China cop labeled a martyr after drinking death

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 1:57 AM

A Chinese policeman who died after drinking too much at a banquet he was made to attend has been deemed a martyr who died in the line of duty, in an apparent attempt to meet his family's demands for compensation, a state-run newspaper said.

Heavy drinking at business and government functions is almost mandatory in many parts of China, where "Gan bei," or "Bottoms up," is the official toast. Many of the banquets are covered by government funds.

The China Daily reported Tuesday that Chen Lusheng, a traffic officer in the city of Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, was off-duty when he was made to take part in a banquet with local officials. After rounds of toasts, Chen vomited, passed out on a couch and suffocated, the newspaper said.

It said that after being pressured by his family, police designated Chen a martyr _ someone who died in the line of duty _ so that his relatives are eligible for up to 650,000 yuan ($95,000) in compensation. The newspaper said the family is demanding at least 4.8 million yuan ($700,000), and has set up a mourning hall at the police station to pressure the department.

A spokeswoman for the Shenzhen police, who gave only her surname, Wang, had no immediate comment.

Chen's death is not the first reported in China this year from excessive drinking at an official function.

In November, a Communist Party official in eastern Anhui province died from alcohol poisoning after drinking heavily while entertaining business associates during an official banquet, the China Daily reported at the time.

Two government officials in southern China died in separate incidents earlier this year after they fell into comas following official banquets that involved excessive drinking.

The cases highlight the heavy ritualized role drinking plays government circles in China, where downing the potent rice liquor, bai jiu, is expected of everyone, especially lower-ranked officials, according to Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Beijing University.

"Even those with liver problems or are driving are forced to drink, because their bosses will accuse them of being disrespectful if they refuse," Xia said. "It's even harder to refuse, because the alcohol is free. The government needs to set clear regulations, especially for law enforcement officials, that state no public funds should be used on any alcohol at banquets."

Chinese academics have estimated that government officials spend about 500 billion yuan ($73 billion) in public funds each year on official banquets, nearly one-third of the nation's expenses on dining out.