The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxix.

Concerning the Rice-Wine Drunk by the People of Cathay.

Most of the people of Cathay drink wine of the kind that I shall now describe. It is a liquor which they brew of rice with a quantity of excellent spice, in such fashion that it makes better drink than any ther kind of wine; it is not only good, but clear and pleasing to the eye.1 And being very hot stuff, it makes one drunk sooner than any other wine.

NOTE 1. — The mode of making Chinese rice-wine is described in Amyot’s Mémoires, V. 468 seqq. A kind of yeast is employed, with which is often mixed a flour prepared from fragrant herbs, almonds, pine-seeds, dried fruits, etc. Rubruquis says this liquor was not distinguishable, except by smell, from the best wine of Auxerre; a wine so famous in the Middle Ages, that the Historian Friar, Salimbene, went from Lyons to Auxerre on purpose to drink it.1 Ysbrand Ides compares the rice-wine to Rhenish; John Bell to Canary; a modern traveller quoted by Davis, “in colour, and a little in taste, to Madeira.” [Friar Odoric (Cathay, i. p. 117) calls this wine bigni; Dr. Schlegel (T’oung Pao, ii. p. 264) says Odoric’s wine was probably made with the date Mi-yin, pronounced Bi-im in old days. But Marco’s wine is made of rice, and is called shao hsing chiu. Mr. Rockhill (Rubruck, p. 166, note) writes: “There is another stronger liquor distilled from millet, and called shao chiu: in Anglo–Chinese, samshu; Mongols call it araka, arrak, and arreki. Ma Twan-lin (Bk. 327) says that the Moho (the early Nu-chên Tartars) drank rice wine (mi chiu), but I fancy that they, like the Mongols, got it from the Chinese.”

Dr. Emil Bretschneider (Botanicon Sinicum, ii. pp. 154–158) gives a most interesting account of the use and fabrication of intoxicating beverages by the Chinese. “The invention of wine or spirits in China,” he says, “is generally ascribed to a certain I TI, who lived in the time of the Emperor Yü. According to others, the inventor of wine was TU K’ANG.” One may refer also to Dr. Macgowan’s paper On the “Mutton Wine” of the Mongols and Analogous Preparations of the Chinese. (Jour. N. China Br. R. As. Soc., 1871–1872, pp. 237–240.)— H. C.]

1 Kington’s Fred. II. II. 457. So, in a French play of the 13th century, a publican in his patois invites custom, with hot bread, hot herrings, and wine of Auxerre in plenty:—

“Chaiens, fait bon disner chaiens; Chi a caut pain et caus herens, Et vin d’Aucheurre à plain tonnel.”—

(Théat. Franç. au Moyen Age, 168.)

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