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This paper attempts to revive Mauss's concept of the total social fact as a method to establish understanding of new markets. Our case study of alcohol in China illuminates the spirit baijiu's connections to the total social facts of guanxi (social capital) and hierarchy. We outline the distinction between symbols that communicate meaning and total social facts that communicate function. We propose a methodology based on using total social facts as a heuristic device, removed from some of the problematic assumptions of classical functionalism.