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quejiu 榷酒, monopoly on alcoholic beverages and yeasts

Apr 6, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

The terms quegu 榷酤, quejiugu 榷酒酤, quejiu 榷酒 or jiuque 酒榷 refer to the state monopoly over the production and sales of alcoholic beverages and yeasts (quequ 榷麯) during the early imperial phase. Yet the monopoly on production was often combined with a special sales tax.

The aim of the introduction of this monopoly during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) was to avoid the excessive use of staple food for brewing. The monopoly on the production was created in 98 BCE on the initiative of Sang Hongyang 桑弘羊 (152-80 BCE), but in 81 BCE reduced to the taxation of products in question, with a rate of 4 cash (qian 錢) per sheng 升 of wine (see weights and measures). During the reign of the usurper Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 8-23 CE), there was even a monopoly over the sales of products. Between the Later Han 後漢 (25-220 CE) and the Tang 唐 (618-907) periods, the monopoly was irregularly used. The Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420-589), for instance, taxed the beverage on sales, while the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) and the early Tang had a liberal approach to this matter.

From the mid-Tang to the end of the Song period 宋 (960-1279), the state controlled the selling of alcohols and yeasts and taxed the products. Wine producers (jiuhu 酒戶, guhu 酤戶) paid taxes monthly after 764. Government-owned wine shops (diangu 店酤) delivered their proceeds to the military coffers. The reason for the sharpened monopoly was the rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山 (703-757) and a lack of staple food in the capital Chang'an 長安 (today's Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi). Grain was only allowed to spend for sacrifices and to feed foreign guests of tribute states, while private brewing was strictly forbidden. In 782, the wine tax was 300 cash (wen 文) per dou 斗 of wine, but was reduced to 150 cash four years later. With the introduction of the twice-taxation method, the wine tax was declared a surplus to the money to buy seeds (qingmiaofa 青苗錢), and levied from every peasant according to acreage (per mu 畝 of land), making it a good part of the overall state revenue.

Under the Song, every prefectural city possessed a wine office (jiuwu 酒務) in combination with shops (gusi 酤肆), where the beverages were produced, sold and taxed (quejiuqian 榷酒錢 "wine monopoly money") in one place. Districts and towns paid a wine tax as an annual quota of the population size. In the capital of the Song empire, the state retained the monopoly over production and sales. Another method was to allow merchants to buy wine and yeasts in state-owned wholesale shops (maijiufang 買酒坊), where they paid the tax in advance and thus obtained a license for the selling of the products, passing on the tax to the customers. Private persons were after 1129 also allowed to bring their grain to official breweries (guancao 官槽), have it processed and taxed, and were then allowed to sell the wine on their own. After 1072, a certain "add-on tax" (tianjiu qian 添酒錢) was earmarked for military supply or expenditure for administrative cost. In the 12th century, the revenue from wine monopoly and taxation run up to 6.9 million strings of cash (min 緡).

The Liao 遼 (907-1125) and Jin 金 (1115-1234) dynasties also used the Chinese model of wine monopoly and taxation.

Under the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368), the production of alcoholic beverages was private, but the state received the products and monopolized the selling, at a price of 10 tael/liang 兩 (paper money), and after 1285 just 5 tael/liang per shi 石.

The Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) also used a quota system of tax delivery by prefecture and district.

The monopoly was only given up during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), and alcoholic products were taxed just as other commodities by the likin taxation. In the last years of the Qing era, various provinces introduced tobacco and alcohol taxes to finance their armies, but in 1915, these were transformed into value-added taxes, collected in a public selling system for tobacco and alcoholic beverages (yanjiu gongmai zhi 煙酒公賣制). The system was centrally administered by the Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Administration (yanjiu gongmai shiwu zhan 煙酒公賣事務站), with many bureaus and sub-bureaus on local levels. The local bureaus (gongmaizhan 公賣棧) were run by sellers who paid a tax in advance (called gongzhan yakuan 公棧押款 "bureau security") of between 1,000 and 50,000 Yuan Dollars. In this way, the government oversaw the sales of tobacco and alcohol, and earned fix revenues. In addition, the government determined the local prices of the wares and prevented the licensed merchants from exploiting customers. All commodities were marked with an official revenue stamp of the provincial bureau (gongmaiju 公賣局). Illegal sale of tobacco and wine was strictly prohibited. The excise on these two commodities yielded the third-largest income of the early Republican state treasury. The Nanjing Government introduced a general tax of 20 per cent on alcoholic beverages, due at sales (gongfeizhi 公費值) and abolished all local regulations. This tax was adjusted annually, but the system of licensing merchants was not given up. In spite of these official regulations, many provinces continued to excise the product (jiushui 酒稅) and the licensed selling of it (zhuanmaifei 專賣費). From 1932 on the Republican Government levied general sales taxes (tongshui 統稅) on tobacco, beer (pijiu 啤酒), and import beverages (yangjiu 洋酒) in this way, while local beverages (tujiu 土酒) were separately taxed after 1933 according to volume, and after 1942 on the price.

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