Corruption behind the crazy price of Maotai

By Chunyu Jinzhang
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, November 3, 2010
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This year so far we have seen eight rises in the price of Maotai. The potent Chinese liquor now costs four times what it did five years ago.

According to the overjoyed manufacturers and the press, the rocketing price, fueled by a booming demand experienced by no other commodity in the world, is just another manifestation of China's booming economy. But surveys show that only 10 of every 100 smokers of Zhonghua brand cigarettes buy the cigarettes they smoke, and only 1 in 100 drinkers of Maotai pay for their own drinks.

Liquor culture is an essential part of traditional Chinese civilization. In Chinese, the expression for government "review and approval" sounds very similar to "cigarettes and liquor", and in reality approval often requires the giving of cigarettes and liquor.

In other words, by bribing officials with cigarettes and liquor, one can avoid troublesome bureaucratic formalities and obtain approvals and permits with ease and speed. The popular Chinese sayings "no cigarettes and liquor, no approval or permit", and "buyers of Maotai don't drink it, drinkers of Maotai don't buy it", lay bare the hidden rules for dealing with government officials.

Nowadays an increasing number of officials puff only on Zhonghua and nip nothing but Maotai. It's not uncommon for officials at municipal and county levels to keep a store of cartons of Maotai at home, which, one cannot fail to figure out, are gifts from people who have approached them for help. As to how much Maotai they have consumed on public money, we will never know.

It's said that every year the mayors of many mid-sized cities assign their most trusted subordinates to travel to the Maotai distillery to source precious liquor, as it is an indispensible drink at banquets staged for important guests. The task is glorious but arduous, as it is neither easy to secure the amount required, nor to ascertain that every bottle is genuine. For this task, funds are not an issue at all. With their best efforts, some manage to secure 2 tons or 4000 bottles for their cities, but that is far from enough. On average, a typical municipal government holds 5-10 banquets every day of the year, and at each such banquet, 3-5 bottles of Maotai are drunk.

Since liberation, Maotai has been the designated liquor for state banquets. But in line with China's reform and opening up, it has also become the liquor of choice at banquets organized by provinces, cities, counties, towns and even villages. For officials to treat their guests, toady to the higher-ups, favor their subordinates and socialize, Maotai is absolutely indispensible.

It is common office gossip that a lack of capacity for liquor is equivalent to a lack of capacity for work. Therefore, in order to demonstrate their capacity, some officials drill themselves to acquire the capacity to pour two bottles of 53 percent alcohol Maotai down their throats at one sitting without getting drunk. Some of them become so addicted that they don't feel themselves if, for some reason, they don't get their daily fix.

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