Global Times has published an intriguing story about a family suing Wuliangye, one of the nation’s top baijiu producers. At issue are baijiu pits dating to the Ming Dynasty that the family apparently had rented to Wuliangye but that were deemed five years ago to belong to the state:
For decades, the State-owned Wuliangye Group, one of China’s biggest and most popular baijiu companies, has prided itself on the 16 Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) fermentation pits that it uses to produce its baijiu. The manufacturer of high-end spirits based in Yibin, Sichuan Province features the earthen pits in company profiles and promotion videos, calling them an important cultural relic and the secret behind the distinct aroma of its signature baijiu, favored by China’s wealthy and corporate elites.
But the group never mentions the Yin family, who ran a baijiu business in Yibin from the days of the Ming Dynasty up until the 1950s, when their descendants quit the baijiu business and leased their pits–those featured in Wuliangye’s advertisements–to the State company.
The Yins claim they were unambiguously the legal owners of the pits until the end of 2009, when the Wuliangye Group abruptly cancelled its lease agreement but refused to move its workers out of the pits. In 2010, to the shock of the Yins, the Yibin local government announced that the pits now belonged to the State.
The story gets much more interesting. First, it’s amazing there is any ownership issue at all:
In the 1950s, millions of private businesses and companies, from family businesses that had lasted for generations to street vendors, from struggling companies to cash cows, were transformed under the socialist ownership system. According to Yibin’s local chronicles, by the end of 1956, of the 2,373 private businesses in the city, 2,344, or 98.8 percent, were transferred to public ownership.
The Yins’ business was among the remaining 29.
In other words, only one out of every hundred businesses survived past 1956, and that was with two more tumultuous decades to come.
Second, the Sichuan high court agreed to hear the case. After having three lawsuits against Wuliangye dismissed, the family was “about to lose hope” when “the Supreme People’s Court reformed the system by which courts decide to accept cases”.
Starting from May 1, a new system of “case registration” allows cases to be put on courts’ dockets before they are reviewed, making it much easier for cases to be heard in China.
On May 4, the first working day after the new regulations were implemented, Yin Xiaogong and her lawyers brought the case against Wuliangye Group to Sichuan’s high court. The high court’s response came on the same day, when it agreed to hear the case.
The first hearing is June 25. Read the full story, one that is both intriguing and tragic, at this link. And look for updates on this case as it proceeds.