Alcohol and Historiography in Early China
This paper examines the moral ambiguity that surrounded alcohol consumption in early China and the ways in which the use and abuse of alcohol served as a measure to judge the past. Rule-guided drinking was part of social life, but, importantly, it was also a corner stone in sacrificial ritual and therefore an important measure to please the spirit world. In assessing the past, early Chinese writers often judged rulers and their regimes based on the way they handled alcohol and ritualized drinking. Moderation or excess in drinking was seen as a key indicator in a regime’s health: bad and overindulgent rulers were pitched against sages, who were portrayed as masters in the art of moderate consumption. These judgements run as a red thread through the written record, from Zhou bronze inscriptions to Han memorials.