“Gan Bei!” like the English “Cheers!” can sometimes be the two most dreaded words in China. Often, business dinners and other social occasions in China will be accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol and exhortations to drink up.
But you have to know, that “Gan Bei!” in Chinese means “Bottoms Up!” and does not mean just take a sip or two. Locals take drinking very seriously and will not be happy if you don’t take these words to heart. If you can’t drink up all the alcohol in your glass just say “Peng Bei!” – “Cheers”!
Baijiu, the national drink of China – literally translates to “white alcohol” or “white spirits,” – is a high grain, crystal clear liquid that can be flavoured or unflavoured. Some additives include tea leaves, Chinese herbal medicines, preserved snakes and scorpions.
Well known and commonly drunk baijiu’s are:
- Erguotou: inexpensive baijiu and, therefore, more commonly drunk
- Maotai jiu: quality baijiu from the South of China, a gold medal winner made from sorghum and wheat.
Baijiu is normally served at room temperature or warm in a small ceramic bottle, then poured into a small cup or shot glass. Baijiu sets, sold in specialty shops or Asian markets, generally include baijiu, a ceramic bottle and small glasses.
Normally, Baijiu is served with food and is enjoyed during family celebrations, business negotiations and holidays. It is also offered when a foreign guest is present. Chinese women do not drink baijiu.
Making a toast or gesture to the other comrades at the table and drinking with them is the correct etiquette when drinking baijiu. When a glass is empty, it is polite to fill the glasses starting with the person with the most money and filling one’s own glass last. After someone has filled a glass, it should be held with two hands, one hand holding the bottom so that it will not be dropped.
It is considered rude to excuse yourself from joining in when offered a glass. If you do not drink alcohol or feel too intoxicated, then fill your glass with something non alcoholic so you can at least join in the toast.
When you drink with the Chinese, they would toast their glasses lower than yours to indicate respect. Sometimes, a fight to lower toast glasses would end up equal on the ground!
Chinese beer is much tastier than you may expect! Another pro: You can get a 0.75 litre bottle for only ¥4!
Some of the best Chinese brands are: Qingdao, Yanjing, Snow and Harbin beer etc.
Chinese people usually don’t drink wine, except for rice wine. Rice wine – especially in South China – is one of the popular alcoholic beverages from the ancient times. Rice wines are consumed in very large quantities during festivals, at social gatherings, especially in winter. They are served on holidays and at wedding ceremonies in the homes of country people as well as urban dwellers. They are normally warmed to about 35 to 40°C. It can also be served at room temperature.