Let's Talk About Drinking in China: Laws, Culture, and More

Let's Talk About Drinking in China: Laws, Culture, and More

China has complex laws and regulations regarding producing, distributing, and consuming alcoholic beverages. Understanding the laws and regulations surrounding alcohol beverage consumption in China is crucial for anyone looking to enjoy a night out or participate in business or social events. 

This article will explore the legal framework of drinking in China, popular alcoholic drinks, and the country's unique drinking culture.

A brief history of the drinking age laws in China

The drinking age laws in China have a long and varied history.

In the early 20th century, there were no specific laws regarding the legal drinking age in China, and alcohol was widely available. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, alcohol consumption was discouraged as part of the government's campaign against "bourgeois" lifestyles.

However, in the 1980s, the legal drinking age was set at 18, and this law remains in effect today.

The legal drinking age in China is 18 years old, meaning it is illegal for individuals under 18 to purchase, possess, or consume alcoholic beverages. 

The government takes the issue of underage drinking seriously. It enforces the legal drinking age laws through fines and penalties for underage individuals who consume alcoholic beverages and businesses that serve alcoholic beverages to underage drinkers.

This legal drinking age regulation is not limited to alcoholic beverages alone but also includes non-alcoholic drinks that contain more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. Therefore, alcohol consumption among minors is strictly and completely prohibited in any form.

Underage drinking can have serious consequences, both legally and for one's health, so it is best for those under the age limit of 18 to abstain from drinking alcohol and wait until they reach the legal drinking age.

How are the drinking laws in China enforced?

Establishments that serve or sell alcohol to underage individuals can face serious consequences, including fines, license revocation, and even criminal charges from the Chinese government. 

Those caught drinking under the legal drinking age may face hefty fines, community service, or even have their parents held responsible.

The Chinese government recognizes the importance of preventing alcohol abuse among minors and has effectively implemented these measures to enforce drinking age laws. As such, it is essential for both establishments and individuals to comply with these laws and to promote responsible drinking habits.

Different countries have different laws regarding the minimum and legal drinking age. In China, the minimum legal drinking age is 18. The legal drinking age is 21 in the US. It is 18 or 19, depending on which Canadian province. And in Japan, the legal drinking age is 20.

While China's legal drinking-age limit of 18 is similar to other countries worldwide, there are still concerns about underage drinking and the potential negative effects that it can have on young people. As with any alcohol consumption, it is important to drink responsibly and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol consumption amongst youths in China

Alcohol consumption among Chinese youths has been a growing concern in recent years. Many studies suggest that many minors still drink alcohol. This trend is worrying, as underage drinking has negative consequences such as impaired judgment, accidents, and addiction.

One reason for underage drinking is a lack of awareness and education about the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Additionally, cultural attitudes towards alcohol may contribute to the issue, as many people in China view drinking as a way to socialize and bond with others. Feeling left out can make it difficult for young people to resist the temptation to drink, even if they are not legally allowed.

There have been efforts to strengthen the enforcement of the minimum drinking age laws and to provide more education and awareness around the risks of drinking alcoholic beverages. By promoting responsible drinking and increasing awareness of the potential risks of alcohol consumption, we can help to reduce the prevalence of underage drinking and ensure that young people stay safe and healthy.

How has the Chinese government managed to reduce alcohol consumption?

As with many countries, the consumption of alcoholic beverages has been linked to various health concerns, including liver disease, cancer, and other health issues. 

The Chinese government has also introduced a Liquor Licensing Act to regulate the consumption of alcoholic beverages. This act regulates the production, sale, and distribution of alcohol, with strict rules and penalties for those who violate them. Additionally, the government launched awareness campaigns to promote responsible drinking and discourage excessive consumption of alcohol.

In 2016, the Chinese government announced new regulations aimed at reducing alcohol consumption and addressing health concerns related to drinking. These regulations included restrictions on alcohol advertising, promoting alcoholic beverages, and limiting the number of liquor stores and bars operating in certain areas. 

Despite these efforts, alcohol consumption remains a significant health concern in China. The government continues to work towards promoting responsible drinking and addressing the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.

Most common alcoholic drinks in China

In China, alcohol is a big part of the drinking culture, with various alcoholic beverages.

Baijiu: the local firewater

Lumos’s baijiu

Baijiu by Grub Street

First up is baijiu–-the "firewater" of China. This liquor is considered China's national alcoholic drink and one of the most beloved alcoholic beverages among alcohol connoisseurs. 

Baijiu is a strong distilled liquor made from grains like rice, wheat, or corn. It's a staple at Chinese dinner parties and is often used to toast important occasions like weddings, business deals, or holidays.

This drink is known for its distinct aroma, ranging from floral to earthy to downright funky. Some people even compare the smell to a sweaty gym sock but don't let that deter you. Baijiu is also one of the strongest liquors, with alcohol content ranging from 40% to 60%. So, be careful not to overdo it!

If you want to try some baijiu for yourself, there are a few different types. For example, there is Maotai. Maotai is one of the most famous and expensive brands of baijiu, dating back over 2,000 years. Maotai has established a reputation for excellence in the niche market of baijiu liquor, becoming the most profitable distiller in the world and achieving a market value of $200 billion in 2019

Other popular brands include Wuliangye, Luzhou Laojiao, and Fenjiu.

Beer: the universal love

Beer is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in China that dates back to the early 20th century. Today, many local and international breweries are operating in China, producing various beers for consumers to enjoy.



Tsingtao beer by China Money Network

One of China's most well-known beer brands is Tsingtao, established in Qingdao in 1903 by German settlers. This beer has since become a symbol of Chinese beer culture and is exported to over 100 countries worldwide.

Snow Beer

Snow Beer-min

Snow Beer by Street Food Guy

Another popular Chinese beer brand is Snow Beer, a China Resources Snow Breweries product and a joint venture between SABMiller and China Resources Enterprise

Snow Beer is a light, refreshing lager that is affordable and easy to drink. It is particularly popular among young adults and is often served at social gatherings and parties.

The craft beer scene in China has also been on the rise in recent years. So a growing number of independent breweries have produced unique and innovative beers. Some popular craft breweries include Great Leap Brewing, Slow Boat Brewery, and Jing-A Brewing Co.

Beer consumption in China has declined recently as more consumers turn to wine, spirits, and other alcoholic beverages. 

Nonetheless, beer remains an important part of Chinese drinking culture, and there's no shortage of delicious brews to try while in the country.

Wine: a growing obsession

Traditional wine pots-min

Traditional wine pots in China by China Wine Competition

Wine has a long and fascinating history in China that dates back over 3,000 years to the Han dynasty. However, it was in the 1980s that the modern wine industry began to take shape in China, with the establishment of several large wineries and vineyards.

China is one of the fastest-growing wine markets in the world, with a growing number of domestic wineries producing high-quality wines for the Chinese market. The most popular Chinese wine brands include Grace Vineyard, Chateau Changyu, and Silver Heights.

In addition to domestic wines, China is also a major importer of foreign wines, particularly from France, Australia, and Chile. These wines are often considered premium products and are popular among wealthy consumers and collectors.

While wine is still a relatively new addition to Chinese drinking culture, it is becoming increasingly popular among younger consumers, particularly in urban areas. Wine is now the second most popular alcoholic beverage in China, after beer.

Here are also several other popular alcohols that you might be interested in.


This drink is a type of Chinese fermented rice wine with a long history in China. 

Huangjiu is often sweet and mellow and is typically served at room temperature or slightly warmed. It is a popular choice for drinking with meals or as an after-dinner drink.


Chinese yellow wine, or huangjiu, being poured into a cup, touch.shio


Another popular drink in China is mead, a wine made from fermented honey. 

Mead's long history in Chinese culture is often associated with traditional medicinal practices. It is typically sweet and refreshing and is sometimes flavored with herbs or spices.

Rice wine

Another popular alcoholic beverage in China is rice wine, which ferments glutinous rice with yeast and water. Rice wine is often clear and slightly sweet, with low alcohol content. 

It is commonly served at room temperature or slightly warmed and is a popular choice for drinking with meals or as a gift for special occasions. In some regions of China, rice wine is also used in traditional medicinal practices.

What is the drinking culture in China like?

The drinking culture in China is deeply rooted in social bonding and camaraderie. It is common to see friends, colleagues, and family members gather to share a drink or two while toasting each other with "ganbei" (bottoms up or cheers).

However, it's important to note that excessive drinking is frowned upon, and individuals are expected to know their limits.

Social drinking: drinking as a form of bonding

Social drinking is a popular pastime in China, and it is a great way to bond with friends and colleagues. There are plenty of opportunities to participate in social drinking, whether enjoying a cold beer after work or sharing a bottle of baijiu over dinner.

In informal settings, people toast each other with "ganbei" and enjoy lively conversation. Additionally, it's common to play drinking games, such as "beer pong" or "flip cup," which can add to the fun and excitement of the evening.

Business drinking: cheers to profit

Drinking culture in China is an important aspect of social etiquette, and it plays a significant role in business and networking. After-hours business interactions, such as dinner and drinking, are seen as a means of building relationships and establishing trust.

Business meetings and negotiations are often conducted over meals, and offering a toast is customary before the meal. Traditionally, refusing an invitation to drink is considered rude and could hinder an employee's relationship with their manager or ruin a business deal. 

Since some might abuse business drinking, there have been recent changes in many companies' policies prohibiting forced drinking in business settings.

The do's and don'ts of Chinese Drinking etiquette:

In formal settings, certain protocols must be followed.

Here are three do's and don'ts of drinking etiquette in China:


  • Offer a toast to the host or the most senior member at the table before drinking. This toast shows respect and appreciation for the hospitality.

  • Pour drinks for others before pouring your own, as it shows generosity and politeness.

  • Take small sips instead of chugging or gulping down the drink as it shows appreciation for the drink and avoids appearing too eager or disrespectful.


  1. Refuse a drink offered by a host or a senior member, as it can be considered impolite.

  2. Pour your drink before pouring drinks for others, as it can be seen as selfish or disrespectful.

  3. Leave an empty glass on the table. Refilling each other's glasses is customary in Chinese drinking culture. So, leaving an empty glass on the table can signify that you want to stop drinking with the group.

The drinking etiquette in China is about showing respect, generosity, and appreciation for the company and the drink. By following these do's and don'ts, you can navigate the cultural nuances of drinking in China with grace and ease. 

However, remember to pace yourself and know your limits, as it's important to always remain in control. Here is a funny but informational guide to Chinese drinking culture and etiquette:

 An Intense Chinese drinking culture guide, Mamahuhu

In closing: cheers to China

If you want to indulge in drinking alcohol during your time in China, make sure to drink responsibly, try some unique fermented beverages, and immerse yourself in the country's drinking culture for a truly memorable experience.

Jing You is a Chinese native who grew up in the Fujian province and soaked in the Chinese culture while living with her grandparents. She later moved to Singapore to pursue further education. However, she has always been passionate about the Mandarin language despite being in an environment that speaks English predominantly. She was involved in multiple Mandarin and Chinese culture programmes in schools, and brought this passion forward by tutoring elementary school students Mandarin in her adulthood.

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