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China’s ‘Fresh’ Beer Code
by Vivian Shi| Shanghai, China
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
tags: asia, categories, consumer culture, culture, global/local, making sense
Why has freshness become the most familiar code in the Chinese beer market? This is an account of how bonding, brotherhood, business and cultural codes around giving face play into the predominance of these cues in current beer communication.
Beer has gained considerable popularity in China in recent decades as aspects of Western culture and taste are absorbed into different areas of life. Freshness, purity and coolness dominate beer communication in the local market. Consequently pale beers dominate the category. Attempts to push other types such as dark beer or ale have achieved very little success so far.
A common scene from beer ads is male buddies boozing up in restaurants, as can also often be observed happening in real life. A table of six Chinese guys working their way their way through forty or so bottles of beer is a familiar sight.
It is common in China, as in other markets, for male friends to gather together enjoying beer as alcohol is regarded as something that can facilitate bonding and strengthen brotherhood with each other. And according to Chinese drinking etiquette, how much you drink depends on how close the relationship is – and this can also be seen as a way of face-giving among friends, building relationships and group harmony.
Beer is used in China as a common tool to enhance relations not only among friends, but also during business occasions, where the combination of positive connotations around how much is consumed and negatives around drunkenness help make light beer the drink of choice. The lighter the beer the more you can consume before getting drunk and the more face you can give your friends – the volume consumed still being more significant as a measure of friendship than, say, the quality of the beer.
However, ‘light’ can sometimes carry a negative association in the sense of “diluted or low quality”. So freshness, in terms of expression, tends to win out currently by suggesting not only lightness and purity but also a pleasant drinking experience.
© Vivian Shi 2010
For a detailed explication of face giving & key differences between high-context and low-context societies see www.beyondintractability.org/essay/face/