If you’ve ever drank baijiu or other Chinese alcohol in a social or business setting with Chinese people, you’ve probably heard the word “ganbei” as some point. Depending on how many drinks you’ve already had and where you were in China, you may have heard this brief phrase belted out or yelled boisterously by one of your Chinese associates. In an earlier article, “How Drinking Beer Can Better Your Factory Relationships“, we delved into socializing with factory management and staff but left out this important custom.? Have no fear. If you were feeling a little bewildered as you’re friends or colleagues were shouting “ganbei!”, we’re here to fill you in and clear up any confusion surrounding the custom.
Literally, gānbēi (干杯) means “dry cup”, or to drink a toast, in Mandarin Chinese. Ganbei is the Chinese equivalent of the English “cheers” but with slightly different implications. This is a behavior often seen when Chinese people have meals for social and business purposes. On such occasions, you’ll often see one person toasting to another, drinking up whatever he has, and then persuading that person to finish their drink as well. Then the person who accepts the toast will try his best to drink up, though he might already feel drunk. This is because of the culture behind ganbei: the more you drink, the more respect you show to the other person, no matter if you are toasting or being toasted. This is a custom deeply rooted in Chinese culture.
Ganbei – Past and Present
An in-depth academic paper could be written on the subject, exploring the history of why ganbei matters so much for businesses in China. For the purposes of keeping this article breif, we’ll limit it the relevant points. Ganbei can often be an inevitable part of doing business in China, though it may not sound like a pleasant experience to some. You may have heard that most business in China involves meeting for drinks. This is no exaggeration. Of course, it’s important to conduct your business in a professional setting. Nevertheless, a dinner with your business partners and factory representatives can boost your relationship with them. In turn, your improved relationship can bring real progress to your projects. This is especially true when you show your respects by drinking a lot, and even getting drunk. The practice dates back to ancient times when emperors rewarded their subordinates a drink the subordinates always drank up to show their loyalty and respect. Interestingly, people seldom actually discuss business at the start of drinking and eating – it only happens when everyone is slightly drunk and the atmosphere is cheerful and loose. To that end, the phrase “酒后事半”, roughly translating to “business is half done after drinking”, is widely acknowledged and understood by Chinese people.
5 Pro Tips for Ganbei
With the history and cultural relevance of the practice in mind, below are some practical tips when drinking with Chinese businessmen:
- Never tell others how much you can drink. Keep it a secret!
- Don’t discuss business right away, no matter how much you want to.
- Remember to toast to elderly people and superiors first.
- Say something pleasant when making a toast.
- When raising glasses, try to lower the top of your glass below that of the person with which you’re drinking. This is a sign of reverence.