Chinese drinkers now put away more than the Irish, the Brits, and the Aussies

Beer me.
Beer me.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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China’s remarkable economic growth has created a middle class with cash to spend, and plenty of that disposable income appears to be going to alcohol.

In 1978, China’s per capita booze consumption was 2.5 liters of pure alcohol per year. By 2010, that figure was 6.7 liters. Making things more dramatic, more than half of the Chinese population aged over 15 years old—42% of men and 71% of women—are teetotallers.

That means among those in China who do drink, the average person knocks back an impressive 15.1 liters of pure alcohol each year, The Lancet reports (pdf). “The social and health issues related to alcohol use and misuse, such as liver and cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders, cancers, violence, and transport and unintentional injuries, have been largely neglected,” the medical journal said in its April issue.

Using the calculations from the World Health Organization, China’s drinkers outpace even the “vomitous” Brits, and consume more than drinkers in many other nations. This chart shows how China stacks up against a range of countries, and not all heavy-drinking countries are listed:

In good company.
In good company.

This alcohol isn’t always consumed between friends out having a good time in China. A great amount of importance is put on drinking alcohol with colleagues, superiors, and clients, meaning a vast amount of booze is regularly consumed at business dinners.

More than once this correspondent has witnessed a business associate throw up at the dinner table after he (it is invariably a he) has drunk more than a case of beer in a few of hours, or an entire bottle of whiskey during a meal. At those times, nobody at the table laughs, pokes fun, or is appalled. Instead, everyone seems to agree that that is just how “business is done.”