''Guanxi'' () defines the fundamental dynamic in personalized social networks of power, and is a crucial system of beliefs in Chinese culture. In Western media, the
pinyin ''Hanyu Pinyin'' (), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese, Standard Mandarin Chinese in mainland China, Taiwan (ROC), and Singapore. It is often used to teach Standard Chinese, Standard Mandari ...
romanization of this Chinese word is becoming more widely used instead of the two common translations of it—"connections" and "relationships"—as neither of those terms sufficiently reflects the wide cultural implications that ''guanxi'' describes. ''Guanxi'' plays a fundamental role within the Confucian doctrine, which sees the individual as part of a community and a set of family, hierarchical and friendly relationships. In particular, there is a focus on tacit mutual commitments, reciprocity, and trust, which are the grounds of ''guanxi'' and ''guanxi'' networks. ''Guanxi'' also has a major influence on the management of businesses based in Mainland China, and businesses owned by Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia (the latter is known as the bamboo network). Closely related concepts include that of ''ganqing'', a measure which reflects the depth of feeling within an interpersonal relationship, ''renqing'' ( ''rénqíng''/''jen-ch'ing''), the moral obligation to maintain a relationship, and the idea of "Face (sociological concept), face" (, ''miànzi''/''mien-tzu''), which refers to social status, propriety, prestige, or a combination of all three. Other related concepts include ''wu-lune'', which supports the idea of a long term, developing relationship between a business and its client, and ''yi-ren'' and ''ren'', which respectively support reciprocity and empathy.

Description and usage

In a personal context

At its most basic, ''guanxi'' describes a personal connection between two people in which one is able to prevail upon another to perform a favor or service, or be prevailed upon, that is, one's ''standing'' with another. The two people need not be of equal social status. ''Guanxi'' can also be used to describe a network of contacts, which an individual can call upon when something needs to be done, and through which he or she can exert influence on behalf of another. ''Guanxi'' also refers to the benefits gained from social connections and usually extends from extended family, school friends, workmates and members of common clubs or organizations. It is customary for Chinese people to cultivate an intricate web of ''guanxi'' relationships, which may expand in a huge number of directions, and includes lifelong relationships. Staying in contact with members of your network is not necessary to bind reciprocal obligations. Reciprocal favors are the key factor to maintaining one’s ''guanxi'' web, while failure to reciprocate is considered an unforgivable offense (that is, the more one asks of someone, the more one owes them). ''Guanxi'' can perpetuate a never-ending cycle of favors. The term is not generally used to describe interpersonal relationships within a family, although ''guanxi'' obligations can sometimes be described in terms of an extended family. Essentially, familial relations are the core of one’s interpersonal relations, while the various non-familial interpersonal relations are modifications or extensions of the familial relations. Chinese culture's emphasis on familial relations informs ''guanxi'' as well, making it such that both familial relations and non-familial interpersonal relations are grounded by similar behavioral norms.Hsuing, Bingyuan. “Guanxi: Personal connections in Chinese society.” ''Journal of Bioeconomics'' 15.1 (2013): 17–40. Print. An individual may view and interact with other individuals in a way that is similar to their viewing of and interactions with family members; through ''guanxi'', a relationship between two friends can be likened by each friend to being a pseudo elder sibling–younger sibling relationship, with each friend acting accordingly based on that relationship (the friend who sees himself as the "younger sibling" will show more deference to the friend who is the "older sibling"). ''Guanxi'' is also based in concepts like loyalty, dedication, reciprocity, and trust, which help to develop non-familial interpersonal relations, while mirroring the concept of filial piety, which is used to ground familial relations. Ultimately, the relationships formed by ''guanxi'' are personal and not transferable.

In a business context

In China, a country where business relations are highly socially embedded, ''guanxi'' plays a central role in the shaping and development of day-to-day business transactions by allowing inter-business relationships and relationships between businesses and the government to grow as individuals representing these organizations work with one another. Specifically, in a business context, ''guanxi'' occurs through individual interactions first before being applied on a corporate level (e.g., one member of a business may perform a favor for a member of another business because they have interpersonal ties, which helps to facilitate the relationship between the two businesses involved in this interaction).Flora F. Gu, Kineta Hung, David K. Tse. “When Does Guanxi Matter? Issues of Capitalization and Its Dark Sides.” ''Journal of Marketing'' 72.4 (2008): 12–28. Print. ''Guanxi'' also acts as an essential informal governance mechanism, helping leverage Chinese organizations on social and economic platforms. In places in China where institutions, like the structuring of local governments and government policies, may make business interactions less efficient to facilitate, ''guanxi'' can serve as a way for businesses to circumvent such institutions by having their members cultivate their interpersonal ties. Thus, ''guanxi'' is important in two domains: social ties with managers of suppliers, buyers, competitors, and other business intermediaries; and social ties with government officials at various national government-regulated agencies. Given its extensive influential power in the shaping of business operations, many see ''guanxi'' as a crucial source of social capital and strategic tool for business success. Thanks to a good knowledge of ''guanxi'', companies obtain secret information, increase their knowledge about precise government regulations, and receive privileged access to stocks and resources. Knowing this, some economists have warned that Western countries and others that trade regularly with China should improve their "Cultural Competency, cultural competency" in regards to practices such as ''guanxi''. In doing so, such countries can avoid financial fallout caused by a lack of awareness regarding the way practices like ''guanxi'' operate. The nature of ''guanxi'', however, can also form the basis of patronage, patron–client relations. As a result, it creates challenges for businesses whose members are obligated to repay favors to members of other businesses when they cannot sufficiently do so. In following these obligations, businesses may also be forced to act in ways detrimental to their future, and start to over-rely on each other. Members within a business may also start to more frequently discuss information that all members knew prior, rather than try and discuss information only known by select members. If the ties fail between two businesses within an overall network built through ''guanxi'', the other ties comprising the overall network have a chance of failing as well. A ''guanxi'' network may also violate bureaucratic norms, leading to corporate corruption. Note that the aforementioned organizational flaws ''guanxi'' creates can be diminished by having more efficient institutions (like open market systems that are regulated by formal organizational procedures while promoting Market competition, competition and innovation) in place to help facilitate business interactions more effectually. In East Asian societies, the boundary between business and social lives can sometimes be ambiguous as people tend to rely heavily on their closer relations and friends. This can result in nepotism in the workforce being created through ''guanxi'', as it is common for authoritative figures to draw from family and close ties to fill employment opportunities, instead of assessing talent and suitability as is the norm in Western societies. This practice often prevents the most suitably qualified person being employed for the position. However, ''guanxi'' only becomes nepotism when individuals start to value their interpersonal relationships as ways to accomplish their goals over the relationships themselves.Verhezen, Peter. "''Guanxi'': Networks or Nepotism?: ''The dark side of business networks''." ''Europe-Asia Dialogue on Business Spirituality''. Ed. Laszlo Zsolnai. Antwerpen: Garant, 2008. 89–106. Print. When interpersonal relationships are seen in this light, then, it is usually the case that individuals are not viewing their cultivation of prospective business relationships without bias. In addition, ''guanxi'' and nepotism are distinct in that the former is inherently a social transaction (considering the emphasis on the actual act of building relationships) and not purely based in financial transactions, while the latter is explicitly based in financial transactions and has a higher chance of resulting in legal consequences. However, cronyism is less obvious and can lead to low risk sycophancy and empire-building bureaucracy within the internal politics of an organisation.

In a political context

For relationship-based networks such as ''guanxi'', reputation plays an important role in shaping interpersonal and political relations. As a result, the government is still the most important stakeholder, despite China's recent efforts to minimise government involvement. Key government officials wield the authority to choose political associates and allies, approve projects, allocate resources, and distribute finances. Thus, it is especially crucial for international companies to develop harmonious personal relationships with government officials. In addition to holding major legislative power, the Chinese government owns vital resources including land, banks, and major media networks and wields major influence over other stakeholders. Thus, it is important to maintain good relations with the central government in order for a business to maintain ''guanxi''. However, the issue of ''guanxi'' as a form of government corruption has been raised into question over the recent years. This is often the case when businesspeople interpret ''guanxi'''s reciprocal obligations as unethical gift-giving in exchange for government approval. The line drawn between ethical and unethical reciprocal obligation is unclear, but China is currently looking into understanding the structural problems inherent in the ''guanxi'' system.

Ethical concerns

In recent years, the ethical consequences of ''guanxi'' have been brought into question. While ''guanxi'' can bring benefits to people directly within the ''guanxi'' network, it also has the potential to bring harm to individuals, societies and nations when misused or abused. For example, mutual reciprocal obligation is a major component of ''guanxi''. However, the specific date, time and method are often unspecified. Thus, ''guanxi'' can be ethically questionable when one party takes advantage of others' personal favors, without seeking to reciprocate. A common example of unethical reciprocal obligation involves the abuse of business-government relations. In 2013, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official criticised the government officials for using public funds of over 10,000 yuan for banquets. This totals to approximately 48 billion dollars worth of banquets per year. ''Guanxi'' may also allow for interpersonal obligations to take precedence over civic duties. Guanxi is a neutral word, but the use or practice of guanxi can range from 'benign, neutral, to questionable and corruptive'. In mainland China, terms like guanxi practice or ''la'' guanxi are used to refer to bribery and corruption. Guanxi practice is commonly employed by favour seekers to seek corrupt benefits from power-holders. Guanxi offers an efficient information transmission channel to help guanxi members to identify potential and trustworthy partners; it also offers safe and secret platform for illegal transactions. Guanxi norms help buyers and sellers of corrupt benefits justify and rationalize their acts. Li's ''Performing Bribery in China'' (2011) as well as Wang's ''The buying and selling of military positions'' (2016) supply essential analyses on how guanxi practice works in corrupt exchanges. This question is especially critical in cross-cultural business partnerships, when Western firms and auditors are operating within Confucian cultures. Western-based managers must exercise caution in determining whether or not their Chinese colleagues and business partners are in fact practicing ''guanxi''. Caution and extra guidance should be taken to ensure that conflict does not occur as a result of misunderstood cultural agreements. Other studies argue that ''guanxi'' is not in fact unethical, but is rather wrongly accused of an act thought unethical in the eyes of those unacquainted with it and Chinese culture. Just as how the Western juridical system is the image of the Western ethical attitudes, it can be said that the Eastern legal system functions similarly so. Also, while Westerners might misunderstand ''guanxi'' as a form of corruption, the Chinese recognize ''guanxi'' as a subset of ''renqing'', which likens the maintenance of interpersonal relationships to a moral obligation. As such, any relevant actions taken to maintain such relationships are recognized as working within ethical constraints. The term ''guanxixue'' (, the 'art' or 'knowledge' of ''guanxi'') is also used to specifically refer to the manipulation and corruption brought about by a selfish and sometimes illegal utilization of ''guanxi''. In turn, ''guanxixue'' distinguishes unethical usage of ''guanxi'' from the term ''guanxi'' itself. Although many Chinese lament the strong importance of ''guanxi'' in their culture because of the unethical use that arises through it, they still consider ''guanxi'' as a Chinese element that should not be denied.

Similar concepts in other cultures

Sociologists have linked ''guanxi'' with the concept of social capital (it has been described as a ''Gemeinschaft'' value structure), and it has been exhaustively described in Western studies of Chinese economic and political behavior.Gold, Thomas, Douglas Guthrie, and David Wank. 2002. ''Social Connections in China: Institutions, Culture and the Changing Nature of Guanxi.'' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. *Blat (Russia), ''Blat'' in Russians, Russian culture *Shurobadzhanashtina in Bulgarian society *''Wasta'' in Middle Eastern culture *''Sociolismo'' in Cuban culture *Old boy network in Anglo-Saxon and Finnish culture *Dignitas (Roman concept), ''Dignitas'' in ancient Roman culture *Ksharim (literally 'connections') in Israeli culture. :wikt:פרוטקציה, Protektsia (from the word 'Protection') is the use of ksharim for personal gain or helping another, also known in slang as 'Vitamin P'. *Enchufe (literally 'plug in' – compare English 'hook up') in Spain, meaning to 'plug' friends or acquaintances 'into' a job or position. *''Compadrazgo'' in Latin American cultureVelez‐Calle, A., Robledo‐Ardila, C., & Rodriguez‐Rios, J. D. (2015). On the Influence of Interpersonal Relations on Business Practices in Latin America: A Comparison with the Chinese Guanxi and the Arab Wasta. Thunderbird International Business Review. *Padrino System in the Philippines (basically "godfather" or patron), also known locally as "kapit" (Filipino word for "to hang on," "to hook on.")

Western vs. Eastern social business relations

The four dimensions for a successful business networking comprise: trust, bonding, mutual relationship, and empathy. Nevertheless, the points of view in which these dimensions are understood and consolidated into business tasks are extensively disparate in the East vs the West.Meiling Wong. "''Guanxi'' and its role in business." ''Chinese Management Studies'' 1:4 (2007): 257 – 276. Print. From the Western point of view, trust is treated as shared unwavering quality, constancy, and correspondence. Instead, from the Eastern point of view, trust is additionally synonymous with obligation, where guanxi is required to be kept up through persistent long haul affiliation and connection. The Chinese system of ''wu-lune'' (the basic norms of ''guanxi'') supports the Eastern attitude, emphasizing that one's fulfillment of one's responsibilities in a given role ensures the smooth functioning of Chinese society. Correspondence is likewise a measurement which is substantially more stressed in the East than in the West . As per Confucianism, every individual is urged to wind up a yi-ren (exemplary individual) and compensate some help with altogether more than one has gotten. In conclusion, compassion is a measurement that is exceedingly implanted in Eastern business bonds, the significance for dealers and clients to see each other's needs is extremely important. The Confucian understanding of ''ren'', which also equates to "Do not do to others as one does not want others to do to him", stresses the importance for sellers and customers to understand each other's needs. Cross-cultural differences in its usage also distinguish Western relationship marketing from Chinese ''guanxi''. Unlike Western relationship marketing, where networking plays a more surface-level impersonal role in shaping larger business relations, ''guanxi'' plays a much more central and personal role in shaping social business relations. Chinese culture borrows much of its practices from Confucianism, which emphasises collectivism and long-term personal relations. Likewise, ''guanxi'' functions within Chinese culture and directly reflects the values and behaviours expressed in Chinese business relations. For example, reciprocal obligation plays an intricate role in maintaining harmonious business relations. It is expected that both sides not only stay friendly with each other, but also reciprocate a favour given by the other party. Western relationship marketing, on the other hand, is much more formally constructed, in which no social obligation and further exchanges of favours are expected. Thus, long-term personal relations are more emphasised in Chinese ''guanxi'' practice than in Western relationship marketing.

See also

*Blat (favors), Blat (similar phenomenon in Russia) *Sociolismo (similar phenomenon in Communist-run Cuba) *Compadrazgo (similar phenomenon in Latin America) *System D (a similar concept of informality from European French). *Bamboo network *Chinese social relations *Ganqing *Mianzi *Social capital *Social network *Xenia (Greek), Xenos (guest-friend)


External links

China's modern power house
BBC article discussing the role of Guanxi in the modern governance of China.
What is guanxi?
Wiki discussion about definitions of guanxi, developed by the publishers o
Guanxi: The China Letter
* ''Guanxi, The art of relationships'', by Robert Buderi, Gregory T. Huang, .

GCiS China Strategic Research {{China topics Bamboo network Business culture Chinese culture Chinese society Chinese words and phrases Confucianism in China Interpersonal relationships