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China keeps trying to ban officials from drinking

Officials in Guizhou latest to be told they can’t booze at work anymore

Guizhou is the latest province in China to institute a ban on official alcohol purchases for government employees, the move being particularly notable as Guizhou is the home of the country’s grandest baijiu company, Maotai.

The ban extends to all government employees, whether civil servants or the staff of state-owned enterprises, and covers all working hours, including lunch, as well as officially sponsored functions (though organizers of functions can apply to have a limited amount of alcohol at appropriate events).

Currently, a national ban puts expensive liquors off-limits, aimed at eliminating the decade banquets and boozy bribes that Chinese officials are in famous for: In 2009, academics estimated that around 500 billion RMB of public funds were being spent on alcohol each year.

Extravagance at the dinner table was among the first targets of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corrupt officials, which has since extended to other vices and wayward industries.

The culture of drinking among officials has long been a pretty serious health problem, as alcohol has been institutionalized as a way of schmoozing, bonding, and earning promotions. From time to time, officials die after a hard day at the bar. One ban in Anhui, for example, was instituted after several overeager officials keeled over from alcohol poisoning, one of several such bans attempted around the country, to varying levels of effectiveness.

Most just apply to officials, but some local governments have attempted to push things much further. Dulongjiang township in Yunnan mooted a plan to ban booze entirely, for everyone—the suggestion was withdrawn after the public objected to an enforced teetotaler lifestyle for all.

The bans have made their way to drinking on television, with China’s morality campaigns determined to instill virtue and Party loyalty by outlawing depictions of drinking.

Perhaps the most severe bans have been within the military. Concerned at the amounts spent on booze, as well as high rates of liver disease and other alcohol-related problems among senior military personnel, the government has instituted alcohol bans on the People’s Liberation Army, which has, like most militaries, a strong drinking culture.


Cover image from CGTN


David Dawson is the former deputy editor of The World of Chinese.

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