The consumption of alcohol is a way of life in China. Referred to as, “ganbei culture”, people are encouraged to drink heartily and regularly at social occasions – especially when enjoying baijiu. Unfortunately for one police officer in Mabu Village, part of the Jiangxi Province, there was a heavy price to pay for such decadence.
Chen was a 38-year-old officer of the law attending a party in Mabu. It is believed that Chen initially arrived at his destination on official business, but after concluding his workload, he began socialising with locals. This led to countless cries of, “ganbei!” – loosely translated, “bottoms up!”
“Ganbei” is a prominent toast in China, with the expectation that all glasses will be emptied on the spot once the words are uttered. Chen enjoyed a reputation as somebody with an iron-clad constitution, capable of consuming substantial amounts of alcohol. On this occasion, however, the baijiu got the better of him. Chen found himself vomiting profusely and was permitted to rest on a host’s sofa. Sadly, he never woke up from this enforced nap.
In the west, such a story may not garner much sympathy. Chen would be decried as irresponsible and self-destructive. In China, however, Chen’s death was considered a principled act from a man answering the call of duty.
Captain of the local police division, Xie Feiyong, has assigned Chen with martyr status, claiming that he died while enforcing the law. This enables Chen’s widow and children a considerably more substantial compensation payment, expected to reach almost £60,000. Chen was described as a responsible and diligent officer that enjoyed an excellent relationship with his local community.
How can this be, if he was seemingly drinking irresponsibly? The truth is, Chen was behaving in accordance with social and professional custom in China. In this nation, it is expected that anybody attending a formal function will consume alcohol whenever invited to do so. Failure to do is seen as a snub.
Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Scientific Analysis
A bottle of V.I.P Jiu 8 together with a bottle of Kweichow Moutai Flying Fairy was sent to a UK laboratory for analysis.
The laboratory is a registered member of UKAS – The United Kingdom Accreditation Service that is recognised by the UK government when comparing products to internationally agreed standards.
The results confirmed what we already suspected – (Kweichow Moutai – VS – V.I.P Jiu 8 Results)
What’s more, refusing to drink when toasted by a host is a significant cultural faux pas. It could even cost somebody their job, as they are considered to behaved disrespectfully and inappropriately. As a result, countless state employees find themselves consuming alcohol to excess. Some positions and key members of the community even hire assistants with high alcohol tolerance to attend such events, ensuring that any burden is shared.
Do not think harshly of hosts for this tragedy, either. The expectation cuts both ways. Inviting somebody to your home or function in China and failing to offer a plentiful supply of alcohol is seen as equally discourteous. Again, such actions could see an individual shunned from their social circle. It’s quite possible that nobody actively wanted to drink on the day that Chen died. The fact that all parties were driven to do so by unspoken rules makes the event all the more tragic.
While the story of Chen has gained attention, he is not the only Chinese official to have suffered at the hands of so-called, “ganbei culture.” Local government employees have also succumbed, receiving similar posthumous commendations for their dedication to sustaining cultural values. A death provoked by binge drinking is deemed honourable if it arises in the pursuit of averting offence and building relationships.
Calls have been made for the Chinese central government to take action against ganbei culture. Throughout China, deals are sealed and pivotal decisions reached over a bottle of baijiu. This makes drinking a pivotal a part of any official’s job. The government leads by example on this, with roughly a third of the country’s entire national spend dedicated to state banquets – all of which involve copious amounts of the famously expensive Moutai baijiu.
It remains to be seen if this change can be made and how long it may take. One thing is certain, though. The more of these tragedies that start to pile up, the more pressure will be applied to adjust expectations surrounding alcohol in China. Let’s all hope that changes can be made before anybody else is forced to pay the ultimate price.
Further Reading: Ganbei! Through The Ages