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Home  /  Inside China  /  'Alcohol culture' – jiu wenhua – Drinking as a currency converted to friendship and successful business
'Alcohol culture' – jiu wenhua – Drinking as a currency converted to friendship and successful business print version
Each beer bottle brings friendship to a higher notch, every bottle of baijiu helps sealing a deal. Foreigners could be pardoned with the excuse of cultural differences, but Chinese masculine ties that require reinforcement find such glue in oceans of Alcoholic spirit.

Chinese language has many words for the entertainment of a guest: jiedai (接待) is a simple general form; yanqing (宴请) already suggests that such occasion involves a feast or a dinner, while yingchou (应酬) hints that extra courtesy and perhaps some gifts and materialistic benefits are given.

When old friends of equal status meet, social pressure and a need to spark up warm feeling with wine are perhaps very much alive, but at least one is allowed to refuse to drink (jujiu拒酒). In certain job posts, however, being able to drink, elevate one's mood through liquor and encourage others to drink are not only occasional suggestions, but part of the 'office work'.

Ironically or not, job posts which are steps in the ladder climbing to officialdom and high positions are often those that require alcohol capacities. Being an assistant of a powerful 'leader' or serving as a (male) secretary could mean frequently hosting guests in restaurants and not rarely continuing to several hours of alcohol swallowing. When business partnership is in stake, entertaining the other person with wine, showing willingness to drink and unleash friendship to erupt under the cover of formality are particularly crucial. Although such drinking also reflects cold business interests, courtesy and social hierarchy, when reaching the point that alcohol numbness transcends logics, a new realm of friendly dizziness might be explored.

An article about this topic published by the Chinese Sohu portal describes the story of an teacher that was admitted to be the vice village chief. He wasn't aware at the time how much entertaining he would have to do, and how alcohol would shape his lifestyle. The thin former teacher maintained his balance for a few months before he collapsed and found himself in the hospital regretting every drop of alcohol he consumed. Finally he acknowledged that while 'alcohol belong to the public/state, his life belongs to him only' (‘酒是公家的,命是自己的' jiu shi gongjia de, ming shi ziji de).

A different story in the article takes the business importance of drinking one step further, making it much more direct: A head of a certain municipal department was in need of a budget of 1 million RMB for a certain project. The high official in charge of budget division had already given a general agreement to the transaction, but the two still met for dinner, making things more official and pleasurable. After about two hours of drinking, the chubby official ordered 10 more bottles of baijiu (distilled alcoholic drink made of sorghum) announcing to the astonishment of his (already drunken) dinner partner that only if the latter drinks all 10 bottles shall the 1 million RMB be given, for each bottle left full, 100,000 RMB would be deducted from the budget.

'Alcohol culture' (jiu wenhua) is an essential part of the Chinese manly labor sphere. While most office workers regard drinking as a supplementary part of the work, regardless how often it takes place, nowadays quite a few job recruitment (zhaopin) ads state specifically that a candidate must have a decent drinking capacity (yiding de jiuliang). After all, how can important guests be impressed if the company's representative cannot walk straight after only five bottle of Qingdao beer?!

Alcohol means business and power, but more directly, alcohol equals emotions (ganqing) and an informal (yet formal) long standing masculine social tradition of softening social barriers. Wine has been the inspiration of manly encounters for centuries, and the contemporary importance of alcohol strongly relates to such tradition while finding new modern advantages.

Women might join the celebration sometimes but they are hardly required to demonstrate drinking skills. The changing values of the Chinese social landscape might gradually undermine the importance of this 'alcohol culture', favoring health, man-woman equality and greater working etiquette (not too many dots link between 'wine' and 'corruption' (fubai)). Still, the political structure of institutes, to power of officials and the importance of guanxi in social relations are enough to ensure several more decades of alcohol breath (jiuqi) for many of China's finest.

Foreigners who have business aspirations in China are not expected to face the same drinking pressure as many Chinese men encounter, still long feasts are important for softening the hand that signs the contract. If one wants to impress his (this would be less effective for women) Chinese host, showing willingness to drink and making the liver accept the presence of baijiu in the body will undoubtedly improve one's business prospects.  

Assisting source: 关注公款吃喝:官场“酒文化”酿出了什么, sohu.com 


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