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Wofford College

Publication Date

Spring 2016

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


The habits and attitudes surrounding the consumption of alcohol, in any culture, are just another lens through which we can look to better understand social life. The hierarchical social systems in China, which dictate common behavior, are unique. Much work has been written on the topic of guanxiand face: the defining factors for China’s ubiquitous, self-affirming system of relationships. Drinking culture is perhaps more interesting to travel bloggers than academics, but I believe that China’s drinking culture is a direct practice in guanxi production. The darker side of China’s drinking culture is anexercise in preserving face.

The gap in the literature is somewhere between editorial pieces aimed at businessmen, advising them the develop an iron liver before opening up shop in the Middle Kingdom, and broader studies in health, where authors are frustrated by a lack of reliable information. My procedures included active participant observation in alcohol-infused social settings, guided and unguided interviews of people of many age, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds, and the analysis of several books and studies about the purpose of drinking alcohol in modern China.

My results are that the extravagance and extremity of Chinese drinking culture both come from and are reinforced by the cultural practice of preserving face and guanxi. This project became a critique of systematic inefficiency. I conclude that the system perpetuates willful ignorance over problem solving in areas ranging from mental health to corruption. However, there is hope for change in the younger generations.


Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Business | Mental and Social Health | Political Science | Public Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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