the Chinese people. Historically, Chinese alcoholic drinks are known to have been manufactured from grains.

Throughout the country’s history, with its long-term reliance on agriculture and a large population, fluctuations in the wine business have been connected to the country’s social, political, and economic conditions. For instance, the successful ruling dynasties either relaxed or issued restrictions on wine production based on annual grain production to ensure that the population was sufficiently fed. In some parts of the country, the flourishing of the wine industry was determined by the social life of the residents and not the political or economic landscapes.

Traditionally, wine in China had three main uses including dispelling one’s worries, performing rituals, and healing. The history of winemaking in China dates back as far as 4000 BC, to the early times of the Neolithic Yangshao culture[1]. During this long period of development, the country’s wine has acquired distinctive characteristics, as the wines have been produced largely from grains. The introduction of fruits has only been made in recent years.

Grape wine was first produced over 1500+ years ago

In China, the practice of wine production started during the Han Dynasty between 206 BC and 220 BC or during the period of the Three Kingdoms within the Central Plains (220 BC – 265 AD). The earliest production of grape wine was produced in the same way that rice wine was made. However, grape wine consumption remained unpopular. According to the Grand Historian records, in 138 BC, the Envoy of Han Dynasty Zhang Qian arrived in the Western region and observed local people making wine in ceramic pots and rich people storing large quantities of fine wines that lasted for years[2]. The records show that Xinjiang people learned vineyard farming and winemaking techniques from the Persians.

The wine gained popularity during the Tang Dynasty over a thousand years ago

The Tang Dynasty experienced a growing interaction between foreign cultures and Chinese culture. During this significant period in Chinese history, wine was considered a valuable commodity within the central parts of the country and there were numerous stores in Chang’an, the capital city, offering western wines.

Tang poetry played a critical role in ensuring the growing popularity of wine. One of the Tang poets, Wang Han, composed several lines, including Liangzhou in the 8th century: “They are about to drink/The finest wine from Evening Radiance cups/ They whom drunken fall upon the battlefield: / In ancient days or now, how man return who go to way?[3]” The popular poem recounts the feast of border defense troops celebrating their battle victory. In the midst of the celebration, news of a new enemy invasion broke and the warriors set out again without hesitation. The poem was made popular and became part of the wine culture in China.

Modern wine production in China

History records show insignificant growth of the industry during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Chinese industrialized wine production started in the late 19th century after the foundation of the Changyu Wine production company in Shandong between 1841 and 1916. Later, China introduced several varieties of wine and winemaking techniques from Europe.

Today, grape vineyards and wine production is spread throughout the country. In 1975, the North China Vine Cultivation Technology Collaboration Conference decided to produce wine in Shacheng. To obtain a competitive advantage within the global wine market, white wine was prioritized and in 1978, China produced its first dry wine to be exported. In 1998, China published a Chinese version of the OIV oenological standards despite the fact that the country was yet to join the OIV[4]. For the first time, Chinese wine production, profits, and sales exceeded those from spirit production. It was a milestone that would place China among the major wine producers in the world.

220 BC – 265 AD: During this period of the Three Kingdoms, the Chinese started producing grape wine in the same way they produced rice wine. The people learned winemaking techniques from the Persians. This period marked an important milestone in Chinese international trade with other communities and kingdoms.
1975: The North China Vine Cultivation Technology Collaboration Conference decided to produce wine in Shacheng.
1978: The first dry wine was produced in China, which was later exported, marking the beginning of the modern Chinese wine industry.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The History of Wine (Chinese Edition) History of Wine Drinking (History of Chinese Civilization)


[1],220%20BC%20%E2%80%93%20265%20AD). [Accessed on 2nd March 2022].
[2] Sun, Ming, “The Han Dynasty-Xiongnu Relationship in the Early Western Han Dynasty: The Peace between the Enemies,” In 2021 International Conference on Public Relations and Social Sciences (ICPRSS 2021), pp. 711-717. Atlantis Press, Oct. 21, 2021.
[3] Li, Zhengping, Chinese wine (Cambridge University Press, March 3, 2011).
[4] Bonasegale, Luca, “China Wine Revolution: Is China Becoming a World Wine Power?” (2018).

Categories: Country Profiles, This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: By Published On: March 26, 2022Last Updated: February 26, 2024

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