CHINESE DISTILLERS of baijiu are proud of their role in Mao’s Long March, when the firewater produced by Kweichow Moutai is fabled to have sterilised soldiers’ wounds and steeled their resolve. It is only fitting, then, that they would mobilise for what China has termed a “people’s war” against covid-19. Moutai has donated 114m yuan ($16m). Others have gone further, setting up sidelines in medical disinfectant made with 75% ethanol. Amid an acute shortage of antivirus gear, the state is handing out production licences.
Last month Li Keqiang, China’s prime minister, urged firms to boost supplies of protective kit for medical workers by expanding or converting production lines. Yibin Guomei Liquor, a baijiu distiller from Sichuan province, had already swung into action. By February 4th a sister company that makes ethanol was sending sanitiser to its baijiu workshops for bottling and packaging. Two assembly lines now produce 250,000 bottles of disinfectant a day.
Yibin Guomei’s first 2m bottles were sold (at a loss) to the local government, which distributed one to each home in Yibin. The next batch went to the fire brigade, traffic police and other departments. The next lot was distributed nationwide—at full price. Liao Maolan, who helps run Yibin...
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