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They newly discovered distillery in China. Source: Ecns.cn

Massive 500-Year-Old Distillery Found in China is on Industrial Scale


Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a massive distillery in China that dates to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The discovery is believed to be the largest of its kind ever made in China, stretching across some 190,000 square feet (18,000 square meters)! The distillery would have been capable of producing spirits on an industrial scale.

The Discovery of the Ancient Distillery

Xinhua reports that the distillery was unearthed by chance by construction workers, in Suixi County, Anhui Province, which is in eastern China. Archaeologists were amazed at the size of the find.

Chen Chao a researcher with the Provincial Institute of Heritage and Archaeology, stated that “three distillation stoves and more than 30 fermenting tanks” have been found, reports Xinhua.net. However, so far, only 3,000 square meters out of the 18,000 have been excavated, so many more may yet be discovered.  

The Distillery Was in Operation for Several Centuries

Among the other items that have been uncovered during the dig are drinking vessels , bottles, and even cigarette holders. The specific artifacts found at the ancient distillery suggest that the site was in operation for many centuries.

Cup from the early Ming dynasty, representation of artifact found at the medieval distillery. (Fæ / Public Domain)

Cup from the early Ming dynasty, representation of artifact found at the medieval distillery. (Fæ / Public Domain )

Researchers believe that the distillery dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). There is evidence that it was also making spirits in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). This was the last dynasty to rule China.

This is only one of a handful of ancient distilleries discovered in the People’s Republic of China. Chen states “This is the fourth ancient distillery workshop ruins found by Chinese archaeologists” according to that Xinhuanet.

Two of these ancient distilleries were unearthed in southwest China and one in the eastern province of Jiangxi. These sites are over a large geographical area and show that distilling was very important in ancient China.

Drinking Fine Liquor Popular in Ancient China

Drinking spirits was very popular in ancient China. CNS reports that “in ancient times, many learned people believed that the beauty of the moment of writing and reciting poetry must be accompanied by the drinking of fine liquor”. Drinking high-quality alcoholic beverages was seen as part of a refined and cultivated lifestyle. However, drinking to excess and drunkenness was not socially acceptable.

The ancient Chinese elite believed drinking alcohol was part of the refined lifestyle. (PericlesofAthens / Public Domain)

The ancient Chinese elite believed drinking alcohol was part of the refined lifestyle. (PericlesofAthens / Public Domain )

China is Home to the World’s Oldest Distillery

Remarkably, the distillery that has been unearthed in Anhui Province, dates from the same period as the oldest one still in operation in China. This is the Shu Jing Fang which was first established by a Master Wang in 1408, reports Destination Asia .

The distillery is in Chengdu, China. It was first producing spirts during the Ming Dynasty and has “more than 600 years of continuous production” according to CNS.

The Shu Jing Fang distillery has been in operation for more than 600 years. (Diageo / Fair Use)

The Shu Jing Fang distillery has been in operation for more than 600 years. (Diageo / Fair Use )

The distillery is famous for its production of White Spirit Baijiu, which is considered to be China’s national drink. This is very prestigious throughout the People’s Republic and because in part it is made from traditional techniques. These “traditional production techniques and skills have been listed as ‘national intangible cultural heritage’” according to Diageo.

During 1998, archaeological excavations of the site found the original distillery workshop that had been established by Master Wang during the early Ming Dynasty. There is now a museum which “preserves Shui Jing Fang distillery ancient relics from 600 years ago” according to the Diageo website. Visitors can today see how spirits are made with traditional methods.

Liquid Razor Blades Made at the Ancient Distillery

The White Spirits made at Shu Jing Fang was favored by members of the elite in three dynasties, the Yuan, Ming, and Qing. Even after all these centuries, the spirits are still popular and are as much in demand as ever and are possibly the most popular of its kind in the world. The drink is very strong, with an intense taste, and has been nicknamed “liquid razor blades” reports the Metro.

A glass and bottle of Jiugui brand White Spirit Baijiu. (Badagnani / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A glass and bottle of Jiugui brand White Spirit Baijiu. (Badagnani / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Archaeologists are continuing to work at the site of the distillery in Anhui Province. So far only one-third of the distillery has been uncovered. It is expected to provide invaluable insights into distilling in medieval China.

Top image: They newly discovered distillery in China. Source: Ecns.cn

By Ed Whelan



T1bbst3r's picture

I wouldn't say drinking spirits was considered part of a refined lifestyle as it still is today. The managerial classes use social networking to go for meals with eachother regularly where they eat as much as they want, drink and smoke plenty and then go home about half ten and sleep it off. Well, the men anyway, women generally keep sober.

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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