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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Giordano

Wine in Chinese Culture

The origins of the wine production and consumption in China are remote. Chinese used their libations in honor of their ancestors; for pleasure when writing and making poems; as a toast to friends and relatives at parties. Closely linked to the culture and daily life of the Chinese people, the wine was consumed by ordinary citizens, by men of letters and by the emperors.

Historical sources record that about five thousand years ago alcohol and wine appeared in China. In the Shang dynasty (century XVI- XI BC) the wine production was widespread. Inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells, as well as on bronze, show that people of that period used wine to honor their ancestors. In 1980 Chinese archaeologists found a tomb in the Luoshan region of Henan Province, dating from 1,200 B.C. They found a gourd-shaped bronze artifact filled with fermented wine or juice (probably the oldest existing wine). The flask had been buried in a layer of clay and was well sealed. Due to the lack of appropriate equipment, only five years after the discovery, through two holes, it was possible to extract a little wine, evidencing, although in low degree, the presence of alcohol. In the Chinese annals there are several references to literate people, poets and aristocrats from various dynasties and good wine lovers, confirming the link between wine and culture in China.

In this brief approach on the subject, we are limited to presenting only two poems by one of the greatest classical Chinese poets: Li Bai (or Li Po). The notes are extracted from the Internet, particularly from the website: T he poems instead of translations, are in fact interpretations of the original ideograms; hence the big difference between them; since we do not have a translation of the “Invitation to the Wine” (“Exhortación”, “Bringing in the wine”) we made a version of the Spanish translation.

Li Bai or Li Po (701-762) is one of the biggest names in Chinese literature. At the age of 25 he started to travel hoping to find influential people to help him realize his political ideals and ambitions, which by the way led him to prison for a long time. His poetic style was that of the time, but admittedly lyrical, innovative in images and of great vocabulary beauty.

Drinking Alone by Moonlight

Among the flowers a pot of wine, I drink alone; no friend is by. I raise my cup, invite the moon, and my shadow; now we are three. But the moon knows nothing of drinking, and my shadow only apes my doings; yet moon and shadow shall be my company. Spring is the time to have fun. I sing, the moon lingers, I dance, my shadow tangles, while I’m still sober, we are gay together, when I get drunk, we go our different ways. We pledge a friendship no mortals know, and swear to meet on heaven’s Silver River.

Bringing in the wine

See how the Yellow River’s waters move out of heaven. Entering the ocean, never to return. See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers, Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow. ...Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon! Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed! Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back! Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite, And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink! ...To the old master, Cen, And the young scholar, Danqiu, Bring in the wine! Let your cups never rest! Let me sing you a song! Let your ears attend! What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure? Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason! Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten, And only the great drinkers are famous for all time. ...Prince Chen paid at a banquet in the Palace of Perfection Ten thousand coins for a cask of wine, with many a laugh and quip. Why say, my host, that your money is gone? Go and buy wine and we’ll drink it together! My flower-dappled horse, My furs worth a thousand, Hand them to the boy to exchange for good wine, And we’ll drown away the woes of ten thousand generations!

Translated by Mônica Haberer Reppucci.

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