Drinking culture is an important part of Chinese daily life. It is a lifestyle that they practice during dinners at home with friends or family, birthday celebrations, holidays, casual get together, nights out on the town, and business meetings. Drinking culture in China is not like the culture we are used to. They are quite different from those in the western countries. When you come to China, for business, pleasure or for whatever other reasons, it is important to know the rules of Chinese drinking etiquette.
Anything you’re drinking – baijiu (Chinese liquor), vodka, beer, or wine — set aside your pretentious thoughts of savouring the aroma and such. You’ll be doing toasts one after the other, and toasts imply that you’ll be drinking a lot. It’s called ganbei, which literally means “to dry the cup.” You’d best do it or you’ll be labelled a disrespectful baby for the rest of your life.
To express their appreciation and hospitality, people would most likely toast you. As a foreigner, you are not expected to do so, but if you do, they would greatly appreciate the gesture. Once you’ve gotten started, toast anybody who might outrank you. It’s known as jing jiu, which means “respectfully suggesting a drink.” If there are a lot of people and you’re concerned your won’t be able handle it, check them off in twos and threes; it’s completely okay.
If you’re the one making the toast, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position, therefore you should be the more courteous one. As a result, it’s preferable if you stand up and thoroughly drain your cup. The other person may stay seated and drink a little, but they will typically go out of their way to respect you – it’s just good etiquette. Remember to hold your glass in both hands if you want to make an impression on your hosts even more . After then, you can tilt it slightly towards the person with whom you were drinking with to indicate that you’ve drank everything in the cup.
This one is tough, and it’s easy to miss especially for those who are not familiar with the culture. Instead of standing up and clinking with everyone else, folks may just clink the table surface with the bottom of the glass if the gathering is large and everyone is toasting at the same time. However, even if the table is quite large, and if you’re toasting one or two people, they’ll generally want to clink glasses. If you do this, make sure your glass’s bottom is lower than theirs; this is another method of expressing respect.
They’ll usually attempt, but if your respective views are different, they won’t strive too much because it would be fake. When both people have almost the same status, the glasses may continue to drop until they hit the table, at which point no one may fall any lower.
But that’s not all; if you clink your glasses together, you’re indicating that you want to ganbei — bottoms up. If you’d prefer not to, you can hold your glass such that the backs of your fingers brush the other person’s cup. You’re signaling that you’d rather take things gently, or suiyi – “as you want” (though this doesn’t guarantee you’ll get away with it). If you’re proposing a toast to someone senior, this isn’t an option; in that case, you’ll have to empty the glass in one go no matter how much you wished not to.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be too concerned if all of this seems overwhelming. Your hosts will not expect you to obey their rules because they know you are used to a different manner of doing things. You receive bonus points if you observe them, but nothing awful will happen if you do it wrong. They simply want you to feel at ease. So put a huge smile on your face, enjoy the hospitality, and drink up everything they give you. Ganbei!