White-Collar Boozing Turns Deadly in China

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One Chinese official is dead and another is in a coma after bouts of excessive drinking, state media said Monday in a report highlighting the dangers of a drinking culture connected with government and business work.

Jin Guoqing, a district deputy director of water resources in Wuhan, the capital of central Hubei province, fell unconscious while entertaining guests at an official banquet last week and died on the way to the hospital, the official China Daily said.

Hospital records indicated the 47-year-old's excessive drinking triggered a fatal heart attack, the English-language newspaper said.

Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief in southern Guangdong province, fell into a coma after drinking heavily while having dinner with a local Communist Party chief. Lu was rushed to a hospital, where he remains unconscious, the paper said.

The two cases highlight the heavy ritualized role drinking plays in business and government circles in China. Bai jiu, the potent rice liquor, is a permanent presence at elaborate banquets, where "Gan bei," or "Bottoms up," is the official toast.

"Drinking with official guests or other officials at alcohol-soaked events is considered part of the job," Professor Li Changyan of Peking University was quoted as saying. Li said banquets are a mandatory exercise in welcoming VIPs and are usually covered by government funds.

He said government officials spend about 500 billion yuan ($73 billion) in public funds each year on official banquets, nearly one-third of the nation's expenses on dining out.

An official in Shandong was quoted as saying he would "lose face" if guests didn't get drunk, the newspaper said.

Attempts to control the excessive boozing have been largely unsuccessful. In Xinzhou District, where the water resources official worked, civil servants have been banned from drinking alcohol during lunch since 2005 but there are no restrictions during dinner.

Last year, a family planning official in central Hunan province died after drinking with fellow officials at a karaoke bar. He was posthumously awarded a merit award for dying "with honor."