Social Connections in China
Institutions, Culture, and the Changing Nature of Guanxi
Pitman B. Potter
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 2002
Online Publication Date:July 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511499579.011
Subjects: Sociology: general interest
Discussions of the role of “guanxi” in Chinese society are commonplace. Whether in economics, politics, or social relations, guanxi is frequently posited as a fundamental dynamic that determines the process and outcomes of behavior. guanxi has also been examined as a critical element in business relationships. While the importance of personal relationships and networks is widely acknowledged as a universal, albeit socially embedded, phenomenon, analysis of guanxi in China represents an effort to contextualize these practices to local conditions. This chapter will examine the role of guanxi in the Chinese legal system in the context of legal culture and by reference to the attitudes and behavior of Chinese legal actors.
Preparing a chapter on the role of guanxi in the Chinese legal system might appear at first blush as the equivalent of introducing Star Trek's Borg to the Red Queen of Alice and Wonderland. Like the Red Queen the Chinese legal system appears as a puzzling series of contradictions, where formal (often formalistic and draconian) rules and procedures are often interpreted and applied according to arbitrary held views of powerful officials yielding a variety of unintended results, or else ignored altogether. Conventional wisdom on guanxi relations in Chinese society often portrays this dynamic in ways emblematic of Borg, as an all-encompassing set of norms that all members of the assimilated community understand and to which they all subscribe. Moreover, as with both the Red Queen and Borg, direct engagement is discouraged.