Monday, July 20, 2009

Killer Booze

China's machismo culture of baijiu is under scrutiny.

From AFP:

Image from

BEIJING — One Chinese official is dead and another in a coma in a pair of cases highlighting the risks of China's culture of drinking heavily to seal political or business deals, state media said on Monday.

Jin Guoqing, a district water resources chief in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, died last week of a heart attack after drinking excessively while entertaining official guests, Xinhua news agency said.

Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief in Zhanjiang city in southern Guangdong province, fell into a coma after drinking heavily during a dinner with a Communist Party official, it said.

They were just the latest casualties in a booze-soaked culture in which officials and businessmen are expected to ply guests with strong Chinese liquor at elaborate banquets amid cries of "gan bei," or "drain the glass."

Xinhua quoted an official in eastern Shandong province, who asked to remain anonymous, saying officials would "lose face" if they do not get guests drunk.

"Neither my guests nor I want to get drunk but we have to play under the unspoken rule, which has been around for so long. We don't know how to do business otherwise," the official said.

Read On
From my experiences, Chinese men to feel the need to prove how manly they are by how much baijiu they can drink. Personally, I think this whole aspect of Chinese (male) culture is a bit silly. I believe I got this kind of stuff out of my system in my late teens.

The ironic thing is that many Chinese men simply don't hold their liquor that well because of their body chemistry. So it's easy to see why and how this kind of binge drinking can be problematic.

One other aspect I wonder about in these kinds of deaths is China's shanzhai culture. Just like every other kind of product in China, there is fake baijiu everywhere.

Little cigarette and alcohol shops notoriously sell fake bottles of the baijiu. The owner of the shop next door to my work got arrested last weekend because of this. I'm sure that the fake bottles of the nice baijiu brands make their way into nicer restaurants as well.

One can only imagine what is actually in the bottles of fake alcohol. If you think real baijiu is foul, imagine how awful fake stuff has to be.


Anonymous said...

Oh man we're vibing again. I am reading Hessler's River Town and today I read the part about him and the baiju at a banquet and later relayed a similar story to my co-workers.

When I was in China one of my first dinners was a big roundtable affair where I was the guest of honor. Well I wasn't aware like I am now of the whole "baiju/test of manhood" thing but when one of the guests made a big display of presenting a bottle of this stuff to the table I was sensing something was up. My Chinese was so poor I couldn't understand what everyone was saying but I fully understand the universal language of body language and facial gestures. The guys were all gesturing to each other like they were in on some secret joke and about to have some fun at the laowai's expense. It didn't take long to realize they thought they were gonna drink me under the table, and I can remember just laughing to myself and thinking I too would have some fun. Not only was I the biggest guy there (meaning I could physically hold the most booze) but I love to drink. I don't drink daily but when I go to a bar and watch a game I love to put away the pitchers and wings so I knew these guys stood no chance. And not only that, I was thinking are they not away that America is a pretty big drinking culture? Anyways.. I genbaie'd cup after cup and I give them credit, they hung right in there with me til we polished that thing off. I could see though they weren't very pleased that the poor laowai wasn't conquered by the baiju and was the soberest one at the table. Those little smirks they were giving to each other soon turned to looks of "can you believe how much this barbarian can drink?". Worst part though, those nasty baiju burps for the next two hours. Don't normally like to be bragadocious, but hey, it was a fun moment and wanted to share it.

Mark said...

Glad to hear that you picked up "Rivertown," Hopfrog. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

The baijiu banquet story is great. I'm pretty sure every foreigner in China has a similar one - "Let's out-drink the laowai!"

I hear you on the baijiu burps. Those are unforgettable.

Anonymous said...

"From my experiences, Chinese men to feel the need to prove how manly they are by how much baijiu they can drink. Personally, I think this whole aspect of Chinese (male) culture is a bit silly. I believe I got this kind of stuff out of my system in my late teens."

Substitute "Coors Light" for baiju,
and "frat boy" for Chinese, and you'd describe every Saturday night
here in the good ol' USA... I'm glad you got it out of your system,
but really, most white males haven't, even well into their 40s.
I'm glad you got to think you're better than those wacky Chinese though...whatever it takes to get you thru your day!

Mark said...

Fair point on the frat boy drinking culture.

I'm not so sure on your point of "most white males well into their 40s" trying to prove their manliness though drinking though. My friends and I don't get this way when we drink together.

Drinking alcohol isn't the issue. Drinking to prove one's strength and manliness is.

I don't think I'm better than Chinese people. But I do think that situations where people are forced to drink, whether at an American frat party or at a Chinese dinner, are pretty ridiculous.

Kat Zhang said...

I definitely see a lot of drinking in China, especially among the men, but I never got the sense that it was a "test of manliness" as you say. Except, of course, from my teenaged cousins.

The men actually see it more as a politeness thing. If someone toasts you, you must toast them back. And you must down the whole shot or else it's impolite. Thus if you're at a party with ten people and you're the guest of honor, everyone will toast you (at least once) and you, as a rule of propriety, should toast them all back.

Business relations work the same way. Most men I know don't drink to prove they're men but because Chinese business and relations building demands it.

Is that any less silly than drinking because you want to show you're big and buff? Well, I suppose you'll have to decide for yourself : )

Writing away about my 3 week adventure through China at

Mark said...

Good points, TaKat.

The drinking has a lot to do with politeness and "face."

Maybe I'm overplaying the machismo aspect. Personally, I get a lot of this kind of "manliness/real men are going to drink a lot" vibe from these situations.