Drinking at a Chinese Banquet

Come to a banquet early so that the host can seat you where he has planned to.  Before the meal, drink only from the tea or water provided, but not any wine or juices.Then..

The guest of honor is the person ideally sitting facing the door and has a big view of the room and almost always sitting directly across from the host. At the beginning of the meal, s/he cues you when to begin.  S/he raises her glass to one side, and they raise; s/he raises to another side, and they raise. S/he drinks, and everybody drinks. Unless YOU are the guest of honor, don’t eat a bite until the guest of honor, not the host, takes the first bite even if s/he says “Let’s eat,” even if s/he puts some food on your plate. Back to drinking..

During the meal, you will be toasted and you will toast each person or each couple, at least once. It is impolite not to acknowledge people at your table by toasting and returning toasts. A good rule-of-thumb is not to take a sip of anything other than water without toasting someone. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, apologize and tell them anything “I’m driving,” “I’m taking medicine,” or “It is against my religion” and return toasts and toast with your heaviest drink (tea or fruit juice).  To toast someone, say, Wǒ jìng nín.  Followed by gān bēi (bottoms up) or suí (as much as you want). It is prudent to drink water or tea when thirsty and alcohol when being social.

Don’t allow yourself to become the butt of a drinking game, especially when the goal is to get the foreigner drunk, because being publicly drunk is a sign of weakness and loss.  Leave your glass full or almost full so that they can’t keep filling it up. You may cover it with your hand to stop them and say, “Thank you, but I need to take care of my health.”  DON”T turn it upside down.  You may prudently save that last full shot glass until the end of the banquet, or not (if you use sickness or religion for an excuse).

If you happened to have too much, before you go to bed, take an aspirin, a B-complex, and a big glass of water before you go to sleep.  The next day will be more bearable.




4 thoughts on “Drinking at a Chinese Banquet

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  2. It’s gan1bei1 and sui2yi4 and I’d love to see the characters for wo jin ni. And given how drunk my teachers in China got on various occasions and also because of all the discussions I’ve had with Chinese about drinking culture, I thoroughly doubt that getting drunk is a sign of loss and weakness. On the contrary, I’ve been told that drinking less than you could equals disrespecting the people you’re drinking with …

    • You are absolutely right about the hanyu pinyin of those to words. I updated the post. I usually look them up in my dictionary, but the day I was writing this article, I asked a Chinese friend working on the computer next to me. I asked him instead. Guess I won’t do that anymore. Thanks for pointing it out. Also you question about the character was interesting. I looked under jin and under jing, and found only one that it might be (敬), which means “respect.” Kind of freaked me out to think I had been “respecting” people all these years when toasting them (after all, some were pretty shady characters). It may not be that character. I am not for sure. Most of my Chinese I picked up on the street and at social occasions. If you can find a better one, please post it.

      With regard to your doubt about getting drunk is a sign of loss or weakness, I, too, have had many a talk about the drinking culture. I landed into the middle of it when I first arrived in Taipei with a circle of military comrades, a circle of journalists, a circle of academics, and a circle of business men. I was guided by a very tradition-bearing man about the meaning of these things and how to do them, and I have seen many scenarios played out. On one particular instance, I was the butt of a challenge at a military base at a dinner party held by a particular general. At that party was a captain who I guess was well-known for his ability to drink. The choice of alcohol was one particular kind of Chinese alcohol that for some strange reason unbeknownst to me doesn’t affect me very much. I told the guy beside me that the captain was in for trouble. So, down, down, down, the drinks went. He suddenly runs out for a while and returns to continue. Where did he go? Outside to do a bulimia thing with the alcohol so that he could save his face! His commanders stopped him, however. I watched my own friend pull this trick on several occasions as well. After about three years of these social situations, I pulled out. The next day was more important and I preferred to remain clear-headed. Mentioning your teachers, yes, many teachers have a good time of it, as well. I attended many faculty banquets and sat with the old, old ones (because they were more fun) and they got very jolly. So, there exists in China circles of hard drinkers. Of course, back then there were no drunk driving laws and no such thing as alcoholism (they just politely said someone loved to drink, as if they had control over it). Today, one my Chinese websites http://www.jamessteed.com/alcoholism/alcoholism.htm is popular site and I have been invited by several groups to talk about alcoholism as well as other addictions as well. There is new insight with regard to the consumption of alcohol. Things are changing.

      Yes, old people, old teachers, bosses, and even seasoned co-workers play the “respect card” to get a less confident underling to drink. Fear of showing disrespect, these people comply. However, it is often to entertain those in higher positions, as they find their intoxication humorous. The “respect card” is one way to get one to drink. I fell for that one many times until I figured it out. Given today’s knowledge of the dangers of alcohol, it is unlikely that an educated and loving elder would like the idea of his grandson driving home after a full night of respect showing. If they insist on playing such a trump card, they are pulling a public power play. And why are so many guys pulling the “bulimia” game with it? In order NOT to lose! Even in the drinking games of China, the loser drinks. Some gallant person might step in for him and say, “I will drink it for him.” This saves “face” for both parties.

      My friends laughed at me in the beginning, because as an American, I thought, “Why should he get the shot of Johnnie Walker? I won!” Wrong! The loser drinks, and the biggest losers get drunk (and more than likely start the crying, bragging, clumsiness, etc. that goes along with drunkenness). Of course, the host or hostess feels good cause people are getting drunk and having a good time. Guests often want the host or hostess to be happy as well, so… Still, they lose to host or hostess.

      If you would like more insight into Chinese Drinking Culture you can go here.

  3. Pingback: The culture of drinking in China | A Thousand Miles of Moonlight

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