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The Art of Toasting in China

The long-standing Chinese culture of toasting

· Chinese Elegance

Just a few days ago, the arrival of the Dragon Boat Festival brought Qu Yuan back to the public eye. Qu Yuan's works are not only a metaphorical satire of the faint dynasty, but also a lyrical portrayal of the joy of drinking wine.

Chinese way of toasting has a long history. For thousands of years, Chinese wine culture has been closely intergrated with rituals and celebrations into table manners. Over time, a cultural system as well as a drinking custom has slowly formed.

This week, let's learn more about toasting, an integral part of Chinese dining etiquette!

History of Toasting

The history of toasting in China is a matter of many different opinions. Some form of toasting has existed in the oldest historical records, which can be traced back to the pre-Qin period and mostly called "offering". 

In the Rites of Passage - Yan Yi, it is stated that the Zai Fu(i.e., the host of the banquet) should follow the ritual of offering wine first to the superior hierarchy ranks and then to the inferior.

Additionally, a propose to toast is not only to the individual, but to the earth beneath the feet, in gratitude for the virtue of the earth's nurturing.

When to Toast?

Generally speaking, the toast can uplift the whole atmosphere of a banquet. The degree of formality of the toast depends on the occasion and the size of the party. However, whether it is a formal toast or an ordinary one, the timing is always essential, with the guideline of not interrupting the guests' meal.

In a formal toast, the host needs to propose a toast in terms of showing his/her respect to the guests. It usually begins after the guests have been seated or before the meal. A normal toast can begin after then, but careful attention should be paid to whether the person is toasting with others, or if he/she is eating.

Before toasting with others, wait until someone of higher status than yourself has toasted before you, especially in a wedding ceremony or formal business party. Besides, it is better to avoid drinking alone, without toasting with other guests.  

How to Toast?

Influenced by Confucianism, the modern culture of toasting is generally based on age, position, and status of the guest and host.

However it may be difficult to distinguish the positions and identities of the guests seated in some business banquets. At this point, an uniform order of toast can be followed. For example, you can start toasting in the clockwise direction of the round table. 

When the host proposes a toast at the banquet, the guests are supposed to also raise their glasses in greeting with their right hands, and hold the bottom of the glasses with their left hands. A smile on the face as well as  some words of blessing are both necessary.

Moreover, when clinking glasses with others, you can place your own glass in a lower position to show respect. Or, when the other guest sit far away, you can also touch the bottom of the glass with the table instead.

What to say when toasting?

As mentioned before, the host needs to make a toast that is short, concise, dignified and polite in most occasions. As a guest, it is of good manners to return the toast later and making the effort to pronounce a few words in honor of the host.

Basically, the toast might contain the theme of the event, a welcoming and greatful greeting to the guests, and the best wishes. It usually ends with "Let's drink together" or a simple "Ganbei"(note that you do not necessarily have to empty your glass each time).

The Characteristic Toast Culture of Ethnic Minorities

The toasting customs of ethnic minorities have made an extremely important contribution to Chinese toasting culture. Nowadays, people talk about the custom of drinking and singing among ethnic minorities, which is a kind of inheritance of he wine rituals of ancient societies, For instance, the Zhuang people, who love to sing, even have the saying :" When there are guests, there must be wine, and when there is wine, there must be songs".

Tibetan, in the welcome banquets, always pour three cups of barley wine as a respectful manner, as well as offer Hatha(a long silk scarf of sarong used to express respect and congratulations) and toast songs for the guests.

The hospitable Miao, whenever the grand festival, wedding and welcome party, are to use the cow horn or antelope horn to offer wine. Proposing a toast first to the guests of honor and the elders, and then to those present from left to right.

The Mogolians, who live in the vast grassland, offer the unique horse milk wine in gold or silver bowls. It is also accompanied by Hatha scarf and toasting songs to show respect and pleasure for the guests' visit.

Always remember to drink reasonably, and when you do, don't forget to cheers!

Founded in 2018 by Matthieu Ventelon, Hedonia is the first institution in China combining professional Wine and Etiquette expertise in the same training offer.

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