I have had the opportunity for the last few weeks to lecture at a university in Shanghai. This is my first visit to China and to the largest city in the world. As you can imagine, there have been many things that are strikingly different to my home in Portland, Oregon. One of the things that is really noticeable is the absence of alcohol abuse.

In Shanghai, many things struck me right away. One, is that a lot of people, and I mean a lot, drive Buicks. In my very unscientific survey, it seems that Buicks are the most prevalent car in Shanghai. It also seems to be a sign of affluence and status. My grandpa would be so happy.

The other thing I have really noticed during my visit is the lack of alcohol abuse. The section of Shanghai that I am in hosts ten universities that border each other with tens of thousands of students. There are streets where the college students gather, each with dozens of bars and restaurants. Most restaurants and bars I have been in serve beer and many serve hard alcohol. Many even serve beer, in giant branded dispensers, that look like a table top keg.

You will find college kids eating in large groups, dancing at nightclubs and singing karaoke like you would imagine college kids do anywhere. The big difference is that more students are not drinking than those that are and the ones drinking are not consuming large amounts of alcohol. Tens of thousands of college kids just enjoying themselves and alcohol not being the main focus is a curious site for me to behold.

In downtown Shanghai, the world’s largest city, you find one of the greatest cities in the world. With almost twenty five million people, bustling is an understatement. It has more restaurants than any place I have ever seen and plenty of bars.

I felt it was my duty to soak up as much of this magnificent city as possible. I have tried to visit every neighborhood and have seen it in the day as well as the wee hours of the night. My observations are that far fewer people drink alcohol than what I am used to seeing in the US. Among countries, China ranks 89th in terms of overall alcohol consumption so this is not surprising. But it is not just the locals, or university students, in my observations. I have frequented many establishments filled with European, Australian and American expats. There are many people drinking as you can imagine, but their seems to be this measured approach. Alcohol is part of many of the social gatherings but not the focus. In all of my nights out (which have been many), I have seen less than a handful of intoxicated people.

I have found this lack of alcohol abuse so noticeable. I don’t know if this says more about the current condition of Shanghai or the American cities that I frequent. In every major American city I visit, I see the same alcohol consumption patterns. In social activities and settings, alcohol is a focus, if not the major focus. I have been to many major sporting events, college and professional, and have seen how many people make alcohol the priority and focus of the experience. I have also visited many major entertainment districts and hot spots around the U.S. and the thing that New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Austin, Philadelphia and Seattle all have in common is the focus on alcohol and how it takes on a significant portion, if not the majority, of revelers’ evenings. You can imagine what that looks like at closing time for bars. The livability and crime issues it creates, not to mention the public health impact.

Seeing a vibrant, bustling city with an amazing nightlife where alcohol is not the focus is so strange. This experience has made me wonder if we can change the culture in America of using alcohol to excess. What would need to happen to change the culture of how many people use and abuse alcohol in our society? As it turns out, I wasn’t just teaching on this trip to Shanghai, I learned a little something as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *