13 April, 2021

Shanghai Diary

So few Chinese speak English that it’s impossible for a foreign visitor to get by even in Shanghai.

Shanghai Diary

Maotai & I

Late on my first evening in the world’s most populous city, I sit in the Penthouse Bar on the 39th floor of the Shanghai Hilton, to enjoy the neon-lit skyline. I ask for a glass of Mao­tai, China’s official national liquor and possibly the world’s only socialist luxury brand. A drink Mao Tse Tung offered to Richard Nixon in 1972. It has nothing to do with Mao, though! It’s made in Maotai, a town in the mountains of China’s southern Guizhou province on the banks of the Chishui river. It acquired a reputation in 1935, when Red Army soldiers on the Long March ended up in the town, looking for a way north over the area’s precipitous mountains. They got no help, but discovered ways to use the near-deadly sorghum drink to sterilise wounds and cure a range of ailments. Chou En-Lai had famously declared...

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