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The Prevalence and the Increasing Significance of Guanxi

  • Yanjie Bian (a1)


This paper provides an analytical review of the social science literature on guanxi. The focus of this review is on the prevalence and the increasing significance of guanxi during China's post-1978 reforms, which were implemented to move the country towards a market economy. Since then, researchers have engaged in debates on what guanxi actually means to Chinese people in the past and today, how it has been adaptive to ongoing institutional transformations, and why its influence in economic, social, and political spheres can stabilize, increase or decrease with market reforms and economic growth. The author provides a synthesis of these debates before offering a theoretical framework which provides an understanding of the dynamics of guanxi through the changing degrees of institutional uncertainty and market competition. Survey findings on the increasing use of guanxi in labour markets from 1978 to 2009 are presented to illustrate the usefulness of this framework. In the conclusion, the author argues that guanxi is a five-level variable, and that the nature and forms of guanxi influence are contingent upon whether guanxi is a tie of connectivity, a sentimental tie, a sentiment-derived instrumental tie, an instrumental-particular tie, or an obligational tie that facilitates power and money exchanges. This five-level conceptualization is aimed at advancing future scholarship of guanxi in China's rapidly changing society.

本文是 “关系研究” 最新学术成果的分析性综述, 重点讨论 1978 年改革开放以来市场经济发展中 “关系” 重要性的变化趋势。近 40 年来, 中国研究者就 “关系” 的社会意义, “关系” 的影响作用如何随着体制变迁而发生变化, 以及 “关系” 重要性在社会经济和政治生活领域的稳定、上升、下降等几种可能的变化趋势, 发表了大量的实证研究成果, 但也存在基于数据和理论判断的严重分歧。在总结和剖析这些分歧的基础上, 作者坚持 “关系上升论”, 从体制不确定性和市场竞争程度两个宏观维度提出了理论解释, 并用 1978–2009 年非农工作的求职调查数据对该理论解释提供了初步证明。结论部分, 作者提出 “关系” 是一个变量的观点, 其行为意义在联系纽带、情感纽带、情义纽带、互惠纽带、交易纽带等五个层次之间发生变异和转化。这为推动未来研究提供了可资参考的概念框架。



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