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Policeman's binge drinking death in China: One official banquet too far?

The binge drinking death of a policeman at an official banquet in Shenzhen, China, has provoked fresh scrutiny of a culture of heavy drinking. Central and local government authorities are trying to rein in lavish spending on such events.

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The culture of heavy drinking that rules Chinese officialdom has proved fatal once again, with the binge drinking death of a policeman at an official banquet in the southern city of Shenzhen.

Traffic cop Chen Lusheng’s death by choking follows several similarly deadly incidents elsewhere in China this year, but it has attracted particular attention because his boss claimed that Mr. Chen had died in the line of duty.

Shenzhen traffic bureau chief Xie Feiyong has been suspended indefinitely for classifying Chen as a “martyr,” the official Xinhua news agency reported late Tuesday, but the dead policeman’s family is pressing the government for generous compensation on the grounds that he had been obliged to drink too much.

Defying repeated government edicts banning lavish and well-watered banquets, Chinese officials are notorious for spending large sums of money to get their guests and themselves uncontrollably drunk.

“A lot of officials believe that drinking is an important way to establish working relationships and to get what they want,” says Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University’s School of Government. “People may be breaking the rules, but they have to go to banquets to do their jobs.”

$73 billion a year on banquets

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