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Binge-drinking is increasingly common for Chinese professionals – often it's even in the job description
Drinking to develop work relationships has a long history in China.


Peter Chi knows he has to cut back on his drinking. It is not much fun at the best of times, and the worst have included hospitalisation – after drinking fake alcohol – and the numerous evenings where he has passed out at the table.


"No one likes binge drinking, but it's not under your control," he complains. "Of course I don't like it, but there's nothing I can do."


Chi, from north-eastern Liaoning province, is not an alcoholic. Nor is he a party animal, despite his four-times-a-week binges. But as a respectable headteacher in his 40s, he feels he has little choice but to indulge – or risk harming his career. In the west, binge drinking is associated with young men and women spilling out of pubs and clubs in the early hours of the mornings. But in China drinkers are older and – in many cases – drinking not just for fun but for career reasons.


"If I drink, it doesn't necessarily help me get promoted. But if I don't, it's less likely that I will be. So I must drink, even if it's not pleasant at all," Chi explains. "People want to show they are forthright and try to get along with others … It's very normal to get an order to drink from bosses."


In fact, some job adverts explicitly demand applicants who can hold their alcohol. "Candidates with good drinking capacity will be prioritised," says one for the Hunan Zhike Public Security Engineering Company, an alarms and surveillance technology firm that is seeking a business manager.


"The job is to develop business through establishing closer connections with our clients. Drinking is a big part of the work," explains the recruiter, adding that the successful candidate will need to handle 250 to 500ml of baijiu at a time.


The clear spirit, usually made from sorghum, ranges in price from as little as five yuan – less than 50p – to tens of thousands of yuan for vintage bottles of the best brands. It is a staple of formal or celebratory dinners, often coupled with beer. It is also notorious for causing inebriation, since it is 80 to 120 proof and frequently consumed in large quantities.


Alcohol certainly greases the wheels of business in the west, too, but people can usually stop after one or two glasses. In China, the opposite is often true: it is much easier to refuse an initial drink than to stop once you have started. Foreigners are not immune to the pressure – one friend recalls being poured half pints of baijiu by an overly hospitable local official, who paused briefly to vomit before topping up his glass again.


Drinking to develop and cement relationships has a long history in China. "When one drinks with a friend, a thousand cups are not enough," runs one traditional saying. That does not mean bingeing has been the norm: in the 1980s, a study of Chinese classical poetry concluded that heavy drinking had been in and out of favour over the years. Experts have suggested that Chinese habits – consuming alcohol with food, playing drinking games and toasting in a highly ritualised fashion – served to regularise alcohol intake and limit drunkenness.


But in the last few decades, consumption has soared, fuelled by increased personal freedoms and rising incomes. "Excessive drinking, frequent drinking [five to seven days a week] and binge drinking behaviour have reached epidemic proportions among current drinkers in China," warned a study published in the journal Addiction last month.


The authors, led by Li Yichong of the National Centre for Chronic and Non-Communicable Disease Control, found that only 56% of men and 15% of women drink. But of those, 57% of men and 27% of women binge.


Bingeing and excessive drinking were most common in men aged between 35 and 44; and frequent drinking increased significantly with age, whereas in "Anglo" cultures alcohol consumption usually peaks in the late 20s or early 30s, the paper noted.


The government has pledged to tackle driving under the influence – police caught half a million drunkards behind the wheel last year – but bingeing does not otherwise seem to lead to much anti-social behaviour in China. You won't see people urinating on the street, or the equivalent of beered-up rugby lads pulling down their trousers for the delectation of passing women.


So the main issue is the damage that drinkers are doing to themselves. China is still some way off the cirrhosis death rates seen in Britain or Japan, according to World Health Organisation figures.


And in more cosmopolitan and educated circles, over-indulgence is often regarded as somewhat déclassé – suggesting that perhaps heavy drinking may fall out of fashion again. Anecdotally, friends suggest that people are increasingly willing to make excuses on health grounds or to surreptitiously dilute their baijiu with a mineral water bottle hidden under the table.


But such changes can't come fast enough for China's reluctant drinkers. "Health is a big concern of mine. Even if things seem OK right now, there'll definitely be problems when I get to 30 or 40 if I keep drinking like this," says Bruce Wang, a young businessman whose work involves regular boozing sessions with clients.


"I get drunk a lot … It's impossible to feel good about it."




22 August 2011 8:15PM
Any Irishman, Scotsman or englishman could drink a Chineseman under the table easily. Large sections of our society are based on getting drunk. We could easily beat the Chinese in a drink off

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22 August 2011 8:16PM
Binge drinking part of the job description? Is that preferable to slave labour? http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6733564947664645042

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22 August 2011 8:18PM
The author wrote:
Binge-drinking is increasingly common for Chinese professionals often it's even in the job description.
Now, where did I put that Mandarin Chinese for Dummies book of mine ... ?
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22 August 2011 8:18PM
It is no secret that life for the average worker in China is miserable. Those people should be allowed to binge drink to their heart's content - they won't get much other respite. If it is good enough for Russia or Scotland then it is surely good enough for an emerging superpower.

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22 August 2011 8:21PM
I know I may soudn like a naive Westerner but...
"Candidates with good drinking capacity will be prioritised,"
That sounds incredible. Maybe university wasn't a waste after all....

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22 August 2011 8:29PM
Wealth, power and excess - its what china has had to get use to. Its not their fault they can't express themselves naturally either - seen as a sign of weakness.

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22 August 2011 8:33PM
They do value a bottle of quality Scotch in China.
Its a shame this article implies they are incapable (hehe)... of enjoying it

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22 August 2011 8:37PM
This is almost the mirror image of Japanese drinking after work in Tokyo and also among cub reporters in Seoul, S Korea. Some American reporters were famous for drinking binges after work (and sometimes during the shift) working in big city newsrooms.

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22 August 2011 8:37PM
As a recovering alcoholic, I can safely say that nobody drinks to excess unless they are deeply unhappy or depressed.

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22 August 2011 8:37PM
In fact, some job adverts explicitly demand applicants who can hold their alcohol. "Candidates with good drinking capacity will be prioritised,"
Excellent. Where do I apply?

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22 August 2011 8:37PM
The modern version of the Opium Den returns. Poor sods.

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22 August 2011 8:38PM
As a recovering alcoholic, I can safely say that nobody drinks to excess unless they are deeply unhappy or depressed
Speak for yourself pal.

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22 August 2011 8:38PM
Bruce! Peter!
Don't these people have proper names.
Bruce! Peter!

那些中国人难道叫这个名字?(这里是指原文作者用Bruce  Chi,Peter Wang这样名字来称呼中国人,暗示作者作品的真实性。我猜作者采访的都是在华外企员工,在一些欧美外企中,这样的称呼其实很常见——译者)
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22 August 2011 8:46PM
@ sergeybodrov
It is no secret that life for the average worker in China is miserable. Those people should be allowed to binge drink to their heart's content - they won't get much other respite
I humbly suggest you actually read the piece before commenting.

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22 August 2011 8:52PM
This is excellent news the Chinese need binge drinkers and we have a glut of unemployed graduates who have what appears to be a globally marketable skill. The government wanted to cut drinking numbers and decrease our capacity to drink where clearly it is the industry of the future.

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22 August 2011 8:53PM
I dont know if it is true but I have heard that oriental people have a low tolerance for alcohol.

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22 August 2011 8:55PM
bodge - Well having lived with both Chinese and Japanese individuals I'd say compared to the average Scot yes its true but I am unsure as to weather that has something to do with our drinking culture and excessive consumption rather then something else?

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22 August 2011 9:05PM
Yo! Survival Of The Drunkest.
That's an evolutionary imperative I can get behind.

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22 August 2011 9:09PM
"The modern version of the Opium Den returns. Poor sods."--kaff
Not really. As the author points out, throughout Chinese history, drinking has fallen into and out of favour. Li Bai is legendary among Chinese poets for his drinking / alcohol poems.

“现代鸦片馆回来了。蠢男人们” –kaff
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22 August 2011 9:13PM
I remember giving my hong kong chinese mate in school his first drink. He had about 1 shot of vodka developed alcoholic flush reaction and had to lie down. Only after did I learn that 50% of Chinese can't metabolize alcohol properly. I think it making 50% of population look like a tomato and feel sick means they are always less like to be as badly affected as us westerners.
In my experience they need to be much more worried about gambling and smoking.

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22 August 2011 9:25PM
Good luck and a good life to you.


I'm always amazed how some people scud though life consuming nothing stronger than a deekaff tea. What a fascinating bunch. Several of my family members were thus abstemious, nice folk but I never clicked with them. Yawn.


I've always been one to sneak out and have the odd fag in the lea of a veranda roof at the pub. Or more.


Statistics will prove me wrong, but my anecdotal life has proved to me that people who seek stimulants (or have to resist them for years) are far more attuned to nuances and sensitive to the crap of life.


If the bores who aren't interested live longer, so be it.

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22 August 2011 9:30PM
What the hell is "fake alcohol"?
As a recovering alcoholic, I can safely say that nobody drinks to excess unless they are deeply unhappy or depressed
As a recovering alcoholic, you can't safely say that at all. As a non alcoholic, who likes to drink, I can safely say you don't know what you're talking about. Sometimes people drink to excess by mistake. Sometimes they just want to cut loose.

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22 August 2011 9:32PM
By the way, baijiu is absolutely disgusting. How anyone can get down more than one shot of the stuff is beyond me. It tastes like rancid fish steeped in gasoline.

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22 August 2011 9:40PM
It only seems longer....
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22 August 2011 9:56PM
Any Irishman, Scotsman or englishman could drink a Chineseman under the table easily. Large sections of our society are based on getting drunk. We could easily beat the Chinese in a drink off


Having being on a binge or two with Chinese friends (male and female) here in Dublin, I can quite assure you this isn't even slightly true.


And the Vietnamese are even worse!

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22 August 2011 10:32PM
how much is a can of (imported) Heineken in China ?
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22 August 2011 10:43PM
I wonder.....is there possibly a parallel here between English youth who can earn a wage to drink but not to buy a house, and the rise of property prices in China, pricing most of Chinese youth out of the property market, but not out of the drink market?

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22 August 2011 11:18PM
It's not the drinking so much as the fact that they drive afterwards, cellphone in one hand and cigarette in the other, and even sober they are appallingly incompetent, drivers

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22 August 2011 11:25PM
Philip D
Don't know about the Chinese and Japanese but I can vouch for the capacity and endurance of Vietnamese drinkers, who can consume copius amounts of 'Bia Hoi' (a local Hanoi brew) and local vodka, They get drunk quite quickly and get very red in the face but then seem to keep going??


andyrich 666
A can of imported Heineken is anywhere between 18-25 yuan here in Guangzhou
回复andyrich 666,一听喜力啤酒广州大概18-25元人民币
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22 August 2011 11:32PM
I must be dreaming.

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23 August 2011 12:40AM
The number of comments by people who haven't read the article is staggering- at least half. Truly unbelievable. Well okay not unbelievable- but still, even more than usual.

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23 August 2011 12:54AM
Alcohol? It's not a drug, it's a drink!

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23 August 2011 12:57AM
Ah, Guardianistas, I sometimes forget the culture this paper fosters where it's absolutely not okay to be racist or derogatory or make sweeping generalisations about any people other than the Chinese. Your comments sadden me.

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23 August 2011 1:13AM
It isn't true that you never see laddish drunkards.
Those midde-aged alcoholics (and they are alcoholics - how can you drink that much a week and not be?) are quite often rude, sometimes do urinate on the street. But generally i guess the point is accurate, they are certainly more sedate drinkers.
More scary to me are the younger drinkers, out to have a good time yes, but to similarly dangerous levels, and they often fight.

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23 August 2011 1:18AM
I was an english teacher in china
many of these comments are just ignorant
I have no problem with drinking, i enjoy it, but it is wrong when your boss orders you to drink
for sure i was expected to drink when my handler found me a school to teach in, even in a proper school (english first) with no handler I was expected to drink and go out with staff etc. far beyond my job description. Eventually I refused and was fired for not 'putting enough effort in'

generalizations about race are not so helpful, many chinese people I met could drink anyone under the table.

when you 'cheers' the word is 'ganbei' which means full glass, so when you toast you are expected to chug your pint of beer or spirits. This can get tiresome if... well if you just don't feel up to chugging liters of beer/spirits

also baijou is truly awful

I certainly had to vomit at times just to make space for more beer, I certainly took a few naps on the floors of public restrooms, and while my chinese friends/colleagues did behave very respectfully even while drunk, that didn't stop me from pissing very very publicly... not out of disrespect, just extreme drunkenness.


I would not say it is worse than here... just different.

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23 August 2011 1:27AM
Actually Chinese businessmen often behave appallingly when they're drunk just like Westerners - the difference is that as they will drink until they pass out in a pile of their own sick, their bad behaviour stays behind the KTV door - only really affecting the "hostesses".


I like to drink, I like to drink to excess, but China is way too hardcore for me - baijou tastes like drain cleaner even one glass leaves me retching (and that's the thousands of RMB a bottle stuff). On top of that the constant ganbei can ruin anyone who's not used to downing drinks at lightning speed - on an evening out with a 76 year old Taiwanese friend, it turned out he and I were the only ones drinking. We ganbei'd our way through 2 crates of TsingTao (that's 750 ml bottles, and 48 of them) in an hour and a half, and yes I puked while he remained oddly serene.

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23 August 2011 1:32AM
Half a million drunk drivers? Ye gods!

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23 August 2011 1:32AM
This is a serious article about a serious issue.
All you people making stupid comments are just being moronic.

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23 August 2011 1:50AM
I agree with StGeorge67.
To those bragging about the greater drinking capacity of westerners compared to the chinese, what an utterly depressing thing to boast about.
Regular and sustained drinking of any relative volume, to a point where the drinker is ill, is bad for your health no matter what your ethnicity.

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23 August 2011 1:53AM
Any Irishman, Scotsman or englishman could drink a Chineseman under the table easily. Large sections of our society are based on getting drunk. We could easily beat the Chinese in a drink off
I think you've completely missed the point of the article. Maybe its time to put the can down...

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23 August 2011 2:14AM
The article makes binge-drinking seem like a new trend. It is tempting to think that way, because that would justify its place in today's paper. But it isn't true. Binge drinking amongst the professional class has been going on for years, and isn't so much increasing as it is streamlining. Maybe in the past they companies in question wouldn't go to the effort of actually writing it on the job description because they would ask unofficially in person.


That said it is a frightening problem. I've had friends who couldn't drink when they started, and since went through 'training'. Now they are fully alcoholic.


Obviously there is something wrong here with what companies can demand of their workers.

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23 August 2011 2:14AM
Thanks Tania, good article! Although like another commenter, I agree that you're wrong about anti-social behaviour whilst under the influence. There's generally speaking less public violence in society, with or without drink. But I regularly see anti social behaviour fuelled by drink - wife beating, vomiting/urinating/crapping in the street, smashing things, fighting occasionally. But you are right, it's more common to see one businessman being carried out of a KTV by his friends, completely catatonic.


I'd agree with @jamesc23 - it's still a very male and macho type thing to do, and women are generally excused without much fuss. However, that's changing. More and more women I know who are taking on these types of business roles are expected to participate in these drink-puke-drink type sessions.

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23 August 2011 2:15AM
High alcohol intake will leave you less, much less, revolutionary-like the next morning.


There may be a period of heightened aggression while imbibing but a large police presence will ensure you are caught early on.

Please compile evidence on percentage of rioters (those with energy to break the law) who don't drink. I've seen no drunk rioters.


It seems China has simply learnt from Anglo-Saxon culture how to 'tame' the middle-classes....
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23 August 2011 2:17AM
Regarding the drinking competition:
I haven't lost to my friends in terms of beer consumption, but the moment baijiu is involved...
basically it isn't fair to say that the Chinese can't drink. Some can't ofcourse. Some can. But baijiu will very quickly knock almost any westerner out.

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23 August 2011 2:27AM
I agree that there are less random acts of violence by drunk people but to suggest that Chinese men are all better behaved would be naive. Just have a look at the video below:

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23 August 2011 2:29AM
Most comments are treating this as a joke. I live in Japan which, as the article touches upon, has a similar corporate culture in which heavy drinking is encouraged, even required .


A colleague of mine in his early 30s with chronic diabetes nevertheless continued his business-based drinking binges. After one epic night he went home alone, and failed to turn up for work the next day, or the next week. After a week his apartment was broken into, and his decomposing body was found.


The sad fact is that not even his health condition was enough to give him the courage to say no to the company drinking outings.

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I doubt the mooning was for our "delectation" so much as to keep their jeans out of danger, but you see plenty of bad behaviour under the influence in China, Ms Branigan. Most of the UK citizens in Beijing's prisons were arrested for brawling with drunk locals.

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23 August 2011 2:34AM
"You won't see people urinating on the street" - true enough, you won't see drunks urinating in the street. But its common to see sober people - taxi drivers for example - urinating in the street in broad daylight. The groups of drunks trying to sound like a church choir whilst staggering down the street is an unknown sight here - singing finds its expression within the airconditioned cubicles of the KTV


23 August 2011 2:45AM
Any Irishman, Scotsman or englishman could drink a Chineseman under the table easily. Large sections of our society are based on getting drunk. We could easily beat the Chinese in a drink off


Yeah. We're so ashamed of our inability to get pissed and wreak havoc on communities the way you Brits do every Friday night. How enviable your engorged bodies are.

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