June 4, 198brew 2.0

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Many people have called my attention to this article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow in the New York Times:

"A High-Proof Tribute to Tiananmen’s Victims Finds a Way Back to China" (5/30/17)

The article begins:

It’s a big journey for a little bottle, even one so potent in alcohol and symbolism.

The liquor bottle — whose label commemorates the 1989 crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing — made a monthslong trip around the world and arrived in Hong Kong days before the 28th anniversary of the killings on Sunday and one year after it was produced in Chengdu, in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan.

It was carried by hand, reportedly by a sympathetic Chinese official, from Chengdu to the Middle East and then by someone else to Paris, where it was mailed to Washington, arriving about four weeks ago, said Yang Jianli, a Chinese-born rights activist based in Washington who aided its passage around the world.

Finally, coming nearly full circle, the 450-milliliter bottle of baijiu, a fiery Chinese clear liquor, was carried to Hong Kong, a semiautonomous city that is part of China, by Andrew To, a local democracy advocate. Mr. To confirmed his part in the bottle’s travels in an interview. In Hong Kong, it is set to appear at a candlelight vigil on Sunday to memorialize the crackdown in Tiananmen Square, providing a new “focal point” for the event, Mr. Yang said.

A year ago to the day, a similar bottle was described in this Language Log post:

"June 4, 198brew" (5/30/16)

In that post, I referenced a NYT article by Chris Buckley, “Chinese Worker Detained for Photos of Liquor Labels Marking Tiananmen Crackdown” (NYT, 5/30/16).  It begins with the same iconic image of "Tank Man" as this year's article.  That story also originated in Chengdu, Sichuan, but it was much simpler, involving only a single individual, one "Fu Hailu, an itinerant worker", who was detained by police on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power" for allegedly sharing photographs of the labels.  “Inciting subversion of state power" is an extremely vague, but also extremely serious, charge that the government can bring against practically anyone who displeases them.

This year's version involves four men who are named as Chen Bing, Fu Hailu, Luo Fuyu and Zhang Junyong.  They are also charged with “inciting subversion of state power", and face possibly long prison sentences.

Am I the only one who remembers last year's story?

The photo in last year's Language Log post and in this year's NYT article are absolutely identical (N.B.:  both were circulated in the form of tweets), so the explanation of the wording on the label given in last year's Language Log post still stands:

Bā jiǔ liù sì
Zhōngguó Běijīng
yǒng bù wàngjì
yǒng bù fàngqì
27 nián jiàocáng


eight brew six four*
China, Beijing
Never forget
Never give up
Cellared for 27 years

*(Since jiǔ 酒 ["brew; liquor; alcohol"} and jiǔ 九 ["nine"] are homophones, this line may be understood as signifying "June 4, 1989".)

I hasten to point out, however, that I omitted this line, which comes right after "27 nián jiàocáng 27年窖藏 ("Cellared for 27 years):

64% vol

The reason I left that line out of my explanation was that it didn't have any characters.  However, I now realize that I should have pointed out that the "64" accounts for the "6 4" (i.e., June 4) in the name of the liquor.

I still distinctly recall, as I was tuīqiāo 推敲 ("deliberating; casting about") for the right wording for the translation, thinking to myself, "My, that's a lot of alcohol!"

1 Comment

  1. Victor Mair said,

    June 1, 2017 @ 5:07 am

    The bā 八 ("eight") in the first line of the label most likely literally means "8" and refers to the "8" of the year "[19]89". But some folks have thought of it in another way as well by interpreting this bā 八 ("eight") as bǎ 把 ("grasp") because it sounds like the bǎ 把 of bǎjiǔ 把酒 ("grasp / raise one's winecup; fill a winecup for"), as in bǎjiǔ wèn qīngtiān 把酒问青天 ("raising my winecup I ask heaven").

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