Robert Bickers has a nice post up at China Beat on the early history of Qingdao beer. Its a good post and sheds a lot of light on the early history of what is now probobably one of the best known Chinese brands. Before WWI Qingdao was a classic example of the nature of Anglo-German capitalism in China. What I find most interesting about Qingdao however is its post 1949 history. There were lots of capitalist corporations in China before 1949, but not many of them made it through the Maoist period. Yang Zhiguo has studied the history of Qingdao brewery after 1949.1 During the Maoist years Qingdao was China’s capitalist face, sort of the first Special Economic Zone, since China needed foreign exchange and one of the few ways to get it was by selling Qingdao beer in Southeast Asia and above all in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was of course a free market city and Qingdao had to take on already established foreign brands. This led to importing foreign machinery, a focus on quality that was unheard of in Maoist production, and killing domestially popular lines like Qingdao Porter (no really) in favor of the standard export version. As China began to open up after 1976 Qingdao was one of the first Chinese branded products to be exported in part because everyone likes beer but also because it was one of the only Chinese products with any hope of competing on world markets. My students are always amazed to hear that in the early 1980s some Americans (like me) would point it out to their friends if they found a product on a store shelf that said “Made in P.R.China”.2 Qingdao was the face of Chinese capitalism in the West for a number of years. Even now it is the face of Chinese beer, given that the other options would be something like the dreadful Reeb.