Case of Chinese bank worker slapped for refusing to toast boss at dinner sparks debate over workplace culture
Xiamen International Bank says it has disciplined two employees over incident that highlights hierarchical nature of many workplaces.
Two senior executives at a Chinese bank have been disciplined after a new employee who refused to drink a toast with his boss was slapped and insulted at an after-work dinner.
Xiamen International Bank issued a statement on Sunday saying that the incident happened last Thursday when the worker, identified by his family name Yang, went to a Beijing restaurant with his colleagues after work.
According to the notice, Yang had refused to share a toast with the branch chief, a man named Luo, and was then slapped and insulted by another manager named Dong.
The bank said it had become aware of the incident after Yang posted an account of the incident on social media. His post struck a chord with many internet users who said it highlighted the problems of China’s hierarchical work culture and the role played by alcohol-fuelled dinners.
On Sunday, the bank’s human resources department said both managers would be given a serious warning and Dong would have six months’ worth of his bonus deducted while Luo lost three months’ worth.
The bank’s statement also offered a sincere apology to Yang.
In his social media post, Yang said he had not touched alcohol for 10 years and had no plans to change this.
“After a while when everyone was slightly drunk, one of the bosses walked up to me and … slapped me in the face and insulted me verbally,” he said. “He asked if I was stupid because I didn’t drink when the boss made a toast.”
Yang said some colleagues also criticised him and chased him to the lift when he decided to leave.
“For a new employee like me, this has ruined any good feelings I had about the financial industry,” he said.
The incident generated extensive discussions on the social media network Weibo for the issues it highlighted. Some users praised Yang for standing his ground, but others said they were worried it would ruin his career at the company.
Drinking is deeply rooted in Chinese dining etiquette in certain areas and is considered a way to develop relationships with colleagues, but it has frequently caused fights, serious injuries and even deaths.
Last year a man from Fuzhou, a city in Jiangxi province, was jailed for life for killing another in a dispute over toasts.
Xin Ying, director of Beijing LGBT Centre and a visiting scholar at Columbia University, said the case highlighted how more young Chinese have become aware of the problems surrounding workplace culture and how there had been “an awakening” among the younger generation about their rights.
“The very strict hierarchical relationship of the past is gradually being weakened, and young people nowadays are more self-aware. They want to be respected for their work, instead of currying favour with their bosses,” she said.
She added that the traditional Chinese culture that emphasises respecting patriarchal power should be discouraged because it enables things like sexual harassment in the workplace and drinking among colleagues.
“If a company wants to attract talent, they must understand how to respect them and create a good working environment for them,” she said.