Is Guanxi China’s Cultural System of Grass Roots Business and Justice?

November 17, 2015

In lieu of a Western style legal system for most of China’s history, Guanxi offered an alternative for thousands of years to foster innovation, develop trust and contribute to trade and commerce.

Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), the godfather of China’s modernization and the main character in my historical fiction novel, discovered the importance of Guanxi soon after he left the employ of the British and went to work for the Emperor.  He quickly learned that a “supreme value of loyalty glued together China’s structure of personal relationships.” Source: Entering China’s Service

In addition, Hart wrote in a letter in 1891, “These people (referring to the Chinese) never act too soon, and, so far, I have not known of their losing anything by being late. To glide naturally, easily and seasonably into the safe position sequence as circumstances make, is probably a sounder though less heroic policy for a state than to be forever experimenting—”

To translate, it takes time to develop a relationship/friendship/trust (Guanxi) that all involved might benefit from.


Warning: This is a Promotional Video. However, it offers a perspective on Guanxi worth watching.

However, I did not learn about Guanxi from Robert Hart. I first learned of it from the China Law Blog, which quoted the Silicon Hutong Blog.

Then I did more research and watched a few videos on the subject. I learned that Guanxi is one of those complexities of Chinese culture that does not translate easily.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates and to those no stranger – Chinese or foreign – will ever have access.

Guanxi developed over millennia because China did not have a stable and effective legal system similar to the one that developed in western countries.

In fact, the legal system in China today is relatively new and made its appearance after the 1982 Chinese Constitution became the basis of the law.

Since 1982, there have been several amendments to the Constitution as China adapts its evolving legal system, which was modeled after the German legal system.

In time, this Western influenced legal system may replace Guanxi since business law modeled on Western law with Chinese characteristic has developed faster than civil law.

There are a several opinions about Guanxi. I learned that Guanxi is similar to a gate that opens to a network of human beings, but it isn’t that simple.

Maintaining Guanxi is different than how relationships are maintained in other cultures. The embedded videos with this post offer a more detailed explanation.

The China Law Blog copied the post from the Silicon Hutong Blog. The post on the China Law Blog had more than twenty comments and it was a lively discussion worth reading if you are interested in discovering more.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Discover the History of Guanxi

March 11, 2014

I first heard of Guanxi from the China Law Blog, which referred to the Silicon Hutong Blog.

After reading the China Law Blog’s post, I did more research and also watched a few videos on the subject.

I learned that Guanxi is an aspect of Chinese culture that does not translate easily.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates and to those no stranger—Chinese or foreign—will ever have access to. (Silicon Hutong)

Guanxi evolved over the millennia because China didn’t have a stable and effective legal system. In fact, the legal system in China today is relatively new and made its appearance after the 1982 Chinese Constitution was established.

Since 1982, there have been several amendments to the Constitution as China adapts its evolving legal system.

In time, this legal system may replace Guanxi since business law modeled on Western law with Chinese characteristic is developing faster than civil law.

Through the centuries, merchants in China needed a way to avoid disputes and problems in the absence of a well-developed legal system. To survive, this complex system called Guanxi developed with many components such as partnerships, trust, credibility, etc.

Guanxi developed organically in civil society due to the absence of a uniform, government mandated legal system, and maintaining Guanxi is different than how relationships are maintained in other cultures. The embedded video with this post offers a more detailed explanation.

The China Law Blog’s had more than twenty comments, and it was a lively discussion worth reading if you are interested in discovering more on this topic.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Sex is NOT Important

September 19, 2012

My wife, daughter and I saw “Chinglish“—a play by David Henry Hwan—on Sunday, September 16 at the Berkeley Rep Theater and we laughed-out-loud many times.

This is not a review of Hwan’s play as much as it is about how different cultures find common behaviors hard wired in our DNA to make connections.

Back to “Sex in NOT Important”, the title of this Post. Of course sex is important, but for thirty-two years, I kept telling myself it wasn’t. My reason for thinking this had nothing to do with sex but more to do with lust and how dangerous out-of-control lust might be.  For example, lust has led many a man and women into relationships that do not turn out well. Lust has led to priests/pastors to molest children. Lust is linked to rape. Lust has motivated a few teachers to have sexual affairs with students ruining lives.

Now, thanks to Hawn’s Chinglish, I have changed my mind about the importance of sex.

Before I continue the post, I want to thank Nina Egert, the author of Tracing Anza’s Trail: A Photographer’s Journey; A Place Where the Winds Blow: Men Women Plant New Roots at Oakland’s Original Rancho, and Noguchi’s California: Poetic Visions of a 19th Century Dharma Bum. Without an e-mail from Nina, I probably would have never heard of Chinglish.

After all, the Earth is still a big place and there is a lot going on 24/7.

To summarize Chinglish, this laugh-out-loud play was about Daniel, a former employee of Enron, who almost went to prison with the rest of the crooks. Daniel not only lost his high paying job with Enron but he’s broke due to the legal battle that kept him out of jail.

In a last desperate attempt at success, he goes to China to find customers for his American company (a business that’s been in his family since 1925), but Daniel does not speak a word of Mandarin. At the beginning of the play, he says, “If you are an American, it is safe to assume that you do not speak a single f*****g foreign language.”

That one line tells us how clueless most Americans are when it comes to other cultures.

Chinglish, through humor, teaches us a lesson about the minefield of misunderstanding and manipulation that happens when people of different cultures attempt to do business with each other.

Here’s the synopsis from the Website of the Broadway production of Chinglish: “An American businessman arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contract for his family’s sign-making firm. He soon discovers that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners …”

However, there is another implied theme and that is why sex is important—something all cultures and races have in common that often transcends cultural differences. In the play, Daniel, an unhappily married man has an affair with an unhappily married mainland Chinese woman. Without spoiling the story, this affair provides the link that Daniel needs to succeed in China, and that link is Guanxi.

Early in the play, Daniel’s British interpreter, a man that has lived in China for years and speaks Mandarin fluently, tells him he must stay at least eight weeks to have a chance to develop Guanxi, a system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings. The British interpreter says that for millennia China has survived without a Western legal system of laws, lawyers, courts and judges, and that Guanxi was crucial for China’s success as the longest surviving civilization and culture on the planet.

Hmm, is this a teachable moment? Do we learn something about the Western legal system compared to Guanxi?

Without understand how Guanxi works, Daniel struggles to cross the cultural divide but fails until he has the sexual affair with the wife of a Chinese judge. The sexual attraction and lust that led to the affair opens the door to the Guanxi network of his lover and her husband.

To discover what happens, you may want to see the play or wait for the movie, which I was told is in production and will stay faithful to the play. The last performance for Chinglish at the Berkeley Rep will be October 21, 2012.  Then it will appear at the South Coast Repertory January 25 – February 24, 2013 in Orange County, California before moving to Hong Kong March 1 – 6, 2013.

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Importance of Guanxi to Chinese Civilization

May 23, 2011

In lieu of a Western style legal system for most of China’s history, Guanxi offered an alternative to foster innovation, develop trust and contribute to trade and commerce for thousands of years.

Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), the godfather of China’s modernization and the main character of my first two historical fiction novels, discovered the importance of Guanxi soon after he left the employ of the British and went to work for the Emperor.

He quickly learned that a “supreme value of loyalty glued together China’s structure of personal relationships.” Source: Entering China’s Service

In addition, Hart wrote in a letter in 1891, “These people (referring to the Chinese) never act too soon, and, so far, I have not known of their losing anything by being late. To glide naturally, easily and seasonably into the safe position sequence as circumstances make, is probably a sounder though less heroic policy for a state than to be forever experimenting—”

To translate, it takes time to develop a relationship/friendship/trust (Guanxi) that all invovled may benefit from.


Warning: This is a Promotional Video. However, it offers a perspective on Guanxi worth seeing.

However, I did not learn about Guanxi from Robert Hart. I first learned of it from the China Law Blog, which quoted the Silicon Hutong Blog.

Then I did more research and watched a few videos on the subject. I learned that Guanxi is one of those complexities of Chinese
culture that does not translate easily.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates and to those no stranger – Chinese or foreign – will ever have access. Source: Silicon Hutong

Guanxi developed over millennia because China did not have a stable and effective legal system as it developed in the West.

In fact, the legal system in China today is relatively new and made its appearance after the 1982 Chinese Constitution became the law of the land.

Since 1982, there have been several amendments to the Constitution as China adapts its evolving legal system, which was modeled after the German legal system.

In time, this Western influenced legal system may replace Guanxi since business law modeled on Western law with Chinese characteristic has developed faster than civil law.

There are a several opinions about Guanxi. I learned that Guanxi is similar to a gate that opens to a network of human beings but it isn’t that simple.

Maintaining Guanxi is different than how relationships are maintained in other cultures. The embedded videos with this post offer a more detailed explanation.

The China Law Blog copied the post from the Silicon Hutong Blog. The post on the China Law Blog had more than twenty comments and it was a lively discussion worth reading if you are interested in discovering more.

Learn more of Chinese Culture from The Mental and Emotional State of “Face”

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to iLook China, use the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

This revised and edited post first appeared here on October 18, 2010 as Guanxi in China


Changing China through its Youth – Part 3/5

February 1, 2011

The PBS Frontline narrator mentions how entrepreneurs that have been away from China must get used to doing business in China, which may include bribes.

In fact, to Chinese there is no clear definition of what is bribery — what the West calls corruption is deeply rooted in China’s culture (and has nothing to do with Communism) and is not seen the same way.

Lu Dong, going into the business of Internet tailoring, says, “If we use Western values to judge a Chinese company’s behavior, I think it is very hard to do business with them.”

Ben Wu, the Internet Cafe owner, says they (Chinese businessmen) have no interest in helping or not helping him, and he cannot figure out how to influence them.

To get help in China, one must make friends and since China is an eating culture that takes money. To learn more, discover the meaning of Guanxi in China.

Ben Wu, who was born in China but educated in the US, says he will not bribe anyone. However, he doesn’t think he can stop his Chinese partner.

One wise quote explains the choices. “There is nothing you can do. A fish has to live in water and if the water isn’t clean you must get used to it.”

Now, for a corruption reality check. Here is a comparison with the US. We know an engineer who stopped working in construction because of the difficulty in finding contractors that are honest.

We also had a bad experience with a contractor we signed on to build an addition to our house. Twenty-eight thousand dollars later without any construction starting, he was still asking for money.

An investigation on my part revealed he hadn’t taken out the construction permit even though he had collected the money months earlier to do so. We cancelled the contract and he filed a lien on our property for about $200,000 US.

Months later, we managed to get about half the 28 thousand back and California forced him to cancel the lien. However, we had to see and pay for a lawyer, file a complaint with a state agency in California and the process was stressful and frustrating.

The fact is that there is corruption in every culture and country. It just wears different clothing.

Return to Changing China through its Youth – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


The Real Wimps are revealed in the Amy Chua, Tiger Mother Debate

January 19, 2011

David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times, wrote an interesting opinion piece titled Amy Chua is a Wimp.

Brooks was wrong of course, and one of the comments to his opinion left by Leon Breaux shows why

Brooks was wrong just as most American parents are also wrong in the way they raise children to have an inflated and false sense of self-esteem.

Amy Chua as a Tiger Mother may be an example of the other extreme but her children will be much better prepared to survive in the world than children that grew up learning social survival skills in lieu of a real education.

I taught in the US public schools for thirty years, so I agree with Leon Breaux and have copied his comment below with the above link to the New York Times so readers may read what Brooks has to say as flawed as his self-centered, biased opinion is. 

I suspect Brooks is just defending his own parenting methods. It’s difficult for most people to admit they are wrong.

In fact, Leon Breaux suggests, “It’s the middle way between the two that’s going to do the trick,” which is the method my wife and I used to raise our daughter who has great social skills but also earned straight A’s in public school to graduate last year with a 4.65 GPA, and she was accepted to Stanford.

My wife and I are proud to say we are Middle Way Tiger Parents who did not support the soft self-esteem inflated method of parenting that has been so popular in the US for far too long.


 

Leon Breaux’s comment to the New York Times Op-Ed piece
Beijing
January 18th, 2011
11:14 a

 I’ve taught for quite a few years at the high school and junior high level in three states in the US and in three Asian countries, including China.

This piece frankly strikes me as an insight into what is wrong with education today in the US. Here’s an intelligent, accomplished man comparing structured intellectual activity and training to socializing and proclaiming socializing the winner.

My question is this: If you don’t know anything, what good is your socializing?

Most Asian parents push their children hard. They want them to succeed and they do it the best way they know how. I haven’t read Professor Chua’s book, but from what I’ve read of it, she takes an ironic tone concerning her own harsh methods. At any rate, just because she pushed her extreme of discipline too far, does not mean her point concerning American parenting’s lack of discipline is any less valid.

There is a middle way between these two extremes.

American students and parents are self-absorbed. Americans in general are so self-absorbed they find it difficult to understand anything outside their own immediate interests. No, this is not normal. Ironic, isn’t it that the type of thinking Mr. Brooks advises is supposed to increase social ability but in fact seems to only create that ability among those narrowly defined as your status peers.

Not that Mr. Brook’s fundamental point isn’t correct. The best predictor for primate brain size is the size of the species’ social group. The larger the group, the larger the brain. Obviously, the demands of knowing the thoughts and actions of other similarly equipped creatures as yourself in competitive situations are staggering. But that’s not the point. Close as we may be, we are not, actually, primates in social groups. We have fallen from that state of grace, so to speak. We are now compelled to make our own choices, and the wrong choices may mean our demise. We must master objective knowledge because that is the world in which we have put ourselves.

The true nature of objective education, where facts are facts and knowledge actually has some meaning and use in its own right, that destroyer of prejudice and racism and class and many other potentially harmful divisions between us, has largely been left behind. No one’s looking much outside themselves in the US. So while these socially adroit students may be quite good at doing whatever they do with each other in terms of their interactions, which probably isn’t anything too impressive in a larger sense, my original point remains: they don’t know anything.

Knowing something takes learning. Learning is generally hard work. Children often don’t want to do it. Trying to brush this away as something inconsequential and not as important as socialization or achievement of status is a great recipe for stagnation or worse.

You know, Americans admire Asian educational systems, but Asians admire American. And Western women want to look tanned, and do all sorts of things including cancerous tanning beds and lying in the sun to achieve it, while Asian women see extreme whiteness as the best shade and use all sorts of treatments, including cancerous creams, to achieve whiteness and wouldn’t be caught dead lying in the sun.

Point is, forget about Asian and Western. They’re different, hot dog. Question is, what’s best for educating our young people, worldwide. Clearly, a steady diet of day care without the pursuit of actual, objective knowledge isn’t the best route. Clearly, isolation into enforced study isn’t the best either. It’s the middle way between the two that’s going to do the trick.

I haven’t read Professor Chua’s book, but I’ll hazard a guess that’s where she comes out in the end.

A note from this Blog’s host: If you believe that Chinese Tiger Mothers are churning out robotic drones that have no social skills, you are wrong.

Unlike many idealistic Americans today with the fixation that everyone has to be equal even if we have to create government entitlement programs while working overtime to boost self-esteem in children raising generations of selfish narcissists, in China people have no choice but to compete to get into colleges and/or start private businesses.

The losers get little or no help from the government.

Even government owned industries in China were required in the 1980s to become profitable or go out of business and many did.

The losers just work harder for less to survive or don’t work at all and become homeless or turn to the family for a place to live and food to eat.

However, do not expect that nonworker to stay out of work for long. The rest of the family will put immense pressure on him or her to get out there and do anything to earn money even if it is pennies a day.  Doing nothing is unacceptable.

If China’s government does provide financial support, it is usually barely enough to eat a simple diet.  Since most Chinese work very hard for what little they earn, most wouldn’t condone the type of entitlement programs that exist in America that allows millions to not work or improve him or herself.

In China, meritocracy is the rule and has been for more than two thousand years.  If you cannot measure up, you are a failure. It’s that simple.

However, the Chinese also have a system that requires social skills to build networks of trust between individuals, businessmen and families and it is called Guanxi.  To be included in one of those social groups is not easy. To achieve Guanxi means earning the trust of others and not just being cute in a social setting.

What most Americans are missing in this debate is the fact that the Confucian, Taoist culture that developed and survived in China created a regional super power that lasted for more than two thousand years while the social self-esteem soft parenting approach popular in America to raise children was launched in the 1960s about six decades ago and has resulted in more than 14 trillion dollars in debt, a very divisive militant political atmosphere and economic crimes that have created global suffering for tens of millions of hard working people with 64 trillion dollars lost.

In fact, Chinese students in Shanghai ranked number one of 65 nations in the 2009 international PISA test, which doesn’t test the ability to memorize facts but tests the ability to work cooperatively with others to solve problems.

US students placed 23rd in that test. So much for learning social skills the soft American way. Self-esteemism, which pressured teachers to inflate grades while dumbing down the textbooks to make learning less of a challenge for children, has been a dismal failure.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.