Zhou Enlai famously entertained Richard Nixon with the country's official baijiu tipple during the banquet for the latter's state visit to China in 1972. Credit: File photo.

The liquor is so revered, it is proudly served at China’s feasts with foreign heads of state and other distinguished guests.

In fact, Zhou Enlai famously entertained US president Richard Nixon with the country’s official baijiu tipple during the banquet for the latter’s state visit to China in 1972.

Today, Gao Weidong, ex-head of Guizhou province’s transport department, continues a proud tradition as he becomes the new chairman of Kweichow Moutai Group, the world’s most valuable liquor maker, Yicai Global reported.

Most heads of the southwestern Chinese province’s largest state-backed companies have political experience, as does outgoing Kweichow Moutai Chairman Li Baofang.

The province’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission is Kweichow Moutai’s actual controller.

Li was instrumental in turning the firm around and cleaning it up after his predecessor embroiled Kweichow Moutai in a corruption scandal, the report said.

Operating revenue nearly trebled under his watch. Li, who has hit the mandated retirement age of 62, will step down from both his post as chair of Kweichow Moutai Group and its unit, the report said.

Guizhou People’s Government put forward the 48-year-old Gao as a candidate to replace Li, according to the announcement.

Li was transferred from his position as director of the Guizhou Economic and Information Commission, now known as Guizhou Department of Industry and Information Technology, to general manager of Kweichow Moutai Group in 2015, the report said.

His forerunner Yuan Renguo was yanked out amid corruption and bribe-taking charges.

The group’s operating revenue climbed from 36.3 billion yuan (US$5.2 billion) to more than 100 billion yuan and became China’s first liquor producer during Li’s tenure. He also bolstered anti-corruption efforts and reformed its dealership system, the report said.

Distilled from a mash of sorghum, Maotai is named after the town of the same name near Zunyi in the remote mountainous province, where distilling has a very long tradition.

Today’s Maotai, which emerged during the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912), came into international prominence after winning a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.

Gao Weidong, ex-head of Guizhou province’s transport department, at right, becomes chairman of Kweichow Moutai, replacing Li Baofang, at left. Credit: Caixin.