The following guest article was submitted by Judi Gamble of “Chinese Traditions and Culture.com”.
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Chinese Beer, Booze & Drinking Customs
Chinese Beer and other alcoholic beverages are extremely cheap and can be purchased in any little convenience shop or supermarket in China. Every region makes its own local brand of beer. A one-liter bottle was about 40-60 cents in the year 2000. It is by far the most popular day-to-day drink. The flavor is light and clean. The Chinese prefer to drink their drinks warm, as they believe cold drinks are not good for your body.
Qingdao, internationally famous for it’s beer, is the only place I know of in the world where you can purchase beer by the bag to take home!
Baijiu, a rice wine liquor that is about 90 proof – is also a huge favorite and dirt cheap. The Chinese will drink it by the glass full and in a very short time – every one is more than a little tipsy! It is the most vile thing I have ever tasted and it burns as it goes down your throat. Baijo is often drunk at dinner – with beer chasers –but can be drunk alone. It can give you one hell of a hang-over! It is frequently bought as a gift or used for special celebrations.
There is a cheaper version of baijiu called jinjui. You can buy it in any little convenience store starting at less than one dollar for a small bottle. The poor man’s jinjui is just a vile and just a potent as baijiu.
My husband would often drink baijiu or jinjiu with his friends and I would know immediately, as he came through the door, as the fumes of alcohol were oozing out of his skin. By morning, our bedroom wreaked of this awful smelling booze.
The most popular western brands available are XOXO and Johnny Walker. At the Friendship Stores you may find a few others, but you will pay a very hefty price for them. The Chinese buy hard liquor more for show and gifting. They prefer to drink beer and their own Baijiu if they want a stronger liquor.
Wine is gaining in popularity slowly, but the quality of wine has not really matured yet in China. China does have its own vineyards and wine making companies now – and a few brands are not bad. The more expensive Great Wall wines are drinkable.
Drinking Customs in China
The Chinese feel that you cannot “cross the bridge of friendship” until you have become drunk together. After that, you may tell each other anything – you are best friends.
Drinking Chinese beer and baijiu is usually done at a meal – and not sipped – but downed glassful at a time. The Chinese toast is “gambei” which means “bottoms up”. A few bottoms up before a meal – and you are already wasted before the meal arrives. But the drinking continues and the drinkers get louder!
Westerner’s generally find it too filling to drink so much alcohol and try to eat too. But the Chinese manage it. They challenge each other to drink more and more and pride themselves on how many bottles they can drink at one time. My husband proudly boasts a total of 10 one litre bottles of Chinese beer downed in one evening!
Males are the ones drinking – not females. So when a foreign female has a drink – it is quite an oddity in China. When you are the guest of honor at a meal – everyone will want to have a drink with you. For females, they go easy on you and ask you to drink just a little. But for males – each male at the table will want you to do a “bottoms up” drink with them. If you start to get too drunk, it is customary to negotiate how much of the contents of the glass each of you will drink together. It must be the same amount. And if you can’t possibly drink anymore – you can negotiate for someone else to drink on your behalf. This ritual between men is played out every day it in the restaurants and in the Karaoke bars.
When westerns toast each other, it is common to touch glasses together. In China, this has meaning to it. If you touch the top of your glass to the top of the other person’s glass, this means “bottoms up”, however, if you touch the other person’s glass further down, you are not obligated to drink any specific amount of alcohol together.
Drinking is commonly done in the restaurant (you can bring your own!) – and in the coastal cities, the young people sometimes drink at the disco/bar.
Chinese Beer Drinking Games
If you are out for the evening with your friends, it is common to play drinking games. A popular drinking game is called “hua quan” which means “guess fingers”. It is something like our game of “rock, scissors, paper”, but a little more difficult. The two players thrust their hands forward holding out a number of fingers. The others in the group who are playing with them, try to guess the combined number of fingers extended – and shout out their guess in high pitched screams. The round of guessing lasts from 5 seconds to a minute and the loser must drink beer – and drink a lot of it!
When drinking beer, the Chinese can become quite boisterous and restaurants can be very loud places – especially later in the evening if they are playing drinking games with their friends.
Chinese Hangover Cure
If you have a hangover from too much drinking the night before – then you will be advised to head to the restaurant for Pig Intestine Soup – promised to cure all that ails you! For me, I’d rather have another drink than a bowl of pig intestine soup!