The Washington Post

Chinese liquor chases Xi Jinping’s rise

A woman browses bottles of baijiu, a lethally strong Chinese grain alcohol, displayed at a store in Beijing. Xi Jiu, one of the distillers of baijiu, shares an ideograph with that of incoming president Xi Jinping, which has helped increase its sales. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping has criticized Communist Party officials for banqueting and networking and urged them to focus on studying Marxism instead.

But for one Chinese liquor company, the elevation of Xi has been a godsend.

Xi Jiu is a 60-year-old distiller of baijiu, the ubiquitous Chinese grain liquor served at every official banquet. By a stroke of fortune, the Chinese character for “Xi” is the same ideograph used to write the incoming president’s surname.

Baijiu — literally “white alcohol” — is almost always offered to grease the wheels of commerce and government and is also a favorite gift among businessmen and officials.

Partly thanks to its name, sales of Xi Jiu reached 2.3 billion renminbi, or $369 million, worth in the first 10 months of this year. The company says sales should hit 3 billion renminbi by the end of this year — nearly double its performance in 2010. Xi Jiu hopes to list on the domestic stock market some time next year.

Diageo, the producer of Johnnie Walker whisky and Guinness beer, has bought into a baijiu brand known as Shui Jing Fang in Chinese and Swellfun in English. Earlier this year, Diageo announced plans to launch Swellfun in the British market at a retail price of $159 a bottle.

Xi will take over as head of the Communist Party on Thursday and will become president of China in March, performing both roles for the next decade.

In an effort to cash in on the rise of the new leader, Xi Jiu has launched a big marketing campaign, bidding more than $48 million for prime-time advertising slots on state broadcaster China Central Television, according to local media. The company is targeting total annual sales of as much as $1.6 billion by the end of 2015.

Using the image or name of senior officials for commercial purposes is forbidden in China and representatives from Xi Jiu refused repeated requests for comment.

“The rationale for the big marketing push is the assumption that once Xi Jinping takes power, lots of people will want to give Xi Jiu as gifts,” said Bill Bishop, an independent analyst in Beijing who bought a case of vintage Xi Jiu as an investment last year.

Xi Jiu is named after Xishui County in the southwestern province of Guizhou, where it has been produced since 1952. But the company has a checkered history, and until recently the brand was a little-known cheap substitute for better-known tipples.

The company that produces Xi Jiu was bought in 1998 by publicly listed Kweichow Moutai, the most famous of all baijiu brands and the one used at official state banquets to toast visiting dignitaries.

Until recently “we drank it because it tastes like Moutai but is a lot cheaper,” Wang Dimiao, a provincial-level government official in Guizhou, said.

Ma Youquan, a party cadre in charge of an agricultural school in Guizhou, said the drink was “pure and tasty and easy to swallow.”

He added: “When you drink a lot of it, you don’t get a bad headache or feel thirsty.”

— Financial Times

Gu Yu contributed to this report.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Be a man and cry
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
A flood of refugees from Syria but only a trickle to America
Chicago's tacos, four ways
Play Videos
What you need to know about filming the police
What you need to know about trans fats
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
Play Videos
Riding the X2 with D.C.'s most famous rapper
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.