Guanxi (關係 / 关系), which is about personal relationships in Chinese business
Traditional values in human relations are still maintained in Chinese society, which manifest themselves in the form of unwritten principles such as trust and mutual support. Guanxi is considered to be an attitude rooted from Confucianism, which implies the belief that it is better to avoid or settle disputes than to bring them to court. Good personal relations are therefore more important than laws and treaties that are difficult to enforce.
The term guanxi itself is a combination of 關 guān and 係 xì.
guān has traditionally meant ‘a door lock’, and over time, this is how it began to describe a belonging to a group, which has led to the guān also metaphorically expressing ‘relationships’. Whereas 係 means ‘to make something’ or ‘to establish a relationship/binding’. Hence guanxi, for example, are sometimes referred to as ‘special relationship between two people’, ‘particular bond’, ‘friendship involving a constant exchange of favours’, ‘mutual exchange’, ‘interaction between two people’, ‘network of social connections’ or ‘personal connections’.
Guanxi, as a common form of building ties between people, has a significant influence on both private as well as business relationships within Chinese society. Moreover, the concept has blurred the rigid boundaries between these two spheres. Unlike the business world in Western countries, China pays much more attention to networking. The established relationships are closer, more personal, based on long-term, collective cooperation. Guanxi also determines the expectations and behavioral models towards the partners. Regularity and commitment to maintaining contacts, as well as favorable treatment and reciprocating favors are extremely important. Becoming familiar with the idea is one of the key success factors for understanding the cultural differences between China and the West, especially for entrepreneurs who are considering expansion into the Middle Kingdom. Furthermore, even understanding the profound implications does not guarantee you the success in practicing guanxi as becoming a member of this complex network requires much effort and time.
Karolina Pajączek,
Ania Serwach