Doing business in China, and much of Asia, can often involve a lunch or dinner banquet, with great food, drink, and lots of toasting. It’s about spending time together and building trust and the relationship. Some of the events thrown by firms or hosts on our behalf in China may have this element. In China, the celebratory poison of choice is usually the famous maotai (discussed in this Wall Street Journal article) — a fiery sorghum-based liquor made famous primarily by Nixon and Mao at their historic summit and toasts of “friendship” in the 1970s when Nixon came to China. Again, a big art of this banquet and sociological ritual is celebratory and to relax, part social to strengthen relationships, and in some cases part of the game is to get you on your heels through alcohol consumption so you are not thinking clearly and concede or disclose things you should not in a business deal. Having said that, and as I already pointed out in your FAQ document and reiterate here, I want you to remember the following things about China, this drink and such events:
1. Mautai is really, really strong and not for the meek. It looks like water, yet will knock you on your behind faster than you can blink. Men and women far bigger and stronger than you or me have been toppled by this stuff.
2. One of the oldest tricks in the book in China is for your host to drink water, while he/she toasts you time and time again as you are toasting with mautai. Don’t fall for this. While sometimes your host might do this to gain advantage (see above), it may also be the case that this is the 5th banquet your host has attended that week as part of the normal and regular course of doing business in China and to keep their own health in order they may choose to drink water but look/act like they are drinking mautai with you out of respect.
3. This is a business, not a party trip. What you do on your own time is up to you, but make good, safe choices and decisions. When/if you go out on your own, non-class time, never, ever get drunk in China (or anywhere you travel for that matter!). You will make bad decisions and you make yourself a target to be robbed or somehow taken advantage of. Even on your own time, don’t embarrass Cal Poly, the MBA program or the USA. Also, if you do, for example, go “clubbin” at night on your own time after class is dismissed and drink too much, remember that you still gotta get out of bed the next day, ON TIME, for that day’s activities — nobody gets to take a day off or “sleep in” on this trip.
4. If you don’t drink, no problem. No need to start now at such events. Just politely decline and toast your host using your tea, coke or water!
5. If you do try mautai, don’t mix it with beer. If you do so you will get as sick as you ever have been.
6. Re-read and follow rules 1 through 5 above.