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Rice wine and fieldwork in China

Rice wine and fieldwork in China

Jonathan Sullivan18 Apr 2014Leave a comment

Written by Nicholas Loubere.

In China, social networking in both the professional and private spheres is usually achieved through group meals or banquets. Drinking is often an important element of these social events as a means of showing respect and friendship. Researchers who wish to conduct in-depth fieldwork in China need to engage with this social practice and, ultimately, the choices that researchers make while navigating the Chinese drinking culture during fieldwork have important implications for the design, implementation and outcome of research, as well as for research ethics.

As anyone who has spent time in China can attest, the most common way to make new social connections, strengthen old ties, or simply spend time with family and friends is through group meals. When first entering a fieldwork site in China, researchers will invariably be required to spend a significant amount of time attending meals with potential research subjects and gatekeepers. Heavy drinking is frequently a prominent feature of these meals, with the customary drink being a strong rice wine (40% alcohol or higher) known as baijiu. Throughout the meal toasts are given and attendees are then expected to drink an entire glass of rice wine (ganbei) in order to show friendship and respect.

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