AVENUE PÉTAIN, a tree-lined boulevard of grand mansions and Art Deco towers in Shanghai’s old French concession, was once one of the city’s most prestigious residential streets. Hengshan Road, as it is now called, is today full of bars and restaurants. The most intriguing used to be the Moutai club, a secretive outfit catering to political bigwigs that decorated its walls with pictures of Deng Xiaoping and other luminaries quaffing firewater. Their glasses may have contained a special blend of Moutai, an expensive brand of baijiu, a liquor distilled from sorghum.

Alas, this pleasure palace has since shut down. A crackdown on corruption by the government of President Xi Jinping has made it risky for officials to schmooze with businessmen over bottles of baijiu. Sales of China’s national spirit (and the world’s most popular hard liquor), which rose at double-digit rates from 2007 to 2012, were dealt a big blow. Annual growth in sales plunged to barely 3% in 2014 as purchases for official banquets and other forms of ostentatious boozing plummeted.

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