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Liaoning aircraft carrier

China adopts Western tradition of smashing champagne bottle on new aircraft carrier’s bow

But some guests attending the launch ceremony wonder why local liquor wasn’t used

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 6:01pm

China on Wednesday launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier by smashing a bottle of champagne on its prow, the first time the Western tradition has been used with a PLA warship.

But some guests attending the launch party for the still unnamed carrier at the Dalian shipyard in Liaoning province, wondered why champagne was used and not mao-tai, the Chinese liquor, naval expert Li Jie said.

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“China adopted the Western tradition of smashing a bottle on the ship, signalling the Chinese aircraft carrier is drawing close to international standards,” Li said.

State media did not identify who wielded the bottle but in the West, it is usually a woman, according to Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong.

When the US launched its next generation aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, on November 12, 2013, Susan Ford Bales, daughter of the late president, was invited to smash a champagne bottle on the bow of the ship.

But the tipple of choice is not always French sparkling wine. When Queen Elizabeth commissioned the British carrier named after her on July 4, 2014, she used a bottle of whiskey.

There are different accounts of the origin of the christening ceremony. Some say it relates to bottles that victims of shipwrecks would cast into the sea with a message they hoped would be found one day. Breaking a bottle was a way to ward off the bad luck that brought a shipwreck.

In other versions, the ceremony evolved from the religious traditions of the Greeks, who would wear wreaths around heads, use cups made of precious metal to drink wine and pour water on a new boat. They would throw one of the cups into sea to honour the gods.

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When Britain became a maritime power in the 19th century, and began launching more ships, sinking a precious cup was replaced with breaking a bottle of wine.

Li noted that the event in Dalian was also “China’s first aircraft carrier launching ceremony”, as the country’s first carrier, the Liaoning, was launched in a Ukraine shipyard in 1988.

But Wong said the launch party was not completely at the global level. “Compared with Western countries, China’s launch party was still very old fashioned, with hundreds of red flags everywhere,” he said.