The two weeks leading up to Chinese New Year are marked by excessive feasting and drinking between colleagues and friends in China. It is an important social duty that puts one’s drinking ability into serious test. I was at such a dinner recently where a friend was barely holding his liquor, but insisted on drinking until he collapsed. He even proudly announced that his body can collapse, but his dignity can’t. This is the essence of China’s drinking culture.
Destructive drinking isn’t really a college thing here as it is an indispensable social ritual among mature, grown up men. They drink not for the thrill of getting wasted, but to show that they are trustworthy and upright. Yes, drinking excessively is a respectable quality here. We have this word 酒品/jiu3pin3, which combines the word for alcohol/酒/jiu3 and the word for personal integrity/人品/ren2pin3. The result is a concept which glorifies drinking and associates it with one’s dignity.
Business dinners in China are the most prominent display of our die-hard drinking culture. Even if you can’t drink, you need to drink to give your business partner face and respect, and also to show him that you are honest and trustworthy by putting your life on the line and drinking more than you are capable of. It’s not uncommon to find people whose entire career is built on their ability to drink. But of course not everyone in China abides by the same rule. The drinking culture in Shanghai for example is a lot more moderate. But that’s also why people from Shanghai are often the subject of ridicule at dinner tables.