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.

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