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Primed and pickled to toast new friends


THE mainland's English-language China Daily is not known for its startling insights.

But an article last week by staff writer Kang Bing entitled ''Chinese Social Drinking Primer'' revealed people in large tracts of China are pickling themselves in strong drink.

In icy Harbin ''a drinking contest with the locals can mean downing a dozen bottles or more'' of baijiu or white spirits.

Some residents can apparently get through 24 bottles in two hours, the article claims, making us wonder if it is anti-freeze they are quaffing.

In Yunnan and Guizhou they are also ''heavy drinkers'' with inhabitants chewing red chilli peppers while drinking.

Even if foreigners don't eat the chillis, the article warns they should be careful about joining the locals for toasting. Three toasts in a row is said to be lucky - with the baijiu thrown back in a single gulp - and departing from the standard form is deemed unfriendly.

''Only three toasts in a row can best convey your goodwill to your new friends.'' The next thing you know your fellow sots will be telling you ''how much they admire your jiuliang [drinking ability]'' after the toasts.

''You are wrong, however, if you think it is the end of the drinking. In fact, what you have already drunk is merely the prelude,'' it adds ominously.

''As bottles pile up, drinkers, both the persuaders and the persuaded, begin to sink under the table.

''Victims are carried back to the hotel by the stumbling survivors.'' It is a pity Governor Chris Patten has had to cut back on his booze consumption because of his heart.

The goodwill engendered by one night's gargling baijiu with Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping could see the row over the new airport and his democracy reforms settled by dawn.