Boosting their CVs

LI JUN, a construction worker from Shandong, sips a large bottle of Yanjing beer as he squats on the pavement and shares a lunchtime bag of noodles with a colleague. On such a hot day the beer quenches his thirst, he says; the alcohol will not affect his work because he is resting while he drinks. Many of his fellow workers are also enjoying a bottle.

Awareness of the effects of alcohol is extremely low in China. For centuries people enjoyed booze at celebrations, but few drank regularly. As incomes have shot up over the past 35 years, alcohol consumption has accelerated. Average annual consumption rose from 2.5 litres of pure alcohol in 1978 to 6.7 litres in 2010. Nearly 70% of that is spirits.

Until recently social norms favoured moderate consumption. Most people quaffed only with meals; solitary boozing was rare. Few women drank and young Chinese mostly abstained. Biology encouraged moderation, too. About a third of the population finds it hard to metabolise alcohol. Those affected rarely drink.

Consumption still looks tame by international standards. Intake per person is around half that of Germany or France, according to the World Health Organisation. But the countrywide statistics hide a grimmer picture. More than half the Chinese population is teetotal. Those who do drink often do so to great excess. Male Chinese drinkers down far more than Japanese ones, and almost as much as notoriously sozzled British, Australian or Irish boozers. Binge-drinking is prevalent and high-risk drinking has reached “epidemic proportions” in China, reckons Hao Wei of Central South University in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.

In China drinking with clients and colleagues is now seen as vital to career advancement; some job adverts even call for “good drinking capacity”. One study found that civil servants had a far higher incidence of alcohol-related liver diseases than the population at large (the higher the rank, the worse their health prospects)…Read the rest of this article on The Economist

From the print edition: China