Chinese New Year in Baoding

This Chinese New Year I went with my family to visit relatives in Baoding (保定), a city just outside of Beijing. The air was OK for our trip, and the famous Chinese hospitality was lavished upon us. The thing that left the strongest impression, however, was the baijiu (白酒). I must have had more baijiu over the course of a three-day visit in Baoding than I’ve had over the previous three years (or more) in China combined. Yikes. Here’s the almost scientific-feeling way that they dish out the baijiu in Baoding:

Baijiu Beaker

Shortly after my Baoding boozefest, I was forwarded this relevant link (thanks, Christian!): So You’re Going to Your Girlfriend’s Hometown for Chinese New Year: Thoughts on Making the Best of It. I’ll quote part of it:

> You will notice you have not seen your girlfriend for a long time. The men and women have separated. The men are trying to see how much alcohol you can drink before dying, and the women are interrogating your girlfriend about marriage plans. Go find her.
Stumble into the room, sit down next to grandma, put your arm around her, and start acting like you have confused her with your girlfriend. This will either be met with laughter and the grandma will accept you, or you will never be invited back again. Both outcomes have their benefits.

Definitely an amusing read on cultural differences. While my own experiences didn’t lead to much humor for me, it did lead to one (un)sobering realization. It is true what they say: baijiu does get better the more you drink it, and the expensive stuff really is a lot better than the cheap stuff. I didn’t have any hangovers at all.

That said, I can’t say I’ll be rushing back to Baoding every CNY…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I myself was in 保定 for New Years. Can’t have been too many more foreign people doing that! Internet makes the world smaller. I hope you accompanied your baijiu with some hearty donkey meat.

  2. I was in Xinhe (well.. actually a little township near Xinhe) at the end of CNY in 2012 for the “day after the wedding” celebrations with my wife’s family. I actually managed to go for the entire 10 days without drinking a single drop of baijiu. I had a great time and no one was offended by my drinking of that milk they make from nuts (think it is produced in Chengde) instead of the baijiu. I can relate to the post you linked though.. it really does happen like that in terms of the segregation of the genders.. just have to go with the flow.. 🙂

  3. John, good column, but here’s the thing— whisky tastes great from the first drop. In this globalized era, even the podunkiest town usually has at least 紅牌 , and often much better stuff.

    tldr—- the next time baijiu enters my body, it will be playing its proper role, as embalming fluid.

  4. “The men are trying to see how much alcohol you can dink before dying”

    So true. You don’t even need a girlfriend to be put to this test. Just go out with any group of guys on any holiday or excuse for a holiday.

  5. I live in Baoding, love it, small city small problems.

    One thing I never do(actually I’ve never done) is drinking, at first family and friends were not so pleased with my posture, pressure only lasted about a month though, later nobody challenged me.

    I also don’t eat any other meat if it’s not beef or pork, don’t trust them on that since one of my friends told me how they would disguise rat meat with sheep’s fat to make it taste different, heck no!

  6. Did you eat 刘家 驴肉火烧吗? They are the best in 保定。 I remember when they cost 2 kuai a piece and it was 袁家。 There’s also 老驴头 and 好滋味, pretty good. I also once went to a restaurant that served the whole donkey, each piece a different dish. Face good, testicles not so much.

  7. […] ever have. And then we started talking about baijiu toasts at Chinese dinners. I told them about my experience in Baoding last CNY, and how our hosts had brought “baijiu assassins” to bring down my father-in-law, […]

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