All the baijiu in China

West Lake, Hangzhou. Image by Kwong Yee Cheng.

West Lake, Hangzhou. Image by Kwong Yee Cheng.

How much baijiu does China consume? According to many industry professionals, China drinks enough baijiu each year to fill Hangzhou’s West Lake. I’ve been told this on more than one occasion, and seen it repeated in the media (a version of the urban legend was recently mentioned here). But what bearing, if any, does this rather neat-sounding measure have in reality.

Figures on baijiu consumption are notoriously hard to come by and most of the statistics on consumption are little more than (possibly) well-informed guesswork. I have, however, come across a few statistics on how much baijiu China produces each year. Whether these figures – which come from both official and independent analysis – are reliable, I can’t say, but they at least provide a rough approximation of the available supply.[1]

Enough with the preamble and now for the figures. Every year Chinese distillers are estimated to produce between 2.6 and 4.5 billion gallons (10 to 17 billion liters) of baijiu.[2] Even at the conservative low-end of that range, we’re talking about two gallons of baijiu per Chinese citizen – or about one gallon of pure alcohol. It’s a lot of fucking baijiu any way you pour it.

And how big is West Lake? Using Wikipedia and a jumble of half-remembered primary school math, I get 14.755 billion liters.[3] This clearly puts it within our annual baijiu output range.

So there you have it. Every year China probably drinks as much baijiu to fill West Lake once over, or I’ve just publicly demonstrated my weak grasp of basic mathematics. You decide.


[1] I note that these figures are rough, because baijiu producers tend to be tight-lipped, evasive even, with production figures. Also much of the baijiu at the high-end is given away as gifts and may not be immediately consumed.

[2] This is admittedly a wide range. The actual figure is probably somewhere in between these two figures, though I would err on the side of the more liberal figure as there is plenty of baijiu that flies under the official radar.

[3] West Lake covers a surface area of 6.5 million meters and has an average depth of 2.27 meters. By multiplying these numbers I get a volume of 14.755 million meters cubed, which my computer’s unit converter claims equals 14.755 billion liters (this would be patently obvious if Americans were taught a basic understanding of the metric system).

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