We are in the Asian Century according to many economists, politicians, business people and conspiracists alike. Whether you want to believe that Asia is dominating the 21st-century, both culturally and politically, is up to you. What you cannot deny, however, is China’s ever expanding influence and consequent economic significance for many countries, including the U.S. and Europe.

It is arguable and I will argue, of course, that as China continues to grow economically and politically, it will also expand its cultural influence. If you’re thinking that China will do away with its cultural traditions of yesteryear and suddenly become a clone of western business culture, I must say my friend, you may be dead wrong!

China will cling on to its own approaches and ways of doing things and as it becomes increasingly economically powerful, any pressure for change may just diminish.

So what does this mean for everyone else?

Well, China has always been a market of interest for the larger corporations, and now mid-size companies have to consider expansion into geographic areas of which they have little, if any, knowledge. Along with crunching the numbers and prepping the financial reports, businesses need to also make a fervent effort to be culturally aware and engaged.

And they can start by familiarizing themselves with a Chinese saying that goes, “No social ties can be formed in the absence of alcohol.”

Alcohol has been the staple of business deals since the beginning of time; relationships are forged, intentions conveyed and many a deals struck, thanks to the help of liquid gold. But different cultures, do these transactions in different ways. With Chinese culture only projected to become more influential, business people should become more familiar with how the Chinese wine and dine. After all, first impressions mean everything!

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Courtesy of Agence France-Presse/Getty Images via WSJ

Rules for Drinking at Chinese Banquets (courtesy of EDDIE YATMING LAM of the Wall Street Journal)

  • Cheers! Only the host is allowed to make the first toast. At that time, all guests will raise their glasses – bottoms up. A guest should not be the first to propose a toast, since that would give the impression of stealing the limelight from the host and be disrespectful. After the first round of toasts, people may leave their seats to approach others to make a toast. For other guests, the first toast to be made away from their seat should be directed toward the highest-ranking person at the other company before raising a glass to other people at the banquet.
  • Bottoms Up! Clinking glasses means bottoms up. If you take the initiative to clink glasses with someone, you must finish the drink in your own glass. If your glasses don’t clink, you can drink whatever amount you wish.
  • Hey Boss!  If a superior proposes a toast to you, you should make sure the rim of your glass is lower than theirs when they clink your glass. If the superior downs their glass, you should do the same. Raise the glass with your right hand when toasting. To indicate greater respect, you can place your left hand at the bottom of the glass.
  • Let’s Bond! Although the purpose of a business dinner is to do business, you seldom talk about specifics at the table in China. Instead, it’s enough to touch on a topic in broad strokes, since more complicated matters are reserved for office time. This time is reserved for getting to know one another and bonding.
  • It’s Been Real! At the end of a banquet, the main host will propose a final drink and thank guests for attending. They will then gulp down their glass of alcohol and others will follow suit. Make sure you’re not holding an empty glass.
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