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Chinese drinking game: Jiuling


As an inseparable part of alcohol culture, the practice of giving a toast has been a ritual since ancient times. Entertainment of various kinds has been offered to people who are taking a drink in order to add to their enjoyment. Performances that may include song, dance, acrobatics, etc. as well as games like '酒令' (jiǔ lìng) are all widely popular. This is highly representative of Chinese hospitality. Here we talk about Jiuling in particular, for it is unique to China.

Jiuling has a long history dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC – 771 BC). Originally it was introduced to regulate people's drinking habits and so ensure that they should observe rules of etiquette while not drinking to excess. It was during the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC), that Jiuling evolved to include ways in which a toast could be made. This process thrived more and more until the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties along with the development of wine production. The Jiuling became quite fashionable and even artistic in its form thus meeting the elegance of intellectuals and the practices of the common people.

A special book has described Jiuling as falling into two concepts. One that is referred to as common Jiuling is pragmatic while the other is literary Jiuling, which as the title implies is artistic. The most popular forms are as follows:

Common Jiuling

These games do not require a great deal of acumen and are thus easy to learn and play.

Dice are rolled and contestants have to guess number of spots. Those who make an incorrect guess pay a forfeit by taking a cup of drink.

The "Gong Show" is another popular pastime. A person beats a drum or gong behind the scenes, the other people sitting around the table will quickly pass a flower from one to another. When the drummer stops, whoever has the flower will drink and even give a simple performance according to the rules. In the famous book The Dream of Red Mansions, the dignified family also played in this way.

"Finger guessing" is interesting. Two people stretch out fingers at the same time while shouting out a number from 2 to 20. If one shouts out a number that is equal to the total number of fingers extended, then he will win, while the person shouts a number that is less, will lose the game and has to take a drink as a punishment. To add to the fun of the game, the players do not just give the numbers but will say a relevant phrase such as 'two kind brothers' to represent 2, 'three stars shining' (3), 'making a fortune in four seasons' (4), and so on.

Literary Jiuling

It has a more sophisticated style and consequently in ancient China only educated people could enjoy it. They also thought up many ways in which to play, such as asking riddles, connecting idioms, composing couplets or verses, telling stories or jokes, and so on.


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