Bottoms up! – Chinese drinking etiquette

Bottoms up! – Chinese drinking etiquette

For thousands of years wine has been used in rituals to worship gods and pay respects to ancestors in China. Today, this custom has weakened, but Chinese drinking culture is very much alive, being a sign of respect, fellowship and the ultimate bonding tool. Before travelling to China you should learn about the Chinese drinking etiquette!

This brand is called gujing gong jiu 古井贡酒, and is produced in my husband's hometown.

This brand is called gujing gong jiu 古井贡酒, and is produced in my husband’s hometown.


As crazy as it may sound to some people, drinking (excessively) is a respectable quality in China.

It is even integrated in the Chinese language itself. The word 酒品 (jiupin) literally means “alcohol integrity”, and to some extent is believed to reflect the 人品 (renpin) “personal integrity”.

Drinking in China is therefore an indispensable social ritual. Not among college students, but among mature, grown up men. The goal is not to get wasted (even though it is hard to avoid), but to show that one is trustworthy and upright.


Drinking during family gatherings and business meetings

The baijiu is never missing on the table...

The baijiu is never missing on the table…

Some people who have married into a Chinese family will get the opportunity to take part in unlimited family gatherings. Don’t be fooled, even though family members usually might let you off the hook easier than your business partner, you still have to stand your man (or woman). Especially, if it is your first time around visiting your Chinese family.

When I first came to visit my Chinese family, there where gatherings every lunch and dinner time. Meaning excessive drinking. Usually it is easier for woman, but even I had to drink the first few times, as it would have been considered extremely impolite to refuse a toast by your 80 year old grandmother.


It is a totally different situation when you are doing business in China. I have heard my fair share of stories. If you come to China for business, and your goal is to close down that deal, make sure you have a good drinking ability. Some people in China got high up in ranks just because of their drinking ability. The importance of China’s drinking culture cannot be underestimated. The pressure is far greater on men than on women. If you are at a business banquet, and someone, maybe your superior, is offering you a drink, you should never turn it down. Turning down a drink is not just considered impolite but could also be interpreted as disrespectful, and maybe even insulting and a loss of face for the host.

There’s a lot of etiquette associated with toasting and drinking. Here are ten rules you should keep in mind for your next Chinese banquet.


10 Chinese drinking rules

  1. Drink at least one glass of wine with at least every person at a table
  2. Never refuse to participate in a toast, it is considered extremely rude
  3. Unlike Europeans or Americans, in China it is not necessary to look someone in the eye while toasting
  4. Elderly people and superiors should always be toasted first
  5. 干杯 ganbei in most cases still means “bottoms up”, if you don’t want to drink the whole cup just say suiyi 随意, which means „as one pleases“
  6. Do not toast before the boss or host.
  7. There is no need for an elaborate toast before each drink, but when adressing someone for a toast you should say 敬你一杯 (jing ni yi bei); a repectful way of offering a toast
  8. If someone proposes a toast and stands up, you should stand up as well. If you toast with a superior you should also stand up to show respect (in many cases they will make you sit down again)
  9. The one who proposes a toast must drink more than the person toasted
  10. When proposing a toast, one should raise the glass below the glass of the person toasted, unless one is the host or boss.


Should we accept the drinking culture or refuse it?

Even after all those years in China, I am still struggling with this mentality. I don’t like alcohol, and I don’t like my husband to get drunk. Especially, because they usually offer baijiu, China’s high percentaged wine. Many foreigners are not pushed too hard. I can get off the hook easily because I am a woman. It is another story for my Chinese husband however.

He has to keep drinking for the sake of manners and dignity in public. And that is something I cannot accept. But it is difficult to reject the whole drinking custom. So in the end, to avoid making other people lose face, or to put us into an uncomfortable position, we just don’t take part in gatherings where it is clear from the start that drinking will be involved.



I have to admit that the good adivise I am giving, I have not been observing myself recently. I am on a strike, all out against China’s “drinking culture”. I have had enough of being pushed to drink just for the sake of “giving face” or showing that I am “trustworthy”. It is absurd, and I am strongly opposed to this custom. Maybe now I am considered a very rude “laowai” (foreigner), but you know what? I couldn’t care less. After all it’s my body which would have to suffer the consequenses of an overdose of baijiu


What are your experiences with China’s drinking culture? Do you enjoy the custom or do you reject the pressure?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

14 thoughts on “Bottoms up! – Chinese drinking etiquette

  1. I’m just happy that in the town where I am for the most of the time when I go to China getting drunk is not that usual. In Suzhou even at business dimmers its not seldom that I’m the only one with an beer while the others are drinking juice.
    …really boring sometimes ^^

  2. This is a great post! When I was living in Hong Kong and traveled to China, I had no pressure to drink in HK and a little pressure only from one person in China. Even during my wedding banquet, our cups were filled with orange soda when we went around to toast to the twenty tables. That was two decades ago. I also had the naive/uninformed idea that it was unbecoming for women to drink in Chinese culture. Maybe times have changed or I was in an unusual situation?

    • Mh I think the drinking is more or less universal in the whole of China, but how much they pressure a person might depend on the area. Where we live for example, one of the very expensive baijius is produced, so everyone is very proud of this “wine culture”. If you would come here, you would definitely being pressured to drink, man or woman, doesn’t matter.

  3. baijiu is real poison. All of the ones I tried thus far tasted and smelled terrible. I am no person who is against drinking as I enjoy the occasional beer or wine but baijiu…no way. I still have bad memories from our wedding in China!

    • I really think baijiu is also one of those cultural differences. I haven’t met one foreigner who liked that stuff. But here where we live, everyone loves baijiu. Out town produces its own expensive brand, thus it is never missing during any meeting with friends, family or colleagues, and everyone is always like “uuuhh it’s so delicious!”… Luckily we didn’t have to drink a sip of baijiu for our wedding (we exchanged it with water hehe)

      • Actually few guys I know from Finland and Germany really like it! For me it is basically this weird extra flavor I do not like but then again taste always is different and depends how/ with which things (food and drink) you grow up with :)

  4. Thank you for your posting. I learned a lot from it too. My fiance is from Shanghai and has had a hard time trying to explain this to me. His has been to many business gatherings where there was an expectation to drink. I worry about him too and the effects it has on his body. I am allergic to a lot of alcohol so I am not used to drinking. My fiance said that women can chose to not drink. He said that when we have our wedding celebration that I will have to drink some. I am hoping I can pretend to drink to not dishonor those who hold such views. I do not like drinking. I admire your strong stance and conviction of standing your ground of against drinking. It’s your body, you can do what you want.

    I’m trying to learn as much as I can to understand more about his culture. I can tell he is at a lost for words to explain some things to me. He is still trying to learn more English and I can tell he is becoming more confident. Even though he is okay with my lack of Chinese skills, I still want to learn. I’m a beginner. I love to learn more and I am so glad to have found your blog. Thank you for sharing.

    • Yes, women don’t necessary have to drink. And actually, I also think even at your wedding you don’t necessary have to drink! You can change the alcohol with water (you just need some nice friends). We didn’t drink a sip of alcohol during our wedding! Many people chose not to. After all, who wants to be pissed drunk on the wedding day?!

  5. Thank you for the paragraph you added after you edited. I completely agree. I can’t stand the drinking culture in China. I don’t want to be rude or disrespectful, but I just don’t understand how drinking with someone equals respecting him/her. These CNY holidays I traveled to Gansu province to visit my boyfriend’s ex classmate. Right after we arrived he took us to a hotel where his friends were getting wasted on beer at 5 pm, playing stupid card games like “whoever gets the smaller card has to drink”. Seriously? Well, at least it was not baijiu. Later that day we went to this friend’s house where his parents live. His father is a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. I don’t remember what we were talking about and he said in that city many people had stomach problems, but they don’t know why. Come on, hasn’t anyone thought that MAYBE it has to do with the fact that they are drinking enormous quantities of alcohol every single day?

    Sorry for the complain and long comment. This is one of the things I don’t like about China. Well, it often goes together with smoking cigarrettes while still on the dining table…

    • Thank you for your comment. I totally understand your feeling! It is the same here! The younger generation plays brainless drinking games, and the older ones just drink straight. I managed to escape most of those occasions where drinking would have been involved by simply not going or joining for lunch or dinner this CNY. It worked out quite well, and no one was offended, because we did our duty, visited, small talked, and simply left before food was served to escape the whole drinking circus.

  6. Pingback: Chinese table manners: 8 Do’s and 8 Don’ts | Lost Panda

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