Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Guanxi is a key concept in Chinese society. It is about how people are connected and the structure within Chinese society. The words like relationships, connections, or personal ties can be translated into guanxi in Chinese. However, it doesn’t work well in turn. Translations like relationships, connections, and sphere of personal influence do not fully cover the central notions of guanxi.
Compared with the value free concepts like relationships, connections, and personal ties, guanxi is involved with social norms and ethics. For example, in Confucianism, relatives and friends are two kinds of basic guanxi in people’s daily life. The guanxi with relatives is involved with the social norm of filial piety, while the guanxi with friends is involved with the social norm of loyalty.
Guanxi is embedded in the Chaxu Geju (the pattern of difference sequence) in Chinese society. In the book Rural China, Professor Fei Xiaotong described the Chaxu Geju as the water traces after throwing a stone in the lake. The person is at the center point and people who have closer guanxi with the person are in the central circles. For example, family members are in the first central circle, close friends are in the second circle, acquaintances are in the third circle, and so on.
In a narrow sense, we can see that guanxi refers in particular to the relationships with relatives and friends. In a general sense, especial in the modernizing process from acquaintance society to stranger society, when we talk about guanxi, we focus on guanxi as important resources rather than emphasizing the social norms and Chaxu Geju. Guanxi can be accumulated and used to generate more guanxi. In such as view, guanxi can be also called social capital in a metaphorical sense.