Top 10 drinking myths, legends and ancient rituals

Ganbei – China

Anyone that has travelled to China in either a social or professional capacity is likely to have come across the drinking custom of ‘ganbei’ at some point, which loosely translates as “dry your cup”.

The tradition sees a host toast their guests by raising a glass with the expectation that they would then down their glass, whether it be filled with a powerful baijiu or Chateau Petrus. To refuse is a sign of disrespect, which in a business setting can mean the difference between securing or losing a deal.

The problem comes when ganbei is not limited to the odd toast, but several, with participants known to drink extraordinary amounts of booze in order to save face.

In 2016, an official from China’s Henan Province drank himself to death after a bout of heavy drinking at lunch. The official, named as Lei Mingkui, head of a local food and drug safety bureau, was rushed to a hospital after “feeling severely sick” at a lunch banquet with other officials but was declared dead shortly afterwards.

The report said Lei and three other officials drank two kilograms of alcohol. The type of alcohol was not specified but China’s sorghum liquor baijiu is a favourite at official banquets.

Chinese officials have been known to bring assistants with them in order to respectfully ganbei on their behalf, avoiding the need to drink copious amounts of alcohol themselves to appease their hosts.

Despite being a long-held custom, ganbei culture is now diminishing. Speaking to dbHK on ganbei culture 15 years ago, senior winemaker at Australia’s Katnook Estate, Wayne Stehbens, said: “At various times during the meal, and quite regularly, somebody would stand up and raise a toast or a cheer and you would be expected to drink your glass in its entirety. Now it’s quite acceptable to have a mouthful, whereas once upon a time that was seen as disrespectful.”

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