Lots of drinking is involved during these Chinese social events, from being a corporate manager who is about to attend a few business dinners in China, to a meeting with Chinese friends or their families at a dinner.
1. Chinese VS. Western drinking culture
The general difference is: In Western culture, a large emphasis is put on the beverage itself. Wine-tasting is a huge entertainment component in many Western countries.
However, in Chinese culture, a heavier emphasis is put on the people. Who you drink the wine or liquor with is more important than the actual drink. By the end of this read, we hope you could have a solid idea of how drinking is done at Chinese social events.
2. Types of Chinese drinking wines
Baijiu 白酒 (bái jiǔ) – Also called sorghum wine, is the drink of choice for business dinners in China. This clear liquor is as intoxicating as tequila, with the added burning stench of rubbing alcohol. The most popular brand of Baijiu is Maotai, which can be as strong as 60% alcohol-by-volume (compared to an average vodka at 40% ABV.)
Red Wine 红酒 (hóng jiǔ) – Red wine has increased in popularity at Chinese dinner tables in recent years along with the rising interest in luxury goods. Popular choices include top French wines such as Lafit or Latour. Beer – 啤酒 (pí jiǔ)Popular Chinese beer brands include Tsingtao and Harbin Beer, which are crisp, refreshing lagers that can cool the burning sensations from drinking Baijiu.
3. Toasts & Cheers in Chinese "干杯"
(Gānbēi) is the drinking toast equivalent of “cheers” in English. However, beware of the fact that “干杯” literally translates to “dry glass.” You may be expected to finish your drink after the toast.
"我敬你一杯” (Wǒ jìng nǐ yībēi) is used to toast to a specific person. The person being toasted to is generally expected to at least take a sip of his/her drink. A more generous way of making a toast to someone is “我干了，你随意” (Wǒ gànle, nǐ suíyì), which means “I will finish my glass, but you can drink at your leisure.”
4. General Etiquette
When clinking glasses, the junior people should always hold their glass lower than those of senior folks. This not only applies to business situations, but also to family dinners (i.e. son-in-law will hold his glass lower than father-in-law). If you are late to the party, you are expected to punish yourself by drinking. Most latecomers actually enjoy the “punishment,” as it allows them to catch up to the rest of the people at the party. Whoever proposes a toast is always expected to finish his or her glass.
5. Other survival tips
Take it slow - Chinese dinners and drinking social events tend to go on for hours. It is truly a marathon and not a sprint. In order to make it through a long night of drinking, make sure to eat and hydrate between drinks.
Substitute - If you are struggling to keep up, try to drink beer instead of Baijiu. If you are feeling really drunk already, you can switch to tea and still keep up with the party.
If you are truly unable to drink, you should bring up the fact at the beginning of the dinner, and request a pot of tea for yourself. You will still be expected to keep pace with the rest of the group as the drinking festivities commence.
Don’t stress over it too much if all this seems strange and intimidating. As a foreigner, you have more leeway with your hosts in following these rules. Your hosts will be glad as long as you are having a good time and the party is a success, so try to relax and enjoy!