Thursday, March 4, 2010

G is for Guānxi 关系

Jenny Matlock

Today in Mrs. Matlock's class we will be having a cultural lesson.*

G is for Guānxi (关系), a Chinese word meaning "relationships" or "connections."

Guānxi is at the heart of Chinese culture and a bit of a mystery to those outside of it.

"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. 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." Wikipedia

"It's often the case that you can't even get (the first thing accomplished) in China without guanxi, and you can do just about anything... - when you have it.... It has everything to do with whom you know and what these people are willing - or obligated - to do for you.

Guanxi is, of course, a reciprocal obligation. You are expected to behave in similar fashion and to deliver favors to those with whom you have guanxi. Nor need the currency of guanxi be cash - it seldom is in fact. You might be asked to procure hard-to-get theater tickets, arrange an appointment with a well-known doctor, introduce someone to a potential business partner, secure a visa for someone, or recommend someone for a trip abroad.

Guanxi often involves going via the houmen (back door)....

The Chinese generally expect foreigners to understand guanxi and behave according to its rules."

Seligman, Scott, , and . Chinese Business Etiquette. New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc, 1999. Print. pp56-57

Closely related to guānxi is reciprocity - the doing of favors and Giving of Gifts. "The economy of favors between two individuals or units is expected to remain in rough balance over a period of time.... A second corollary to this rule is that you should proceed with caution before putting a Chinese in a position in which he or she is totally unable to return a favor. Giving an extremely expensive gift can place the recipient in an uncomfortable situation. If there is no possibility of the person's ever repaying the gift with something of approximately equal value, he or she will always be beholden to the giver - or else lose face."

Seligman, Scott, , and . Chinese Business Etiquette. New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc, 1999. Print. PP 59-60

A current example of this in my life would be my Saturday afternoon tutoring. Our really nice neighbors upstairs asked if I would be willing to help their eleven year old son with his English. They offered to pay me to tutor him once a week. Now in my mind, I am thinking, "These are really nice folks and I would love to get to know them better." Additional thoughts were, "I'm not qualified as a teacher and do not want the pressure of feeling like we couldn't miss a week or change the day & time now and then." So I said yes, but hemmed and hawed about the payment. Finally I let my husband communicate that we appreciated their friendship, that I didn't feel quite comfortable being paid, and that there would surely be help we would need from them in the future. We understood in saying this that, in all probability, the gift giving would begin. And it has... a box of fruit, a New Year's present for our youngest, etc. We really do like them and, generally, I have fun teaching "Jack;" so I would do it for nothing. But that's just not the way here.

As independent Americans, I think we some times feel that we don't need anyone and that we stand on our own two feet or accomplish and achieve things solely through our my own merit. I'm not fond of the pressure or expectations of guānxi or the fact that people are not always rewarded due to talents and hard work, but instead by who they know. But cultivating relationships and being thoughtful is the sunny side of the coin. We do need one another after all. And who doesn't like receiving a gift now and then.

*I'm afraid this lesson is a little long (maybe we should have spread it over two days). I hope you were able to hang in there with me.

Be sure to check out all the Gee posts for this Thursday's class at Jenny Matlock's on my tangent....

The free vintage China images came from


  1. Wonderful history lesson. Thanks for the great insight into the Asian culture.

  2. Wow! This was different, refreshing and educational! I enjoyed this G.

  3. So glad I learned a new word! Very Cool G post! Thanks for stopping over at my Gilda post!

  4. Very interesting post! I am afraid I don't have guanxi. I wish I had guanxi with my children. Also loved the "no whining picture." It cracked me up! Joni

  5. very cool to learn something new TFS :D

  6. Wow. I just read this twice because I think you brought up some great points here as well as teaching us about an interesting word.

    Reciprocity is a use my husband and I have been using quite a bit lately. I have a lot to say about that word but now is not the forum.

    But I thank you for giving me a little more insight into this theory.


  7. I love your G post! Very educational and interesting too!

  8. so, is it more of an you scratch my back, i'll scratch yours...or deeper than that? i am fascinated by this...

  9. wow! thanks for sharing ... your topic was really interesting and i do love learning something new every day, especially cultural information ... :)

  10. I love this is like chinese networking and swapping all in one....I thought it was a great post! thanks so much.....melinda

  11. This was so interesting. I will have to tuck this away for future reference.

  12. Wow! I absolutely loved this post. I've reread it several times. Thank you for teaching me a new word and sharing all this interesting cultural information about it.
    I personally like to give gifts from my heart and don't expect or want to receive a gift as a return favor. Don't get me wrong. I love to receive gifts, but in the same spirit as I give. My husband gives me gifts, just because, and I do the same. We don't have to have a special holiday or occasion to give a gift.
    You are nice to tutor this young child just to help him out. I'm sure the family does appreciate your time.

  13. I have enjoyed reading your posts and appreciate your insight into a different culture. There is so much we can learn about people. I just became your newest follower. :-)

  14. I love it when people do nice things for others without wanting something in return - that I would call friendship, we can be independent but without friends, it's really a lonely life

    thanks for the lesson & thanks for visiting

  15. I'm not sure if this is where Jenny's thoughts were headed, but I think some times, particularly in marriage we can keep a mental ledger. (Well, I did this for you; so.... Or even worse make deductions in the accounts when we feel wronged.) Anyway, just some ponderings.

  16. Also what Christy mentioned is some what true, but I do believe there is more to it in Asian culture than just getting what you want from some one and moving on. Guanxi represents a mindset of making connections, a relationship web so to speak, and these connections and the commitment there too can last a life time. I really like what everyone has shared about friendship and giving. My desire is to give from my heart without expectation. To be willing to recognize when I am in need (whether physical, emotional, or spiritual and receive well). And to always be growing in the arena of commitment.

  17. Sorry about all the punctuation mess above. I'm a little sleepy this morning.

  18. Thank you for a great G post, very interesting! :)

  19. I like Melinda's swapping perspective too :) .

  20. Your story was very interesting and completely new for me.
    Go on........


Thank you for your comments. They help me feel that I am some how connected out here in Blogland and not just writing to the air.


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