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Chinese Drinking Culture

China Economic ReviewThe China Economic Review Editor’s Blog has a series of ongoing articles filed by an individual walking across China to Mongolia.

He is currently in a very remote region of China – the Dabie Mountains – and as a Westerner, is constantly accosted by peasants with surprisingly capitalistic streaks. Everyone, everywhere it seems is angling for a share of China’s economic growth – even the watermelon farmers. It’s great to see. If you are inerested in Chinese culture, and what happens outside the big cities, these blog posts are worth reading.

What’s notable about this dispatch is his excellent summary of Chinese drinking culture.

Chinese drinking culture is fascinating. All the strengths and genius of Chinese culture are revealed within it, as well as a few of the shortcomings. But it is the strengths which predominate. It is social manipulation on a scale and sophistication far beyond anything Western culture has developed. In the West everyone basically drinks alone. If a group of people gather together and drink alcohol in Europe or the States, they may clink glasses and say cheers at the beginning, but after that, each person drinks alone, sipping alcohol when they choose with no regard to what is happening around them. In China, no one drinks alone. Every time the glass is raised it is used to manipulate a relationship in some way. You toast someone else around the table, everyone in turn, with a look and a few words which provides the manipulatory context. The aim is also to get plastered, of course, same as in the West. But there’s this added layer of social interaction which comes from thousands of years of drinking culture. The West has a lot to learn from China in the 21st century.

Ah, one thing I do miss about my previous career (when I actually helped build and sell something tangible) was doing business in China.

Someone needs to do a reality TV show about foreign businessmen trying to secure customers in China.


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  1. “The best thing that can be said about the taste of baijiu is that every glass tastes better than the last. ”

    Truer words are rarely spoken. I don’t envy this guy for going on what must be a serial binge-drinking oddessy with local Chinese officials. Still, there is a huge difference between this kind of drinking (where face is an issue) and casual drinking with people who are generally friends.

    Posted by trevelyan | May 4, 2006, 1:02 PM
  2. Korea’s drinking culture is more complicated than China’s and maybe even more important for business. But, at least in China, the alcohol has gotten pretty good, in China, I always advise sticking with the beer.

    Posted by China Law Blog | June 5, 2006, 1:29 PM