An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Du Kang 杜康

Aug 10, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Du Kang 杜康 is the God of Wine in popular religion. According to a story narrated in Li Zhao's 李肇 book Tang guoshi bu 唐國史補 there was a regional inspector (cishi 刺史) on a travel in southern China who first observed that Du Kang was offered sacrifices as the god of wine. The Ming period 明 (1368-1644) author Xie Zhaozhe 謝肇浙 (1567-1624) confirms in his book Wenhai pisha 文海披沙 that Du Kang was the deity of the brewers.

The ancient text Yuliji 玉厘記 calls him the "ancestral teacher of the brewers" (zaojiu zushi 造酒祖師); the Jin period 晉 (265-420) book Bowuzhi 博物志 says that he invented wine, and many other texts of all genres follow this statement.

The ancient home of Du Kang is, according to legend, either Baishui 白水 in Shaanxi or Ruyang 汝陽 in Henan. In both places, wine with the lable "Du Kang" is known. Even the brewers of the famous Maotai brandy 茅臺酒 in Guizhou venerate Du Kang as their patron.

The historicity of Du Kang can be doubted. He is sometimes identified with Shao Kang 少康, a King of the Xia dynasty 夏 (17th - 15th cent. BCE), while other books say that he was a Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) governor (taishou 太守) of the commandery of Jiuquan 酒泉 (modern Jiuquan, Gansu). A third version holds that Du Kang was a granary official of the Yellow Emperor 黃帝, and a fourth version puts him into the Eastern Zhou period 東周 (770-221 BCE).

Similarly confuse are the stories about how he invented wine. Quite popular is the story in which he made drunk Liu Ling 劉伶, who was himself known as a great drunkard. The Three Empires period 三國 (220-280) writer Wei Wu 魏武 (155-220) says in his poem Zhige xing 知歌行 that "only Du Kang understood to relieve the people from their sorrows".

Apart from Du Kang, there are other persons venerated as patrons of wine, like Yi Di 儀狄, Ge Xian 葛仙, the Erlangshen 二郎神, the Han period writer Sima Xiangru 司馬相如, or the Tang 唐 (618-907) poet Li Bai 李白.

Li Jianping 李劍平, ed. (1998). Zhongguo shenhua renwu cidian 中國神話人物辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 290.
Yuan Ke 袁珂, ed. (1985), Zhongguo shenhua chuanshuo cidian 中國神話傳說詞典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), 190.