Chinese Drinking Culture 101

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Chinese Culture

Chinese Drinking Culture 101 | That's Mandarin Blog
Living in China, you’ve probably already had a chance to drink with your Chinese friends, colleagues, or classmates. Drinking is such an integral part of Chinese culture (as it is of many cultures, really!), and it traces back thousands of years.
How much do you know about the drinking culture in China?

In this week’s post, let’s look at some key aspects of it 🍶

Chinese Drinking Culture | That's Mandarin Blog

The ‘Alcohol’ Character

First, let’s take a look at the character that represents wine and liquor in Chinese.
Chinese Liquor 酒 | That's Mandarin Blog

jiǔ

wine; spirits; liquor; alcoholic beverage

It’s made of two parts:
氵on the left, the “water” radical;
酉 on the right, “wine vessel”.

Quite descriptive, isn’t it?

NOTE: When used on its own, the word 酒 (jiǔ) usually refers to hard liquors and rice wine. It doesn’t refer to beer or wine, which go by their own, more specific names:
啤酒 Beer | That's Mandarin Blog

啤酒

píjiǔ
beer

Wine 葡萄酒 | That's Mandarin Blog

葡萄酒

pútaojiǔ
wine

Alcohol in China

01. Origins of 酒

A long time ago, Chinese people started making and consuming alcohol during ritual gatherings.

How long ago was it? Up to 9000 years ago!

Since it was way before any recorded history, this assumption came from extracted pottery. Reseachers discovered early beers in the area of modern China, made by the neolithic peoples from rice, honey and grapes.

02. Evolution of 酒

Since then, alcohol has become a staple for Chinese families during family celebrations and ceremonies, to honor ancestors and gods, and for medical purposes. Some types of Chinese liquor are also used in cooking.

And of course, today, just like in most parts of the world, Chinese people drink alcohol to celebrate a memorable occasion, to socialize, or simply to compliment a nice meal.

Chinese Drinking Etiquette | That's Mandarin Blog

03. When Do People Drink?

Different types of Chinese liquor (depending on their strength) can be consumed at dinner or lunch. Normally Chinese wouldn’t drink on an empty stomach, so alcohol is consumed with meals.

04. Hot or Cold?

Chinese 酒 (jiǔ) can be warmed up before drinking. Warming it up will allow you to appreciate its aromas more, without losing too much alcohol. The temeratures vary based on type (and also on your preferences), but the average is somewhere between 30 to 50 degrees Celsius.

05. Drinking Etiquette

Volumes have been written on Chinese dining and drinking etiquette. We’ve summarized some tips on our blog before. If you are drinking with Chinese business partners or colleagues, here are a few general tips to be aware of:

BEGINNING

It’s best not to start drinking on your own, and wait for others to give a toast first.

TOASTING

If you wish to deliver a toast, do so while standing and holding a cup with both hands.

HOLDING THE GLASS

Make sure you hold your cup lower than the cup of your host. It’s a sign of respect and gratitude.

Common Types of Chinese Alcohol

Alcohol 酒 | That's Mandarin Blog

米酒

mǐjiǔ
rice wine

黄酒

huángjiǔ
huangjiu; mulled rice wine
(lit. “yellow wine”)

白酒

báijiǔ
baijiu
(lit. “white wine”)

马奶酒

mǎnǎijiǔ
kumis
(lit. “horse milk wine”)

药酒

yàojiǔ
medicinal liquor; medicine wine

Of course, this list can go on and on! There are more regional types of 酒, such as osmanthus-scented wine and Tibetan highland barley wine, as well as variations within each category.

A Little Less Conversation…

It’s much more interesting to try Chinese wine than to talk about it!

That is why we are so much looking forward to our next event — Chinese Wine Tasting night!

It’s going to be one of those perfect autumn nights when the weather’s getting chilly enough to warm ourselves up with a drink. We’re going to try 4 different types of Chinese wine, including some unique flavors.

For more details, visit the event page:

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