The most important factor in Chinese business today is building connections. If you are invited to a business dinner in China, then this marks the beginning of connection building. It will also improve your social relationship with your potential business partner. Chinese business is conducted at the dining table as much as in the boardroom.
However, Chinese business people will always expect you to drink with them, preferably Harju, a traditional wine, or Shacsing, red rice wine. These are both a part of every Chinese dinner menu. Sharing these drinks is one of the customs used to cement a relationship and express their intentions with you.
When you receive a Chinese business dinner invitation, you should be aware that there will be a lot of drinking going on and that Chinese businesspeople insist on getting you drunk. It is the custom in terms of solidifying the deal and making friends. The success, or otherwise, of a friendship in Chinese business can make or break you.
Traditional Chinese business dinner culture is so much different from ours, so you should brush up on what is expected, especially how you should behave where hierarchy is taken to a whole new level. It does not hurt to be aware of both the written and unwritten rules of Chinese business before you go make a fool of yourself at the dinner table.
How to survive Chinese business drinking culture
One of the first rules at a Chinese business dinner is that you do not lose face, as this is a kind of defeat. So if you are looking to drink less then simply saying ‘I have had enough’ to your host is a way of showing your male host he is a bigger man than you. He can hold his liquor better than you, but you have also shown that your host has provided for you well and that you have had all you can drink. In other words, he or she is a perfect host for filling you up with alcohol so well.
It is hard to avoid drinking completely, so just have a couple of drinks and remember to drink the same amount of water to stay hydrated. Remember to eat plenty, too, if you are drinking. Usually you will be served several small dishes so try them all and make sure you eat plenty of each. This will help you control the amount of alcohol you drink so you should not get as drunk.
The Chinese are very respectful, so if you are not able to drink for medical reasons, tell your host beforehand. You will not be looked at in the wrong way when you do not drink at the dinner later.
If you are driving, then of course you do not need to drink. Again, explain to your host beforehand that you can’t drink and drive or that you do not drink alcohol. If you do happen to tell your host that you never drink alcohol, then whenever you are with them you must stick to the no-drinking rule. You can’t not drink and then randomly decide to have a quick wine with them later.
If you are a smoker it can actually count in your favor! Use your habit to get out of excessive drinking. Say you will gladly have another drink with your host right after you have been out on the balcony to smoke. Invite them to join you and offer them one of your cigarettes.
You can always use the excuse that you need to call your partner or colleague so you have to go outside for a minute. Remember that the longer you go between drinks, the longer you will last. You will still give your Chinese dinner host the impression that he or she is offering you the best hospitality, so you are still getting in with the people you are trying to do business with.
The Yard Drinking Game at a Chinese Business Dinner
Drinking games involve various drinks as well as drinking equipment. A common game involves ‘yards’. A yard is a long, tall drinking container, that can hold up to two and a half pints of ale. This is the equivalent of around 1.4 liters. The name ‘yard’ refers to the imperial measurement, as it is one yard long. They resemble traditional light bulbs and are usually made of glass.
This particular drinking game is believed to have emerged in earlier times in England, and is thought to have been common at business parties. Ale is a kind of beer manufactured with malt that ferments along with the yeast. Yeast is usually used to kick start the fermentation of the beer. Preservatives are also added to make the beer last longer. Drinking games usually involve bitter drinks so the taste is an additional challenge for competitors. Thus, in the yard drinking game, the ale is the type of beer used.
The winner is the person who drinks the most beer from the yard of ale within the shortest time possible. Once a competitor stops drinking, he or she has to withdraw from the game. The yard is passed around until an ultimate winner – the one who can drink the most – is determined.
For safety, competitors are advised to refrain from driving after the competition. They should be driven home by a designated driver, someone sober or in a taxi. Cases where competitors collapse during a game, or soon after, should be treated as emergencies. Drinking on an empty stomach can be dangerous as beer is ingested more quickly into the body.
Two tips for competitors at a Chinese Business Dinner
Do not take in too many fluids before playing the yard of ale game. You should be able to take in as much beer as possible during the competition, but if you are already full of fluid you will probably drop out quickly. A yard should also be handled with care as the glass is fragile and can break easily. If the glass does break, the competition will move to a different spot to avoid cuts from glass fragments.