In recent decades, the Chinese expression of hospitality, gānbēi (bottoms up), has grown to extremes at business banquets. The ability to finish your glass of alcohol has become an important skill for success. In the job market, some companies even test applicants on drinking ability and prefer to employ those with a high tolerance for alcohol.
What can dramatically improve a Chinese business relationship (guānxì) during time spent at a dinner table? Drinking. Libation can also energize the atmosphere during dinners. With the help of alcohol, people tend to drop their defenses and speak to each other honestly. That’s when people get closer and a deal is made. Generally speaking, Chinese admire aggressive drinkers. Good drinkers have an advantage in getting what they want.
If the attendees at a dinner table are from the same company, organization or department, it’s time to test a leader’s power, employee loyalty and even personalities. In a country which values the ethics of hierarchy and order, this kind of test is taken serious.
Refusing to drink is considered a loss of face for the boss. How you make the right move between drinking and retreating will reveal character, and a leader often assigns different responsibilities to employees based on their drinking performance. In The Chinese Way, a book by Min Ding and Jie Xu, an experienced business owner explained which type of work should be assigned to which type of drinker:
“Those who always fight to make the first toast … are most suited for the public relations department; those who insist on not drinking, show that they adhere to principles, and are suitable for accounting and financial work; those who are willing to show their loyalty by drinking a lot, even at the expense of hurting their bodies are those I can count on; those who find excuses not to drink when they, in fact, can drink, I will not give them important responsibilities, as they will find excuses to retreat during a critical stage of the business; those who drink more than they should and ‘tell the truth’ also cannot be relied on for important things, as they do not have self-control and may likely leak important information during business negotiations.”