Spare a thought for government officials in Qingcheng in Gansu province this weekend if you open a bottle of wine at home or meet friends for a beer.
Despite being free from Covid-19 restrictions, Qingcheng county’s bureaucrats won’t be able to enjoy a drink over lunch or dinner.
The reason? A new set of rules banning public officials there from drinking – the only exception being family events such as funerals and weddings where civil servants are allowed to drain a limited number of glasses – as long as they report it to the Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Local rules limiting how and when government officials drink are not new in China – and they have firmed up since 2013 as part of a campaign against corruption and extravagance.
But the Qingcheng ban is stricter than others in that it bans drinking alcohol at all times, not just at work but at home during weekends.
“Anyone who violates these regulations will be suspended first and shall be given organisational or Party disciplinary sanctions in accordance with the relevant provisions,” the notice said.
The local authorities did not explain why it was introducing the ban now but the notice drew a link between drinking and the risk of divulging state secrets, or triggering corrupt behaviour.
Furthermore, it suggested that it was important for officials to set an example by not drinking and added that if an official were seen imbibing it could undermine the Party’s image.
Alcohol consumption has risen dramatically and although 40% of Chinese men are said not to drink, those that do like their booze imbibe more than their British, Irish or Australian counterparts, according to a 2015 Lancet report.
The drinking culture among government officials is particularly problematic, say researchers: alcohol is used to offer respect and to ingratiate with superiors.
“Alcoholic culture [amongst officials] is the result of the pyramidal structure of Chinese government agencies… in order to stand out from their peers, subordinates must find ways to make their superiors notice them. Drinking is seen as easy and carrying little risk,” a professor at the Central Party School told ThePaper.cn last year.
Heavy drinking sessions – in which participants challenge each other to drink more – can also be used to extract information or to compromise the inebriated party.
According to the Legal Evening News, at least 21 officials died from ‘abnormal alcohol consumption’ between 2012 and 2017 – a term which includes death from long term alcoholism and drunk driving (in which case the real number of cases is probably a lot higher).
However, some lawyers have questioned whether Qingcheng’s ban on drinking outside working hours is even legal. Indeed, even staff at the Central Party School dubbed the move as an example of “over management”.
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