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Chinese Business Drinking Culture

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Chinese Business Drinking Culture

Liquor, the universal language spoken by all business professionals around the world. In China, this "language" is harsh, the syntax complicated, and grammar puzzling. Today's post ...

Liquor, the universal language spoken by all business professionals around the world. In China, this “language” is harsh, the syntax complicated, and grammar puzzling. Today’s post offers insight into China’s prevalent business drinking culture in the hopes that with time, you too can become fluent.

First, there is only one gold standard for business dinners, Maotai. Originating in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and housing the People’s Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil war, Maotai has become the official drink and gift of choice by Chinese embassies. President Nixon was served the rice liquor during the first ever official U.S. presidential visit to China in 1972. Likewise, Henry Kissinger was famously quoted after a few drinks, “I think if we drink enough Maotai, we can solve anything.”

Now, how does one drink this coveted liquor: sip it, shoot it, mix it? Well, it depends on your level of seniority and who is sitting at the dinner table. From glasses ranging from 0.5Oz to 2Oz, your fate for the night could easily be determined by the kindness of the wait staff who set your table.

Here is a normal Chinese business dinner step by step:

  1. Business dinners range from around 6 – 12 people at each table
  2. Liquor will already be poured by staff before everyone sits down
  3. The most senior person will start off with a group cheers (ganbei!) and everyone finishes their shot
  4. Then food comes and is brought to the table
  5. This is when the real drinking begins
  6. If you are the youngest or most junior at the table, you have to “pay your respects” to everyone at the table by drinking (ganbei!) with them
    1. To drink with them, you have to first walk from your seat to their seat
    2. If their cup is not already poured, you must pour their cup and fill it to the brim, if you can pour even a drop more, this is considered disrespectful
    3. Hold your shot glass with both of your hands or with the left hand under the cup as a sign of respect
    4. Then you begin speaking and say a few words of respects like, “Hope your health continues to be well”, or “Thank you for your help and guidance”, or something more personal if you know the person better
    5. You then have to clink glasses and make sure when your shot glasses touch, MAKE SURE YOUR SHOT GLASS IS LOWER THAN THEIR GLASS
      • Some people that I have noticed even use their left hand to gently push the more senior person’s glass to guarantee their glass is lower
    6. Another thing you must do is finish your entire shot glass. The elder may just sip on theirs or finish, completely up to them
    7. After you finish your entire glass, raise your glass to the elder that you are drinking with, to show them that you have finished the entire cup; look them in the eye, smile, and say thank you
    8. Finally, go back to your seat, refill your glass, eat a few bites of your cha shao bao, and rinse and repeat with everyone else at the table.
  7. If you are the most senior at the table, you may only cheers with the important business counterparts. Everything is done at your own will, no one will judge. China is heavy on respecting elders and seniors.

Hope this post was informative for your next business trip to China, until then, Ganbei!

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