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Gan Bei! Drinking in Chinese

What, how much and for what reason do they drink in China? Sinologist Alexander Isaev, who has lived for 17 years in the PRC, studied the issue "from the inside".

Like everything in the Middle Kingdom, the history of local distilling and drinking culture goes back many millennia. The main principle of the culture of drinking in China is not refusal from strong alcohol, but the ability to drink, while maintaining control over the tongue and limbs, without falling facedown in a salad or in a puddle of mud. You can get a man out of the mud, but you cannot get the mud out of a man, say the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire.

Gan Bei! Drinking in Chinese

The regions of the present provinces of Shanxi, Shandong, Gansu, Ningxia and Xinjiang have been considered traditional centers of Chinese winemaking since ancient times.

Alcoholic drinks in China are conventionally divided into five categories. The first category - mi-chiu - rice wine, or rather, a very light rice mash, pleasant to the taste, with a strength of 1-3 degrees. A special place in this category is occupied by "black rice wine" with a strength of up to 12 degrees. It is a fermentation product of a special kind of black rice.

Mi-chiu is aged in special ceramic barrels for one year. 
The second type is Shaoxing-tszyu, Shaoxing wine, named after the place of its production. In this category, Huang-tszyu stands out, "yellow wine" - a kind of Chinese version of vermouth. 

It is the Shaoxing huang-chiu that is drunk hot, and even a dried plum is put in a glass of wine, which gives the wine a special taste and indescribable aroma.

The third category is putao-tszyu - grape wine. These are mainly dry and table wines.

The fourth type is a wide range of sweet liqueurs made from berries and fruits. This category includes, for example, rosé wine, or berry wine. The latter is produced in Tibet, the "pink" is a famous brand. It is made in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, in the west of the PRC. We should also highlight Guihua-tszyu, cinnamon wine, - a light table wine with a unique taste and unusual aroma of fresh cinnamon.

The fifth category is bai-tszyu, "white wine", or, more simply, vodka, rice or sorghum (gaolyan), or mixed. Typically, this vodka has a strength of 28 to 72 degrees. Almost every province has its own special branded strong vodka. Among the huge number of names, the following can be distinguished: Bay-gar - moonshine made from sorghum, chumiza and corn with a strength of more than 70 degrees; Er-go-tou - Peking gaolyan vodka with a strength of 56 degrees, is a cheap alcohol popular throughout the Middle Kingdom. In fact, this is a double-distilled moonshine. A very popular drink called Kun-tzu jia-tszyu, which translates as "Vodka of the Confucius family," is a soft, 28-degree vodka.


And, finally, the world famous Maotai-chiu, a super-elite Chinese alcohol with a strength of up to 53 degrees, which is produced in the Guizhou province from wheat and gaoliang in the town of Maotai. An obligatory component is the purest mountain spring water. All in all, as the Chinese say, this vodka contains more than 300 different components of plant and animal origin.

According to industry experts, Maotai's sales ranked first in the world in 2018. In terms of market value and net profit, Maotai alcoholic beverages ranked first in the domestic wine industry.

Finally, the sixth category is pi-chiu, beer. The culture of brewing was brought to China by the Germans, who built the country's first brewery in the coastal city of Qingdao. Since then, the production of a frothy intoxicating drink has only increased. Beer production in China in July this year amounted to 38,8 million hl. (in July 2020 - 39 million hl.), and in the first seven months of 2021 the volume of production amounted to 2,272 billion hl. (2,135 billion last year, 2,361 billion in 2019).

But with an incredible abundance of alcoholic beverages, the Chinese continue to expand the range of intoxicating potions. For example, the British company Diageo Plc, the world's largest alcohol producer, has begun construction of the first malt whiskey distillery in China. Investment in the project is expected to reach $ 75 million, Xinhua News Agency reported.

China is the world's largest market for alcoholic beverages, with demand for whiskey among the country's middle class consumers growing rapidly. This prompted the company to open a distillery here, said Sam Fisher, Diageo's Asia Pacific president.


With such a scale of alcohol production, it is somehow hard to believe in the sobriety of the nation. However, in China, even on a holiday, it is extremely rare to meet a staggering person, and you will never see a drunkard asleep under the fence. In China, they say that wine is not to blame, but drunkenness is to blame. Falling under a fence while drunk in China is tantamount to "losing face" - a complete loss of respect among colleagues at work, friends, neighbors. In this country, people who can drink are respected, that is, people who are able to drink a lot, but not lose their dignity, clarity of mind, purity of thoughts and firmness in their knees. You must be able to stop in time and set the glass aside.

For a long time I was tormented by the question - what is the culture of drinking in Chinese? And then one day I had the opportunity to find out the answer to it. In the early 1990s, I was invited to visit Liaoning Province by the editor-in-chief of a Shenyang city economic newspaper. I wanted to politely refuse, but after carefully studying the regalia of the Chinese friend who invited me, I discovered that, in addition to various journalistic positions, he also holds the post of president of the Northeast China Drinking Culture Association. This intrigued me and I accepted the invitation. I will note in passing that there is a belief in China: in the cold northeastern region of the PRC, bordering on Russia, they know how to drink and drink a lot.

I meticulously asked the owner about the culture of drinking, and he willingly talked about.

Since ancient times, alcohol has accompanied the solemnity of rituals. On the New Year's Eve, according to the lunar calendar, the head of the family, remembering the ancestors, drinks wine from the ritual cup and places it in front of the tablets with the names of the deceased, so that they also symbolically drink. In old China, spirits were consumed in minimal quantities. It was believed that 20-25 g of alcohol did not violate the harmony of taste, allowing you to enjoy a range of various culinary delights. However, you can get very drunk even from a small glass, if you drink an unmeasured amount.

My new acquaintance from Shenyang recalled that the works of the great Chinese poets Ji Kang, Li Bo, Du Fu, Liu Ling, artist Guo Xi, calligrapher Wang Xizhi and many others were associated with their being in a state of he-zui - intoxication. They literally drew their creativity and inspiration from wine.

Seven wise men of the bamboo grove 

For example, the famous "Seven Wise Men from the Bamboo Grove", aesthetic scholars who lived in the XNUMXrd century AD, drank a lot, but this did not prevent them from talking and playing music, writing poetry and calling for getting away from the bustle of the world. During the period of the Three Kingdoms in the kingdom of Wei, where the sages lived, two powerful clans fought for power; in fact, it was a civil war. The ideas of the sages contradicted the views that then dominated society. I had to demonstrate my apoliticality, pretend to be eccentrics and drunkards in order to avoid strict control from the authorities, philosophize, create works of art that have nothing to do with politics or the chaos around them. This is the case when drunkenness saved lives. That's why they are sages.

Like many other peoples, the Chinese have many customs, beliefs, amusing cases, and anecdotes associated with wine and vodka. But don't assume that Chinese culture encouraged drunkenness. At the official level, it was strongly condemned. And at state receptions, celebrations, and even during simple feasts, strict subordination and rules of conduct were in effect.

Even during the reign of the Shang and Zhou dynasties (BC), part of the population abused wine, so the founder of the new Western Zhou dynasty Wu Wang drew the right conclusions from this and introduced the "drinking ethics", which for three millennia determined the attitude towards alcohol in China. She regulated the moral standards of behavior during and after drinking alcoholic beverages. It encouraged moderate consumption of alcohol and forbade the persistent drinking of wine. During friendly feasts, one should not abuse alcohol, one should drink only for the sake of fun, avoid troubles and conflicts at the table. Penalties were also established for those who, when drunk, spoke insolence and rudeness, cursed without measure, behaved indecently and inflicted damage on the dignity and honor of those around them. They were deprived of a drinking device, and in serious cases they could be sent to prison.


This is all - the historical background of drinking culture in China, but what is the situation with the consumption of alcoholic beverages today? In fairness, it should be noted that in China, as already emphasized, it is extremely rare to see a drunk on the street, especially among young people, who for the most part are focused on getting an education and avoid alcohol. At the same time, adults and the elderly often drink during social events as well as in meetings with business partners. In China, it is customary to dine outside with a bottle of alcoholic drink, it is customary to invite each other to drink, pour a friend into a glass.

Much about alcohol can seem counterintuitive. In China, two cans of beer cost the same as a bottle of vodka, and fruit juice is more expensive. Trade in alcohol is not limited by time frames, shops "wine-tobacco" - on every corner, and are open until midnight and longer. Everywhere - on television, subway walls, in print media, billboards on autobahns, alcohol advertisements are placed without restrictions. At the same time, there is practically no problem of drunkenness or alcoholism in our, Russian, understanding. It is considered indecent and shameful to appear in public drunk here. They drink only in the company of friends - at home or in a restaurant; they walk merrily and noisily, trying to shout down each other during feasts. These are the morals.

Statistics show that over the past 10-15 years, the consumption of alcoholic beverages in China has increased significantly, and this is due to an increase in the income of the population. The assortment of vodka and wine has grown significantly. The temptation is artificially whipped up. Advertising contributes to this. The market, money, incomes, and the tasks of increasing domestic consumption come to the fore. Along with traditional Chinese alcohol, dry red wines, both of their own production and imported, are gaining popularity. Beer is in particular demand; even a simple family dinner is rarely complete without it.

On the eve of the Spring Festival, restaurants - from simple, folk to solid, expensive - are packed with visitors to the limit. Before celebrating the New Year with their families, and this is an unshakable centuries-old Chinese tradition, people celebrate with friends and colleagues.

However, the time of luxurious banquets, lavish costly receptions and meetings is a thing of the past. With the arrival of a new generation of Chinese leaders, waste at public expense is strictly prohibited. The attitude towards traditional drinking ethics is also changing, which, according to representatives of the authorities, has been reborn and has become an element of luxury and a sign of moral decay among the Chinese officials. Banquets with expensive elite drinks, gourmet snacks and other so-called "protocol events" are taken under public supervision and strict state control. These new measures of the country's leadership are warmly supported by ordinary people.

It has long been noticed in China that a small amount of alcohol has a beneficial effect on the human body. Traditional Chinese medicine has experimented with various formulations of medicinal tinctures for thousands of years. It was believed that vodka first dissolves and then concentrates the power of animals, plants and minerals and transfers them to humans. The most healing in China are tinctures on tiger bones, snakes, ginseng, and various herbs. By the way, the old Russian vodka "Erofeich", infused with herbs, also owes its origin to Chinese folk medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends proper alcohol consumption. Ancient Chinese doctors advised to stick to only one type of drink during a feast, and in no case mix different types of alcohol, as the super-agent 007 James Bond regularly and persistently does in the movies.

You should never drink wine on an empty stomach - this is the main rule of the Chinese tradition and culture of alcohol consumption. Do not consume alcohol before bed. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that neglecting this principle can have unpleasant consequences for the heart and eyes. Don't drink if you're in a bad mood or out of sorts, they advise. Alcohol can only provide temporary relief. But later negative feelings and emotions will manifest themselves again, and with even greater force. And most importantly, you need to drink in moderation so that the wine is good and not bad.

In China, it is absolutely not customary to relieve grief and stress with the help of alcohol, for the sage said: "Trying to drown out anxiety with alcohol is the same as rekindling it with renewed vigor."

Russians, according to the firm conviction of the Chinese, can and can drink, but they are ruined by immoderation. Nevertheless, if the opportunity arises, they will definitely try to test your drinking skills during the first meal. If you are visiting China as a guest of a company or institution, you will be screened during a banquet in your honor. At the table with you, the bosses will sit with you, as well as a person specially trained in this matter. Usually, this is an employee of the international department, often a woman who knows how to dashingly deal with a glass.

This alignment often turns our people on, and they are actively involved in the race. But this is only the first stage. The second is even more sophisticated. Each of those sitting at a common table can stand up and offer to drink to your health with him, and you fall into the trap of the carousel: you are alone, and there may be 10 guests at the banquet. Each guest drinks one glass at a time, you do. 10. This is followed by individual suggestions to drink to friendship, and by the time the toasts run out, you will no longer understand what you are drinking for. So be careful and remember that drunkenness is not considered a virtue in China.

It is also useful to remember what the outstanding ancient Chinese commander Cao Cao said (by the way, he was a drinker), “wine for people is like water for a boat: it either goes to the bottom, or it will be fun to sail on the waves”. So be healthy! Gan Bei! (To the dregs!)
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