Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

China official dies from alcohol

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A Chinese Communist Party official has died as a result of excess drinking, according to an official newspaper.

The China Daily reported that Shen Hao - party secretary in Xiaogang village in eastern Anhui province - was found dead in bed after a banquet.

It is the third reported case so far this year where the death of a government official has been attributed to alcohol poisoning.

The two other deaths also came after official banquets.

A police investigation has been opened into the latest case, but there were no apparent signs of foul play.

The 46-year-old official was reported to have been meeting with investors in connection with several land transfer deals and had to be helped home by a colleague. Villagers said he had had too much to drink.

His landlady, Ma Jiaxian, said: "He looked very tired and wanted to sleep."

Drinking alcohol - particularly the potent rice-based spirit bai jiu - plays an important ritualised role in business and government circles in China.

Guests are often encouraged to drink copious quantities of the drink amid cries of "gan bei", or "drain the glass."

According to estimates by Chinese academics, government officials spend around yuan 500bn ($73bn; £43.5bn) of public funds on official banquets each year - which equates to nearly one-third of China's total expenditure on eating out.

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