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Ganbei culture killing officials
By Cui Jia (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-20 07:10

One official is dead and a second is in a coma after drinking excessive amounts of alcohol at boozy banquets.

Jin Guoqing, deputy director of water resources in Xinzhou district, Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, died following a dinner last week.

The 47-year-old had been entertaining official guests when he fell unconscious. He was rushed to hospital but his heart had already stopped beating, said medical staff.

Hospital records indicated Jin's excessive drinking had triggered a heart attack, which led to his death.

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Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief of Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, fell into a coma during a separate drinking session, local media reported.

Lu was having dinner with Zhong Li, Party secretary for Xuwen county, when he also had to be taken to the hospital after passing out, said the media report.

Professor Li Chengyan, of the school of government at Peking University, said ritualized drinking is deeply ingrained in the relationships between government officials.

"Drinking with official guests or other officials at alcohol-soaked events is considered part of the job," he said, adding that a banquet was a mandatory exercise to welcome VIPs and was usually covered by public funds.

Guo Shizhong, a family planning official from Xinyang, Hunan province, died of a brain hemorrhage on Feb 27 last year after an evening spent drinking with fellow officials at a karaoke bar.

Over-drinking contributed to his death, said a hospital report.

He was later recognized as an "Excellent Party Member" and posthumously handed a merit award for dying with "honor".

In Xinzhou district, where Jin Guoqing worked, civil servants have been banned since 2005 from drinking alcohol during lunch. But there is no such restriction for dinner.

"We are investigating whether Jin's dinner was paid for with public funds," said Zhang Qiusheng, from the district supervision bureau.

An official in Shandong province, who requested to remain anonymous, said: "We would lose face if we could not get our guests drunk. Refusing to drink is considered disrespectful.

"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."

They added some officials even hire secretaries who are heavy drinkers so they can be their "drinking assistant" and help consume the necessary alcohol.

"To ganbei each other, or make a toast, is a Chinese way of communication, it is a part of the culture," explained Li. "Officials are used to sealing deals and making decisions at dinner tables."

The culture is also wasting taxpayers' money, he said, adding that on average officials spend about 500 billion yuan ($73 billion) a year in public funds on banquets, almost a third of the nation's spending on dining out.

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