Apr 04, 2012

Recently, I met a young Chinese gentleman at a World Trade Center event. After trading emails for a month or so, he agreed to submit some articles for the blog. What he has to say will give you further insights into the Chinese business culture.

So here’s his first post:

Guanxi, Alcohol, and China’s Business Culture
by Zhizhou Zhu

In China, binge drinking has played an important role in business networking. It is not
rare that a person can build their career on their ability to drink.

One of my friends, Mr Zhu, who works as a government official, used to drink a lot until
one time he was so drunk that he had to be hospitalized. He was not a party
animal, and quite to the contrary, he drank because he was serious about his
career. He didn’t get drunk at a private party, but at dinner with his boss and
colleagues.

In China, social networking often takes the form of having dinner together at a
roundtable and drinking Baijiu, an alcoholic drink which is notorious for its
high alcohol content. There are basic rules in drinking at dinner: 1st,
there are two group toasts at the beginning and ending of the dinner; 2nd,
you need to make 1-to-1 toast to show your respect to the one you toast; 3rd,
you have to drink when you are toasted; 4th, the more you drink, the
more integrity you are presenting.

Also, there are some other rules in drinking. People with higher position or social status
always have privileges when they drink. One example is that they can keep
sitting when others have to stand to drink with them. Also they don’t need to drink as much. This has rendered young people a big disadvantage at their early stage of their
career. They have to drink a lot when having dinner with their bosses to show that they are trustworthy and respectful. Another rule is that ladies also enjoy privileges when drinking. In the Chinese tradition, drinking is more of a masculine activity. So ladies
don’t need to drink as much as men do, and men have to drink a lot when toasted
by a lady to demonstrate their gallantry. This gives ladies who are capable of
drinking a huge advantage in the business world. Sometimes these ladies are
treated as “secret weapons” for social networking, due to their ability to make
men drink and ease the atmosphere.

You will be surprised how these drinking traditions could actually work out in terms of
social networking. In the Chinese business world, “treating someone to dinner” often implies that you have a favor to ask someone or a business deal to discuss with someone. People would be much more willing to talk when they are at dinner and drinking in a
friendly and atmosphere. It is often the case that people are more connected as they are getting drunk. With the friendly conversation full of friendly jokes going on, some of the business deals could get settled unofficially.

All the drinking traditions have featured the Chinese culture of harmony and hierarchy.
Chinese people love to build relationships and make friends. “Guanxi”, the
Chinese word for “relationship”, is of tremendous importance in the Chinese business
world. The majority of the deals are done by building relationships, one way of which is through having dinner and binge drinking, and cold calls could hardly, if not never, work in China. However, though this culture of “building relationships and making friends” may sound great, it has been a pain in many people’s eyes. Social unfairness and corruption are often caused by the improper usage of “Guanxi”. Even people who are using “Guanxi” sometimes hate what it takes to build them – drinking Baijiu excessively, which is almost pure ethanol, is not pleasant.