1704HK0876_groupshot.jpg
Chinese Works of Art

Life of the Party in Ancient China

By Sotheby's
Translate this page
1704HK0876_groupshot.jpg

Having a drink in China is typically a high-energy affair. If you’ve ever been to a bar in China, you’ve probably observed (or even participated in) an elaborate round of rock-paper-scissors, vigorous dice-throwing or some other drinking game. Winning requires superb hand-eye coordination under the influence, but in Chinese drinking games there is often an emphasis on mental dexterity. These competitions are a means to display a drinker’s wit, intuition, acuity or intellectual prowess—all of which are somehow brought to focus through alcohol.

This culture of wager games has deep roots in Chinese history tracing back thousands of years. References to jiuling (“drinking game”) in literature, such as The Dream of Red Chamber or Tang Dynasty poems by Bai Juyi, describe elegant high-society affairs involving scholarly exchanges either in the form of riddles or verse composition. Tang Dynasty’s Li Bai, dubbed the “Saint of Poetry” and known equally by the sobriquet “Saint of Alcohol,” wrote many poems in a romantic, expansive and free-spirited style— fueled perhaps by wine.

For more inspiration, there are several exquisite Imperial Chinese cups currently on view for the Chinese Art sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in May. On the cups, you may see scenes depicted from a bygone period and just imagine the lively games emperors and scholars would have played.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos & news.
Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.

Close