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Chinese Execs Boozing Their Way to Middle Management

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Binge drinking is on the rise in China, reports Tania Branigan of the Guardian.

"If I drink, it doesn't necessarily help me get promoted. But if I don't, it's less likely that I will be. So I must drink, even if it's not pleasant at all," Peter Chi, a "respectable head teacher in his 40s" who "feels he has little choice but to indulge -- or risk harming his career."

Writes Branigan:

In fact, some job adverts explicitly demand applicants who can hold their alcohol. "Candidates with good drinking capacity will be prioritised," says one for the Hunan Zhike Public Security Engineering Company, an alarms and surveillance technology firm that is seeking a business manager.

"The job is to develop business through establishing closer connections with our clients. Drinking is a big part of the work," explains the recruiter, adding that the successful candidate will need to handle 250 to 500ml of baijiu at a time.

The inextricable link between business and booze was on full display last November, when four young men were interviewed for a sales job in Chongqing.

"Eager to impress the boss, they competed in drinking more alcohol," the story on ChinaHush.com read. "In the end they were wasted. At first, they just sat on the ground chatting, but soon three of them lied down and passed out. The fourth guy leaned against a telephone pole, standing unsteadily, occasionally muttered some words out his mouth and shivered non-stop."



"2 of them slept while hugging each other and their backpacks," the account continued. "One other guy made a letter 't'".



Chinese businesswoman Jenny Zhu explains, for the uninitiated:

Destructive drinking isn’t really a college thing here as it is an indispensable social ritual among mature, grown up men. They drink not for the thrill of getting wasted, but to show that they are trustworthy and upright. Yes, drinking excessively is a respectable quality here. We have this word (酒品), which combines the word for alcohol (é…’) and the word for personal integrity (人品). The result is a concept which glorifies drinking and associates it with one’s dignity.

Business dinners in China are the most prominent display of our die-hard drinking culture. Even if you can’t drink, you need to drink to give your business partner face and respect, and also to show him that you are honest and trustworthy by putting your life on the line and drinking more than you are capable of. It’s not uncommon to find people whose entire career is built on their ability to drink. But of course not everyone in China abides by the same rule. The drinking culture in Shanghai for example is a lot more moderate. But that’s also why people from Shanghai are often the subject of ridicule at dinner tables.

Apparently, manipulation and deceit are all part of the fun. One expat living in Beijing describes a business dinner he attended in 2005:

I observed various other forms of duplicity, including toasting beer against brandy; diluting beer with water; toast deflection (finding someone more worthy of a toast than you -- this often victimized the women) and, the coup de grace, one Japanese executive actually pretending to be passed out at the table. He somehow managed a miraculous recovery when it was time to walk to the bus.

Not everyone recovers by the time they settle in for the ride home. In January, a Chongqing (what is it with this town?) steel products salesman "had so much to drink... that he started to chew his cell phone -- even going so far as to swallow its SIM card -- when police intervened over him being drunk on board a public bus."

From China Daily:

Fellow passengers said the man spoke nonsense from his seat, before falling over and acting crazy as the vehicle passed through a roundabout in the city's Shapingba district.

The bus driver reported the incident to the police. When three officers boarded the bus, they found the man in a drunken state, yelling that his belongings were missing.

After they located his cell phone under his seat and passed it to him, he started to bite on the phone and chew its SIM card, forcing the officers to retrieve it from his mouth with their fingers.

Some of his colleagues who were summoned to collect him explained to the police that he had been entertaining clients and had too much to drink.

Alas, it appears impossible to decouple alcohol and doing business in the Middle Kingdom.

Writing for the Inter Press Service, Mitch Moxley says that "failure to participate can be a sign of disrespect and drinking is very much part of networking, making contacts and sealing deals."

Moxley points to a case of a chronically overserved fellow who just couldn't keep up the pace.

"I had to retire early not because I did not do my job well, but because I did it too well!" wrote Long Bowen, a former government official, in an article published on the Communist Party of China News Net. Long, once a promising basketball player, retired after a physical examination revealed he was suffering from diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and ascites, excess fluid in the space between the tissues lining the abdomen and abdominal organs.

"My body was getting too weak because of all those years of ‘good work,’" he wrote.

Then, there are those who don't have the good sense to know when to call it quits.

Last year, UN undersecretary general for economic and social affairs Sha Zukang took to the stage to make a few remarks at a cocktail party during a retreat for senior officials in the Alps.

Foreign Policy magazine describes what followed as "degenerat[ing] into an intoxicated rant against the United Nations, the United States, and his boss."

Sha grabbed the mic and said that even though the "wine affected me a little … I want to say something that's on my mind," one attendee recalled.

"I know you never liked me Mr. Secretary-General -- well, I never liked you, either," Sha began.



Sha also turned his ire on Bob Orr, an American senior official in attendance, pointing to him and saying, "I really don't like him: He's an American and I really don't like Americans."

"It was a tribute gone awry," said another attendee. "It went on for about ten or fifteen minutes but it felt like an hour."

Of course, sometimes cooler heads prevail -- even after a long baijiu session.


The devil baijiu...

Last month, a group of co-workers were out for a meal with their boss, when, after the meal, he declared himself too drunk to drive and "and suddenly realised nobody had stayed sober enough to drive his car."

The executive, reported news service Ananova, "did not want to leave his car downtown and it was too late to call out a substitute driver -- so vice president Huang Weiyun suggested they all push him home."

Like any good company man, Huang "pointed out that it was only three miles away and that the exercise would do them all good."

The ten of them "quickly agreed" and "set off with Zhang at the wheel" of the car, which was not running, so as to avoid a drunk-driving charge.



Not the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon, but that's the price of doing business in China.

And besides, they were drunk.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.

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