You don't have to be a Hong Kong bookseller to know that China has a tiny bit of a problem when it comes to human rights. In fact, Foreign Minister Wang Yi just went on a pretty crazy tirade against a Canadian journalist when pressed about China's human rights record. But you wouldn't immediately think that the powers that be would actively target liquor producers and sellers in their quest to censor any and all forms of dissent.
You'd also be dead wrong in that assumption.
State authorities in the Southwestern province of Sichuan just detained two men for trying to sell and promote limited-edition bottles of baijiu—a sorghum-based moonshine that is the largest-selling liquor in the entire world—bearing labels that commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.
Just what kind of hardened revolutionaries would be so daring as to blatantly fly in the face of Chinese authorities, you ask? Well, the two detained men just so happen to be a teahouse owner and a poet. Yup. Their connection to the manufacturing of the baiju is not clear at this time.
Thirty-year-old teahouse proprietor Fu Hailu, alongside poet Ma Qing, were both taken into custody by Chengdu police on Sunday after photos of the baiju began to circulate on WeChat, a widely used Chinese social media platform. The charge? Suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power."
The bottles of baiju bore a label that said "June 4, 1989"—the date of the massacre—along with an illustration of a man standing in front of a bunch of advancing tanks. Ring a bell? The spirit is also said to have matured for 27 years, the exact length of time since the date of the student protests that were famously quashed by the People's Liberation Army with tanks and machine guns.
Memories of the uprisings run deep in China and are cause for all kinds of political machinations. The government tries to avoid any and all mention of the bloodshed on that day, while dissidents go to lengths to remind people of the repressions that were stifled then and that still exist in China today. Government censorship of the date of the massacre, June 4, has some referring to it in more surreptitious ways, such as "May 35."
It is an anniversary that deserves remembrance, but sadly, it won't be via baiju.