Image: Allegravita.

After our article on Chinese business or government meeting etiquette, we were frequently asked “what if the meeting is scheduled around evening time, and the Chinese side proposes a dinner afterward?”  In addition, followed by the second article of our Chinese business etiquette series on business and government dining in China, many particularly expressed their strong interest in knowing more about the “drinking game”. Therefore, Allegravita decided to comply its years of experience and insights of China into a Chinese business drinking guide, hoping you will all find the following tips helpful:

  • Dinner seating basically follows the same rule for conference that we introduced earlier. Just follow the same routine. Watch out for the humble seat.
  • Two of the most luxury báijiǔ brands: wǔliángyè and máotái Image: loremipsum on Flickr.

    Expect to drink a lot of Chinese báijiǔ, something that looks like Vodka, but smells and tastes very differently. More importantly, the alcohol content of báijiǔ might range from 20% (like Japanese sake) all the way to over 60% (easily flammable). Be cautious, since the Chinese side will propose waves of toasts. Turn it down if you can’t stand it. Take some time to get used to báijiǔ, if our business calls for frequent meeting in China.
  • Or if you have a say in ordering drinks, just take the chance and suggest some wines, because:
    • It is healthier.
    • It has lower alcohol content.
    • Most Chinese don’t like the tannic taste of red wine which means they might toast a bit less frequently, hopefully.
  • Don’t try to persuade your interpreter into eating/drinking more, if he/she doesn’t appear to be interested in the meal. Chinese people drink hard, and the “drunker” they get, the more likely they will reveal things that normally won’t be spilled. If this happens, it will be fantastic if you have an interpreter sober enough to register it.
  • Although everyone is fairly drunk already, there could be other post-banquet activities proposed, most frequently a bath/sauna together (if you are relatively familiar with each other) or KTV (Karaoke, as the Japanese call it). Feel free to turn down such offer in order to avoid frustration. “Business bath” might sound simply terrifying to anyone besides the Chinese and Japanese. As to KTV… can you imagine the frustration density in the room where a) you don’t know any Chinese song; b) the KTV machine doesn’t offer any song in your language; c) the Chinese folks are too drunk to sing properly; d) you sit in a corner and listen?
  • If the Chinese guys really can’t take much alcohol, yet keeps attacking with rounds after rounds of toasts, to the extent that it’s impossible to pretend you are losing it, try to discourage them without damaging their faces (don’t take this literally). Try something like this:
    • Seize the initiative, start to propose toasts, at a slightly higher than usual frequency, till they start to blush (if not already) or hesitate.
    • Dramatically slow down, letting them know that you can easily keep that blitz going if you want to. Without saying it, of course.
    • In the process, tell them you can’t take much more drinks. And it’s getting really late, and people at the feast will want to drive home safely.
  • Call it a draw game.

    Image: Allegravita.

  • If YOU are the obviously overwhelmed one, and can’t find any escape, just go to the bathroom and puke. This is acceptable as long as you don’t make too much noise. Heated Chinese drinking duels often happen in a repetition of drinking and puking. They will show mercy if you start visiting the bathroom a lot more often than normally should. Don’t say “Excuse me, I’m gonna puke a little”. Like in every other country, mentioning such words on a dining table is impolite.
  • If you anticipate epic drinking up ahead, eat something before going to the dinner. This will visibly boost your drinking stamina. Don’t worry about having no room for the food over there. People generally won’t mind if you don’t eat much, but not drinking enough is a problem.
  • Start looking for an effective way that works for you to fight the hangover. Chinese báijiǔ is notorious for its massive hangover. Depending on exactly what kind of báijiǔ, sometimes you might hope yourself to simply hang.
  • Unless with very high confidence in your magician tricks, don’t try to pretend to drink while pouring the báijiǔ on the floor, or try to sneak water into your glass. Many people take offense from such activities, if caught, that is.
  • Create diversions. Arrange your men (with sufficient importance though, drivers and interpreters won’t do) to toast with the Chinese guys, keep them occupied, so you can catch some breath. Don’t feel bad about it. The Chinese lǐngdǎo will play the same trick on you.
  • Occasionally after getting drunk to a certain extent, the Chinese party will start talking about business, and make scary promises. Don’t take the promises too seriously. They might promise to sell you the White House for two dollars and a quarter, but when they wake up the next morning,  they will forget about it all or simply revoke the silly promises. What you should do is to mark their words (if you are sober enough), remind them in the next day or two. If they intend to keep promises, then you get lucky. Or if they appear to be surprised or annoyed, just don’t probe it any more.
  • Be cautious about post-feast proposals from the Chinese party like “Hey that’s not quite enough, let’s find another restaurant/bar and have some more happy time!” There are such people with god-like stamina that although they look almost unconscious after the drinking battle, upon taking a whiff of fresh air they suddenly sober up, 100% capable and 400% excited. Just avoid any further battle with such people. They can keep doing it all night.
  • Find a taxi home, and check all your belongings before stepping out. China is a tough place for lost properties. What you lost on a taxi is gone for good.
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