Lecture 10: Guanxi and China’s formal legal system Dr WANG, Peng ( 王鹏 ) Department of Sociology University of Hong Kong
Discussion: What is ‘ guanxi ’? Why and how guanxi influence China’s formal legal system?
Outline Defining guanxi The role of guanxi in Chinese society Guanxi and the legal system in contemporary China
Part 1: Defining Guanxi
Two main questions What type of phenomenon does guanxi represent in Chinese society? How can we explain its significance as China’s economy continues to develop?
Cultural scholars Institutional theorists • Cultural scholars see guanxi as ‘a unique type of relationship or a behavioural pattern deeply rooted in Chinese history and culture, where “particularistic ties” have long been used for instrumental purpose’ (Chang 2011:315) • Guanxi retains its importance in China’s political, social and economic life regardless of economic and political changes. • Institutional theorists suggest that guanxi practice should be defined as a reflection of broader institutional and historical changes (Gold et al. 2002a). • Social and economic changes in China can greatly contribute to the evolution of guanxi practice (Ledeneva 2008).
No consensus on the definition of guanxi Jacobs (1979) interprets guanxi as connectedness or particularistic ties . Pye (1982) regards guanxi as friendship sustained by the continuing exchange of favours . Gold (1985: 660) defines guanxi as ‘a power relationship , as one’s control over a valued good or access to it gives power over others’. Hwang (1987) adds that guanxi is a type of reciprocal relationship . Osland (1990: 8) notes that ‘the term [guanxi] refers to a special relationship between a person who needs something and a person who has the ability to give something’. Bian (1997: 369) suggests that guanxi literally means ‘relationship or relation, but its essence is a set of interpersonal connections that facilitate exchanges of favours between people’.
Characteristics of Guanxi Reciprocity Chinese have ‘a strong sense of reciprocity for developing friendship and saving face for themselves’(Su and Littlefield 2001: 201); a person will be viewed as untrustworthy if he/she violates the principle of reciprocity. Utilitarianism Guanxi relations are maintained through mutual exchange of favors. Guanxi is a mixture of ganqing (emotional feelings of affection or attachment) and renqing (favors/obligatory reciprocity). Transferability Guanxi is transferable. As Luo (2000: 10) explains, ‘if A has guanxi with B and B is a friend of C, then B can introduce or recommend A to C or vice versa’; during this process, B functions as a middleman. Intangibility Guanxi practice follows an invisible and unwritten code of reciprocity and equity (Yan 1996b).
Part 2: The role of guanxi in Chinese society
Guanxi practice in Mao’s China
Under the central planning system A person would find it extremely difficult to survive without cultivating and maintaining guanxi… The reach of personal networks was seriously constrained
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