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Traditional Chinese Drinking Games

Drinking may be leisurely fun to most of us, but in ancient China, booze was serious business. And this applied to the drinking games as well. A far cry from swigging every time Homer exclaims “D’oh!,” some of these contests were so involved that intellectuals had to study literature and pass exams before they’d even […]

01·11·2010

Traditional Chinese Drinking Games

Drinking may be leisurely fun to most of us, but in ancient China, booze was serious business. And this applied to the drinking games as well. A far cry from swigging every time Homer exclaims “D’oh!,” some of these contests were so involved that intellectuals had to study literature and pass exams before they’d even […]

01·11·2010

Drinking may be leisurely fun to most of us, but in ancient China, booze was serious business. And this applied to the drinking games as well. A far cry from swigging every time Homer exclaims “D’oh!,” some of these contests were so involved that intellectuals had to study literature and pass exams before they’d even be allowed at the table.

In one popular literary drinking game, or yaling (雅令), a “supervisor” would offer a line of poetry, setting down a pattern or rhyme for the others to follow. His drunk buddies then continued the composition on the spot, keeping this exquisite corpse alive. He who missed a line, and lost the rhyme, paid the fine, then drank some wine. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.) Other stewed scholarly games involved tipsy riddles, couplets, tongue twisters, and a terrible assortment of competitions of cleverness.

But the uneducated masses weren’t entirely left out in the cold: popular drinking games, or tongling (通令), are an equally ancient tradition. Unlike the snobbish yaling, these accessible inebriators continue to be played in parks and pubs across China today. The most commonly seen are finger guessing, dice rolling, and the good old reliable “Rock-paper-scissors.”

Finger guessing is fast, loud, and fun. Two drinkers each throw out a handful of fingers simultaneously, while shouting a number from zero to ten. If one of the drinkers somehow guesses the sum of fingers on show, they win, and the other takes a quaff. If both guess right, or, more likely, neither does, the game goes on. In anticipation of a late night, one rule states that the fool that shouts a number lower than the fingers they’ve actually shown is immediately due for a drink. To spice up the rowdy game, players can’t simply shout numbers. They have to toss out a pleasant-sounding, poetic phrase, instead. “Two springs, reflecting the moon!” “Three stars, hanging high!” “Eight immortals, across the sea!” A different Homer would have been proud.

Probably the most popular tongling alive today, though, is the dice rolling game seen everywhere. The rules vary, but a common version involves two drinkers and ten dice. Each drinker rolls five dice in a cup, upturning it, then peeking at the total. One may see he’s showing a trio of threes, so could claim, heartily, “I’d bet there are four threes showing.” The other drinker sneaks a peek at his own five dice, and responds with a total that is higher. “Four? Hah! You sot! I’d bet there are six threes showing!” When the betting is done, there’s a full reveal, and a resulting quaff.

With all this tasking focus involved, we’re confused about how there can be drinking as well. Especially when that drink often happens to be baijiu. Now that’s a challenge.

  • drinking games hējiǔ yóuxì 喝酒游戏
  • cheers gānbēi 干杯
  • beer píjiǔ 啤酒
  • grain alcohol báijiǔ 白酒
  • Know any good drinking games? Nǐ zhīdào shénme hǎowán de hējiǔ yóuxì ma? 你知道什么好玩的喝酒游戏吗?
  • How many beers can you drink? Nǐ néng hē jǐpíng píjiǔ? 你能喝几瓶啤酒?
These guys are pros at getting drunk, and poetry, but mostly just the drunk thing.