My first impression of sorghum comes from the catchy “Great Wall Ballad” in the music class in elementary school: “The Great Wall is 10,000 miles long. Outside the Great Wall is the hometown; sorghum in abundance, soybean is fragrant, golden crops everywhere and less disaster…” At that time, I knew that “da-dou” are soybeans for grinding soy milk, but for what is sorghum leaves no impression at all.
We, who grew up in subtropical Taiwan, had never seen sorghum. Later, I learned about Kinmen sorghum liquor, and only thought that sorghum was used for winemaking. But sorghum is actually one of the five important grains in the gramineous family, second only to rice, wheat, corn, and barley. There are 25 species of sorghum, of which 17 are native to Australia. However, sorghum, one of the five major grains of the gramineous family, originated in northern Africa and was domesticated around the beginning of the second century. Although Cheng Yaotian (程瑤田), a scholar in the Qing Dynasty, believed that the “grass” in ancient Chinese books was sorghum, later studies proved that Chinese sorghum originated in Africa and was introduced to China through India during the Liao, Song and Xixia periods.
Because sorghum is resistant to drought, waterlogging, and alkali soils, it has become an important grain in Africa, Central America and South Asia. Two thousand years of planting and breeding, the current sorghum can be divided into four categories: grain sorghum, grass sorghum for animals, sweet sorghum for syrup, and sorghum used as brooms and brushes. Although sorghum has so many advantages and uses, after it was introduced to China, it was not as good as rice and its yield was not high. Therefore, sorghum in China quickly changed from a food crop to a forage and wine crop. It’s an important raw material for liquor-making, even Taiwanese use it to make “Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor”!
The inventor of Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor was the overseas Chinese Yeh Huacheng who was born in Sumatra in 1913. After the family moved back to Kinmen in 1948 due to the war, after many failures, he finally succeeded in brewing a fragrant Kaoliang Liquor. Unexpectedly, as the Nationalist Government moved to Taiwan, his winery was repossessed by the government and its name changed in 1953. Mr. Yeh Huacheng later worked in Kinmen Middle School to teach English. By 1959, after the outbreak of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, with the temporary relocation of Kinmen Middle School to the island of Taiwan, he moved to Beitou Fuxing Middle School and became a famous English teacher. Although the Yehs’ former residence has now been built into the “Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor History Museum”, a well that was used as a source of liquor and other cultural relics was displayed to commemorate his contribution, but the results of years of hard work have been taken away, and Mr. Yeh should still feel sad. So he never returned to Kinmen afterwards!
In the early days when sales and importation of tobacco and alcohol were government-regulated, Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor became synonymous with spirits; coupled with the Chinese “Liquor Competition Culture”, Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor became the golden cow of Kinmen! The Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Inc. had revenue of over 10 billion for the first time in 2006, and it still had 12.1 billion in revenue until 2016. In addition to the creation of employment opportunities in Kinmen, Kinmen Kaoliang Liquor Inc. provides annual Kinmen County government allowances for the elderly, free tuition for elementary and middle schools, kindergartens, free school lunches, free bus rides, large and small Kinmen transportation boats, maternity subsidies, full-time mothers’ childcare allowances, and universities School allowances and transportation subsidies. In addition, all the residents of Kinmen County can ration some liquors during the three festivals (Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival). Although drinking can hurt the liver and drunk driving is even more harmful to others, after all, alcohol does not harm others actively and alcoholism is a showing of not enough self-control.
With global warming, droughts and floods frequently appear in recent years, drought-tolerant and flood-resistant sorghum has gradually gained attention. Even though its yield is not high compared to other cereal crops and its taste is not good enough, in a modern society with a rapidly changing climate, crops that are relatively unaffected by the climate will definitely be valued by humans. In order to gain a deeper understanding of sorghum, scientists decoded its genome in 2005. Among the cereal crops of the Gramineae family, only pearl millet (a kind of millet), corn and sorghum are “C4 plants”; this type of plant is better than rice, wheat and other “C3 plants” in the efficiency of converting light energy into chemical energy. With the completion of genome sequencing, we have a deeper understanding of sorghum, and recent studies have found that sweet sorghum can be used to produce alcohol! So the future of sorghum is limitless!