In ancient China, gold was associated with immortality. The non-tarnishing precious metal could even confer some of its own longevity on the person who consumed it, some doctors of the time believed (they thought eating gold could improve the blood’s circulation and accelerate metabolism). Even today, gold is sometimes used in traditional Chinese medicine. Beijing Tongrentang’s star product Angong Niuhuang Wan – which uses a 150 year-old secret medical formula – is said to be able to cure everything from coma, meningitis to delirium. Naturally, it is coated with gold.
China’s baijiu makers also now hope that adding gold flakes to their spirit might also lend them some sparkle during the Lunar New Year, traditionally the biggest gift-giving season. Inspired by the connotations of luxury established by European liquors like Goldschläger and Goldwasser, Chinese distillers sought permission from health authorities to incorporate gold flakes into their hard liquor. The plan: to add 0.02 grams of gold flakes for every 1kg of liquor.
Modern day health experts reckon that eating gold has no notable health benefits. In fact, they say most medicine makers use gold as a coating not to enhance the medical value but to justify higher selling prices. “I’m still not clear on the purpose of adding gold flakes to Chinese wine,” a member of the baijiu expert committee of the China National Food Industry Association, conceded to the Beijing Times.
“It is just a marketing tactic to create a buzz. The purpose is to raise the price,” an industry observer also told the newspaper.
But another drinker supports adding gold to baijiu. “It looks glittery and it gives us ‘face’,” says the consumer, before admitting that “there’s no difference in the taste.”
Then again, for our regular readers – who have been following our coverage of President Xi’s campaigns against ostentatious banqueting – you like us may wonder whether any government official would want to be caught drinking such a blingy beverage. Any photos online of officials downing gold-infused liquor could be the quickest route to demotion, or worse.
Not that they got the opportunity, this year at least. A decision on permitting gold to be added to baijiu remains on the pending list…
But with the Lunar New Year upon us it’s not only baijiu makers that are trying to ramp up their seasonal offerings. Luxury labels, hotels and retailers across the world are rolling out promotions especially designed to attract Chinese shoppers.
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, for instance, released a special edition red leather envelope clutch with a silver buckle in the shape of a “lucky sheep”. Similarly, Salvatore Ferragamo designed a festive red silk tie with goat prints ahead of the Year of the Goat, says Jing Daily (if you are confused, see And Finally on page 17 for more on the debate over whether it is the Year of the Goat or the Sheep – or the Ram). Luxury watchmakers like Piaget and Chopard have all released timepieces with goat designs to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Vacheron Constantin took it up a notch by releasing Métiers d’Art Chinese Zodiac Year Of The Goat timepieces that feature hand-engraved goat enamelling. Only 24 have been made (12 for each sex) and cost $123,000 each.
And to attract Chinese tourists, Bloomingdale’s, the US retailer, is hosting a special “red envelope” giveaway promotion this week, during which Chinese shoppers will have the chance to win a tote bag, beauty promotions, dining discounts, or gift cards worth either $8, $88, or $888 (eight is an auspicious number in Chinese culture).
“Bloomingdale’s looks forward to honouring Chinese culture and tradition as we celebrate this special holiday,” Tony Spring, the retailer’s chief executive told the China Daily.
Sportswear makers are also on the case. Vans, for instance, has a four-piece collection for China and other Asian countries featuring sheep images. Nike, too, released a Chinese holiday-themed Air Jordan shoe. However, the design is said to be so abstract some buyers are unconvinced. “It’s unclear what design element makes them goat-like,” one shopper wrote on weibo.
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