Beer in China

Robert Bickers has a nice post up at China Beat on the early history of Qingdao beer. Its a good post and sheds a lot of light on the early history of what is now probobably one of the best known Chinese brands. Before WWI Qingdao was a classic example of the nature of Anglo-German capitalism in China. What I find most interesting about Qingdao however is its post 1949 history. There were lots of capitalist corporations in China before 1949, but not many of them made it through the Maoist period. Yang Zhiguo has studied the history of Qingdao brewery after 1949.1 During the Maoist years Qingdao was China’s capitalist face, sort of the first Special Economic Zone, since China needed foreign exchange and one of the few ways to get it was by selling Qingdao beer in  Southeast Asia and above all in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was of course a free market city and Qingdao had to take on already established foreign brands. This led to importing foreign machinery, a focus on quality that was unheard of in Maoist production, and killing domestially popular lines like Qingdao Porter (no really) in favor of the standard export version. As China began to open up after 1976 Qingdao was one of the first Chinese branded products to be exported in part because everyone likes beer but also because it was one of the only Chinese products with any hope of competing on world markets. My students are always amazed to hear that in the early 1980s some Americans (like me) would point it out to their friends if they found a product on a store shelf that said “Made in P.R.China”.2  Qingdao was the face of Chinese capitalism in the West for a number of years. Even now it is the face of Chinese beer, given that the other options would be something like the dreadful Reeb.

  1. “This Beer Tastes Really Good”: Nationalism, Consumer Culture and Development of the Beer Industry in Qingdao, 1903-1993 The Chinese Historical Review 14.1 Spring 2007 

  2. This is less rare now 


  1. But did they drink it cold? I know it’s very American to want your beer cold, but room temperature Qingdao (Tsingdao) beer isn’t very appealing. I learned while living in Shanghai that if you didn’t say “bing de pijiu / cold beer” you were just as likely to get a bottle at room temperature. I think it especially surprised the little neighborhood kiosk operators when we wanted cold beer during the winter.

    It’s a pity that they stopped Qingdao Porter so long ago. The only domestic dark beer I could track down when I lived in Shanghai was 新疆黑啤 (Xin Jiang Hei Pi)/ Xin Jiang Black Beer. I could only find it at Uyghur restaurants. Usually I could convince them to sell me a case at a time at some discount. Apparently, they shipped it in from Xin Jiang. It struck me as funny that the beer came from a largely Muslim area of the country.

  2. Qingdao is really a popular brand of beer in China today.
    My dad often drinks beer before dinner in summer, like Qingdao beer or Xihu(West Lake) beer. Yet in winter, grown-up people in South China prefer Yellow Wine which is probably heated right before drinking. The heated one in winter is with lower alcohol density and can warm body, the way from throat to stomach.
    The Yellow Wine exported may be well packed and high priced. But in my hometown where is the hometown of Yellow Wine, it’s not that expensive. The money I spent on a bottle of red wine may worth a dozen or more bottles of ordinary yellow wine.
    In my view, in China, beer is sth to chill down in hot summer but almost no one will seriously judge which brand is better. But tasting the yellow wine or some annually-home-made white wine together with family in cold winter and making new year’s resolutions is just like the atmosphere when a western family send each other gifts and get unpacked near a fireplace on a beautiful white Christmas day. ‘cuz that’s sth traditional and meaningful.

  3. Qingdao still make two black beers, though I don’t think either is labeled as a porter.

    The article actually seems slightly misleading to me. The more popular of the two dark Qingdao beers is probably easier to find in Chinese communities overseas (particularly in SE Asia) than in China. Last time I checked it was fairly widely distributed in Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia and Singapore. In contrast, In China you rarely see it.

    One of the dark Qingdao beers is called 青岛黑啤, while the other is called 海岛啤酒 (or something similar).

    The straight 黑啤 is sweeter and darker, while the 海岛 is a little lighter and drier. The former seems to have wider distribution than the latter. For some odd reason a few years back the 海岛 seemed to be popular in Korean restaurants in Beijing.

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