It’s important to get cultural association correct. By saying ‘there’s a giant panda in the house’ and not ‘there’s an elephant in the room’, no one is left in any doubt we are referring to China, and not to Africa, India or Thailand which claim the elephant as native. This giant panda, with its vintage black and white coat, is fond of Old World classics, especially French, predominantly Bordeaux and principally red.

It’s important to get cultural association correct. By saying ‘there’s a giant panda in the house’ and not ‘there’s an elephant in the room’, no one is left in any doubt we are referring to China, and not to Africa, India or Thailand which claim the elephant as native.

This giant panda, with its vintage black and white coat, is fond of Old World classics, especially French, predominantly Bordeaux and principally red.

The giant panda in the house represents the collective purchasing power of mainland Chinese, all 1.3 billion of them. The seemingly insatiable customer has been buying up Bordeaux classified growths, monogrammed Louis Vuitton handbags and gorging on dried abalones in top Chinese restaurants.

Some people think the reason for the red wine bias is because the colour also happens to be the most auspicious in Chinese culture. Being red doesn’t hurt, but if that were the only reason for the wine’s popularity, then the Chinese would spray all their cars red too. The real reason red wine is preferred in China is because residents think it can lower one’s blood pressure and help stave off heart disease. Since ancient times, the Chinese do not wait to get sick before seeking medical help. They have always looked to eating and drinking selectively to prevent the onset of illness.

There’s even an old saying that recommends ‘Drink a bit of wine to help the digestion’. ‘Wine’ in this instance is huang jiu (literally, yellow wine) and refers to alcoholic beverages fermented from cereals including rice, millet, wheat and sorghum. Distillation came later in China – about a thousand years ago.

The two biggest festivals for gift-giving in China are the mid-autumn and spring festivals, the latter known as the Lunar or Chinese New Year. In this regard, red wine has an advantage over white since it is considered auspicious (white is the colour of mourning). That said, no Chinese would object to receiving a bottle of Champagne as a present nor, if it came to that, a golden Vouvray, Barsac, Sauternes, Tokaji, late-harvest Riesling or Icewine. White wines they may be, in the technical sense, but bubblies and stickies are referred to in Chinese as ‘Champagne’ or ‘sweet wine’. In fact, bai jiu (literally, white wine) is understood by most Chinese as distilled, colourless spirit rather than as white wine fermented from grapes.

But at the end of the day, the Chinese are, if nothing else, the most adaptable people in the world. It used to be that brides wore only red on their wedding day. Times have changed completely. Today, particularly in big Chinese cities, a Western white bridal gown is in vogue, complete with (unthinkable just 20 years ago) white flowers at the banquet. A stubborn, traditional Chinese grandparent, even if drinking red wine, would get a heart-attack seeing such an apparition. These breaking of traditions, though, are for the Chinese themselves to make – it would not do for an outsider to present a bouquet of white flowers as a gift.

To put a Chinese guest on table four or to be checked into a hotel and given the key to room 24 will not endear you to a Chinese person either. The sound of ‘four’, whether in Mandarin, Cantonese or Fujianese, sounds like ‘death’. Worse still, ‘24’ in Mandarin sounds like ‘starve to death’ and in Cantonese and Fujianese as ‘easy to die’.

However, as I said, Chinese people are most pragmatic and practical. How else would the civilization survive for so long and, presently, thrive so spectacularly? The newly minted Chinese multi-millionaire or billionaire would throw suspicion to the wind and wouldn’t think twice in buying a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost or Phantom regardless of their English associated names. Mr Big Time will even deem it his earthly duty to transport his princeling son to motoring hell by gifting him a Lamborghini Diablo. (Most Chinese people think you have to be in league with the devil anyway in order to become so shamelessly rich).

In many Chinese cities, fast cars have become something of a problem. Young sons of wealthy local families go racing in their expensive torques on Friday and Saturday nights down city streets. The law of averages produces its occasional fatal accident. An outpouring of popular anger rages and swells on the internet against the injustice – following the cover-up, of course, because the rich parents buy their way out of the problem.

More often than not, the young killers have mixed high speed with heavy drinking. So far, they’ve been the sort of alcoholic beverages that use scantily clad women or alpha males to advertise their virtues. So far, at least. Let’s hope these panda cubs don’t ever get caught with a bottle of Bordeaux classed growth on the back seat.

Written by Ch’ng Poh Tiong