Contrary to what some people might think, networking is a practice as old as time, especially in the cutthroat world of business. The Chinese even have a special word to designate the system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings: guanxi. The etymology of the word which, if we translate literally the original Chinese characters 关 系 means "closed system", provides us with an idea of how exclusive this system can get. In fact, guanxi is deeply rooted in Chinese corporate culture ever since its development in imperial China and today it is still very much present in business negotiations.
Usually, guanxi is analyzed on three different levels:personal, corporate and governmental. In this article, we will mostly focus on the corporate level and how guanxi still affects business so many centuries after its development.
When it comes to corporate relationships, guanxi goes beyond the simple Western-styled networking. The relationships are quite personal and they entail a sense of moral obligation, while implying at the same time an eventual return of the favor. Guanxi is very closely related to Confucian philosophy, meaning that in this case guanxi can also extend to friends and family in order to achieve a harmonious community. We can also find analogies between guanxi and Pierre Bourdieu's social capital, which is a carefully constructed social network that an individual can put to good use when he or she wishes to obtain something.
Still, the question remains: why is guanxi still so prevalent today? The answer seems pretty obvious. Having an effective social network can save businesses a lot of time and effort by making a phone call to the right person, fast-tracking their projects.
One must always be careful though not to confuse guanxi with nepotism or corruption, something which appears to be not so self-evident anymore.
By Maria Zoi Michailidou - Corporate Culture Correspondent at YNBC