Despite media portrayals of China as "conservative," the country is quite liberal when it comes to alcohol, more so than most Western countries. Furthermore, alcohol consumption isn't relegated to the indoors like a bar or club and can be consumed almost anywhere. Tsingtao is the country's signature beer - and it isn't a bad one either! So if you're doing an internship in China and like to drink, you're in the right place.
The legal drinking age in China is 18, suitable because you must be 18-years-old to do an internship in Beijing or an internship in Shanghai.
Alcohol is ubiquitous in Beijing and Shanghai, and China is hardly Puritan when it comes to the stuff. You can buy alcohol at the corner store, at the supermarkets and at the abundant liquor and cigarette shops.
Beer is cheap. A 600ml (the standard size in China) bottle of Beijing's local beer Yanjing costs around three RenMinBi ($0.50, €0.35, £0.30) in the shops. You can also have a dozen beer sent to your home for a remarkably low price. Speak to the staff at your corner store (likely at the ground level of your building) about having beer delivered.
As we discussed in an earlier blog post on eating out in China, beer is often the drink of choice at local restaurants, and it too tends to be cheap at roughly six RenMinBi.
You can drink pretty much anywhere you want in China, including on the street and the subway, something Western foreigners have taken advantage of. Locals frown upon the act of walking down the street while drinking beer or drinking on public transportation. It's considered déclassé, and because Chinese don't do it, you shouldn't as well.
If you're a beer lover, head to Qingdao in Shandong Province, a roughly 80-minute flight or 5-hour train ride from Beijing. It's where German settlers founded the Tsingtao Brewery over a century ago. Qingdao is home to beer street, where the stuff is passed out in little baggies (worth the experience!).
Wine is also widely available in China, although less so than beer. You can buy wine at specific wine shops and some Western-style grocery stores. 7/11 also has a variety of wine available.
Hard liquor is its own game. The sad news is that much of the hard liquor and wine in China could be fake, although there's no certainty the prevalence is high. Still, stories of police busting fake alcohol distribution rings do appear in the media.
When in doubt, order a beer.
Some bars in Beijing worth visiting for a good cocktail are Modernista, 4Corners, Más and Mesh. Check out expat magazines like the Beijinger for the latest on bar and restaurant openings.
Bear in mind that mix drinks in Beijing and Shanghai are not cheap. Expect to pay 40 to 80 renminbi for a cocktail. Despite food and plenty else other being cheap in China, mixed drinks and cocktails are exceptions.
China's top hard liquor is no doubt maotai, although sales of the drink have declined due to a government crackdown on extravagance and waste by officials. During your limited time as an intern in China, it's worth seeking out for a shot. Warning: It's some pretty strong stuff!