Binge drinking part of a day's work for China officials

Mon Jul 20, 2009 3:06am EDT
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BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - For many bureaucrats in China, getting drunk is part of the job, sometimes causing death and wasting public funds, a state newspaper said as authorities try to crackdown on the deeply ingrained bingeing culture.

Many government officials are required to offer to their guests and other officials large amounts of alcohol as part of entertaining them at public functions.

They are also required to drink a lot too as part of the "ganbei" culture of toasting one another with liquor.

"Drinking with official guests or other officials at alcohol-soaked events is considered part of the job," Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University, was quoted as saying by The China Daily newspaper on Monday.

"It will be extremely difficult to change the drinking culture among Chinese officials unless the government clearly legislates against such behavior," he added.

The newspaper cited several instances when officials have died due to illnesses caused by heavy drinking. One official who died after a drunken session at a karaoke bar was later recognized as "excellent party members" and posthumously handed a merit award for "dying with honor."

The paper also said the drinking culture has also resulted in a huge waste of taxpayer money, with around 500 billion yuan ($73 billion) a year in public funds spent on official banquets.

But despite the health risks, the tradition of drinking heavily with VIPs, guests and colleagues is hard to shake.

"We would lose face if we could not get our guests drunk. Refusing to drink is considered disrespectful," the paper quoted an unnamed official as saying.

"Neither my guests nor I want to get drunk but we have to play under the unspoken rule, which has been around for so long. We don't know how to do business otherwise."

(Reporting by James Pomfret, editing by Miral Fahmy)