Monday, August 15, 2005



Many foreigners on their first visit to China learn some Chinese and try to use it whenever they can: xiexie (thank you), pijiu (beer) and xishou jian zai naili (where is the bathroom?) are just a few of the most important. But probably the most used – yet most confusing – Chinese word is guanxi, broadly translated as “relationships.” First off the plane we are told that China is a society built on guanxi, that it is important to have good guanxi, and that, if you are to do business in China, guanxi is the thing that may either make or break your venture.

The foundation of guanxi in China is human relationships. Why is this? Well, let’s try a social experiment: Put a bunch of people on a land mass with arable land too small to support them effectively; send them storms and floods, wars, pestilence and famine; let simmer for five thousand years. Now open the cover and pick out the key ingredient of that society, the unifying theme that seems to run throughout their history. Most likely, it will be “relationships.” How do you get food when there isn’t enough? You know someone with better access to food than you have. How do you protect your family from strong enemies? Band together with others to form a stronger group. Guanxi is the very basic phenomenon of human beings getting access to scare resources and understanding that they are stronger together than they are alone.

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