Alcohol as an Aspect of Chinese Culture

The couple drink wedlock wine.
The couple drink wedlock wine.

The symbolic serving and drinking of wine on various occasions and in different places can convey many meanings. It can express either joy or sorrow. In China, there is a saying that 'a thousand cups of wine is not too much when bosom friends meet together', which indicates the happiness between two confidants; whereas a verse by Li Bai, a noted poet in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), says, 'releasing melancholy by wine, but adding more,' suggested a touch of sadness. There are frequent references to wine in well-known legends, as for example - "to taste the sweet osmanthus wine on the moon, produced by the beautiful fairy Chang'e when she felt lonely, is everyone's dream".

Nearly all important occasions are celebrated with alcohol. The Chinese New Year, which is a favorite time for family reunions, is probably one of the most significant when rejoicing is expressed by social drinking. During the Chongyang Festival, people drink chrysanthemum wine to ward off evil and to wish their elders good health and longevity. Of course, no wedding ceremony is complete unless the happy couple symbolizes their love for each other by linking their arms to drink to their future happiness (jiaobeijiu), after which they offer a dutiful toast to their parents to thank them for the care they have given to them as children.

The new couple offer a dutiful toast to their parents
The new couple offer 
a dutiful toast to their parents.

Similarly, birthday celebrations and the ceremony to mark the 100th day following the birth of a baby will be solemnized with a toast of wine or spirits. In South China, when a baby girl is born, her parents will brew alcohol for her, bury it underground and keep it until she marries. Then they take the jar up and paint auspicious pictures upon it to give greetings.

Each ethnic group has some form of alcoholic drink with which to celebrate special festivals. For example, around the Chinese New Year, Korean people drink their 'suijiu' to which is added rice, root of the balloon flower, cinnamon and, red chili and so on, to ward off demons.

When drinking wine or spirits at table, both the host and the guests are expected to observe certain rules of etiquette and behavior.

Making a toast
Making a toast

The glass should be full of wine, else the guest will think they are lacking due respect. The elders and superior person or persons present should always be served first.

A toast represents esteem, while refusing to participate in a toast shows the great irreverence and a lack of politeness. Should a guest be genuinely unable to take a drink then he has to find another to do it for him in order to save face.

When making a toast, everyone is required to stand and lightly touch each others' cup, ensuring that the junior's cup is held lower than that of their superior. The cup should be emptied and inverted to show that no wine remains. Drinking with a single draught symbolizes boldness and an uninhibited character. Those who cannot manage to do so should explain in advance in order to receive a kindly understanding of their situation and thus ensure that no one is offended.

- Last modified on Sep. 27, 2018 -
Questions & Answers on The Significance of Alcohol in Social Communication
Asked by Mr.nonalcohol from CANADA | Oct. 16, 2010 01:46Reply
Must all Chinese people drink alcohol in order to become successful or build relationships. Is it acceptable if a Chinese person refuses to drink alcohol?

What kind of excuses are allowed to be used that is not offensive?

It seems that everyone must drink, is that really the case?

Answers (1)
Answered by Mr.Jason | Oct. 16, 2010 21:25

In most cases, yes, but it is among Chinese. I think it is not that case for a people from other countries. and most people will respect their quests if their guests can't drink. There is just a saying that it is not a banquet without wine. It doesn't meant any one shuld drink. It is acceptable to refuse to drink alcohol. The excuses can be: Sorry, I never drink! or Forgive me, I can't drink because I have stomach disease, etc. At least, you can taste and don't drink them all. Or do not swallow but spit out to dinner cloth. Let no one know of course.
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