In Chinese Mythological history, the creation of Baijiu is most often credited as coming from either Yi Di or Du Kang. Yi Di, 仪狄 was apparently either the wife, or daughter of the Xia Dynasty’s founding ruler, king Yu. King Yu was one of the great sage kings of Chinese history who had the power to control water According to historical accounts, Yi Di successfully attempted to make wine out of rice.
She presented her concoction to the King and and despite enjoying the beverage immediately banned its consumption fearing that a future king would become and alcoholic and lose the throne. After the king’s death, his son Qi 啓 became king and lifted the ban on the alcohols production and consumption. From there Baijiu became used in ceremonial offerings to gods and deceased ancestors. These rituals can be still be witnessed today, particularly during the annual Tomb Sweeping festival where family members leave offerings of food and alcohol to their deceased.
The second story of the originator of baijiu is Du Kang 杜康. Du Kang was most likely also born around the time of Xia Dynasty, and the story goes that one winter he stored cooked sorghum seeds inside a hollow tree and then forgot about them. By the time spring rolled around, Du Kang noticed how great the tree smelt, cracked it open, and for some reason thought the best thing to do would be try a cup full. Thus, as the story goes, Du Kang found he accidentally discovered how to produce Baijiu. To this day Du Kang’s name is often used for describing exceptionally good alcohol.
While these stories are all well and good, the truth is nobody actually knows when Baijiu was first created as it has existed well before written history. In 1987, archaeologists in the Shandong province found alcohol drinking vessels that were over 5,000 years old which seemed to contain a milk based alcohol called Lilou. From this discovery we can assume that fermentation and distillation processes evolved to eventually incorporate cereals like wheat, sorghum and rice thus producing what we now know as Baijiu.
Regardless of when and where It came from, Baijiu has become inseparable from Chinese Culture. In China Baijiu is called the “Water of History” as it can be traced through almost every period on record. While some rulers tried to ban it’s consumption outside of ceremonies, other’s loved it to a fault. Zhouwang, the last king of the Shang Dynasty was blamed for bringing about the downfall of his kingdom as result of his alcoholism. Stories claim he had built a large pond of baijiu and spent his days chasing around women naked. Many Chinese artists, writers and poets often credited Baijiu as their source of inspiration and giving them the ability to put the finishing touches on their master pieces. Li Bai, wrote 130 poems about Baijiu and was arguably one of China’s greatest poets, although he unfortunately drowned while getting drunk on a boat. More on Baijiu Histroy