Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau. Visit my website for more.
The most dynamic Chinese, ever (and the most tired)
Guanxi關係means relationship. Simply: your network.
Guan 關 means to close, closure; to imprison. But it also means a crucial location in the strategic sense, especially along the Silk Road.
Xi繫 means connection, tie, correlation, an organizing system etc. The character has “silk” in it.
In fact, the Silk Road may be considered the powerful manifestation of global Guanxi networks, when silk was the international currency. The current Silk Road Project of the CCP is consistent with the way how the Chinese mind works.
Contrary to English word “relationship”, which suggest something predetermined and enduring, the use of Guanxi is meaningfully combined with a verb. Guanxi is always full of action. It is lively and self-motivated and constantly on the go. Guanxi is an action hero, like Bruce Lee, witty, fast and tired. Guanxi is the most dynamic Chinese ever existed. And in my opinion, it is also the thing that limits the Chinese mind and restrains the authenticity and creativity.
Guanxis in Chinese culture are fundamental to doing business. In the Western eye it is almost something mythical and profound that ought to be respected and worshipped. But when looking behind the smoke screen, it is a form of reciprocation: ‘a favour for a favour’. Chinese business people will often give something to someone in return for, at a later date, being able to ask that person to give something back or to exert influence and power on their behalf.
This is intended to enable Chinese businesses to create connections, relationships, and networks that help them bypass normal governance systems or conventional business practices. An important aspect of this is the social ties between individuals, which are intended to provide direct or exclusive access to insider information, business contracts or scarce resources.
In other words, talent is not the foremost motive and in most cases it’s not even given the chance. When Guanxi rules, innovation is only a side effect but true innovative thinking is the only way to lose. Talent and skills suffer for a stubborn tradition. The trump card in this system is and has been the significant collection of relationships and connections.
It’s almost Chinese New Year, a brilliant season to guanxi. Speaking of Guanxi as a verb, we will take a quick look at the Chinese drinking ritual.
Quanjiu,劝酒， “persuade (business relation) to drink” is a major feature on the Chinese parties. There are many Chinese sayings relating to this extreme behaviour. “Be (appallingly) drunk! Show me you are a true friend!” “Feel (friendship) deep, bottom up. Feel (friendship) shallow, lick the cup.” Etc.
How much you are prepared to get drunk with your business partner is of importance in the Chinese context. Chinese drinking game is not about the charm of the wine itself, but behind the intention to persuade someone to get deadly drunk lies power and control; “who rules who”. It’s a sign of conquest. If you are a woman attending a business banquet during Chinese New Year, remember what I just told you.