Skip to main content

Blat and Guanxi: Informal Practices in Russia and China

  • Alena Ledeneva (a1)

This paper compares informal practices used to obtain goods and services in short supply and to circumvent formal procedures in Russia and China, and assesses their changes and continuities during the market reforms. I divide my presentation into four parts. The first tackles similarities between blat and guanxi under socialism: language games and idioms that referred to these practices; similar pressures of the shortage economy that forced individuals to satisfy their needs through informal exchanges; and the contradictory role of informal practices—they supported but also subverted the socialist systems. In the second part I shift my focus to the differences between blat and guanxi that stem from different cultural traditions in the two societies. These traditions determine the moral force of reciprocity, the degree of codification of informal practices, and their legitimacy. The third part illustrates differences in market reforms in China and in Russia. Finally, I compare blat and guanxi practices as responses to these reforms and discuss both intriguing similarities and significant differences in the new forms of guanxi and blat. Thus, the post-Soviet reforms have changed informal practices so much that blat has almost lost its relevance as a term that describes the corrupt use of personal networks in contemporary Russia. In contemporary Chinese society, by contrast, guanxi has deeper roots in kinship structures and traditions, and both the term and guanxi practices continue to be important.1 The partial nature of reforms in China and the persistence of communist rule may account for some of this difference, but we must also consider a range of historical and cultural factors that shape and help reproduce informal practices.

Hide All
Andrle, Vladimir. 1994. A Social History of Twentieth Century Russia. London: Edward Arnold.
Arakcheeva, Iulia. 2003. Blat po raschetu. Finansy i Investitsii 30 June: 80.
Berliner, J. 1957. Factory and Manager in the USSR. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Richard Nice, trans. Cambridge University Press.
Brady, Rose. 2000. Russia: The Making of a Kleptocracy. Business Week 30 Oct., Accessed 4 Apr. 2005.
Braudel, Fernand. 1993 [1987]. A History of Civilizations. Mayne, Richard, trans. New York: Penguin.
Chang, Ting-Ting. 2005. “Informal Practices: A Product of Culture or Economic System? A Comparison of Blat in Russia, Guanxi in China and Guanxi in Taiwan.” M.A. thesis, Dept. of Social Sciences, SSEES, University College, London.
Clarke, Simon. 2002. Making Ends Meet in Contemporary Russia: Secondary Employment, Subsidiary Agriculture and Social Networks. Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Collins, Kathleen. 2006. Clan Politics and Regime Transition in Central Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crankshaw, E. 1956. Russia without Stalin. London: Michael Joseph.
Dallin, David J. 1951. The New Soviet Empire. London: Hollis and Carter.
Dunfee, T. W. and Warren, D. E.. 2001. Is Guanxi Ethical? A Normative Analysis of Doing Business in China. Journal of Business Ethics 32, 3: 191204.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. 2000. Blat in Stalin's Time. In, Lovell, StephenLedeneva, AlenaRogatchevsii, and Andrei, eds., Bribery and Blat in Russia: From the Middle Ages to the 1990s. London: Macmillan, 166–82.
Gambetta, Diego. 2002. Displaying One's Skeleton's in One's Cupboard: Why Norms Breed Corruption. In, Treisman, Daniel, ed., “Symposium—Dirty Politics.” Apsa-cp 13, 1: 618.
Gambetta, Diego. 2004. The Exchange of Compromising Information and Its Effects on Networks of Lawbreakers. Oxford: Global Poverty Research Group.
Grossman, Gregory. 1990. “The Second Economy in the USSR and Eastern Europe: A Bibliography.” Berkeley-Duke Occasional Papers on the Second Economy in the USSR, Paper No. 21. Durham, N.C.: Duke University.
Gudkov, Lev and Dubin, Boris. 2002. “Nuzhnye znakomstva”: Osobennosti sotsial'noi organizatsii v usloviiakh institutsional'nykh defitsitov.”, Accessed Oct. 2005.
Guthrie, Doug. 1999. Dragon in a Three-Piece Suit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Guthrie, Doug. 2002. Information Asymmetries and the Problem of Perception: The Significance of Structural Position in Assessing the Importance of Guanxi in China. In, Gold, ThomasGuthrie, Doug, and Wank, David, eds., Social Connections in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, n.p.
Hellman, Joel, and Kaufmann, Daniel. 2001. Confronting the Challenge of State Capture in Transition Economies. Finance and Development 38, 3: 4044.
Hoffman, David. 2002. Oligarchic Capitalism in Russia: The Past, Present, and Future. 27 Feb, http:// Accessed 4 Apr. 2005.
Hosking, Geoffrey. 2000. Patronage and the Russian State. Slavonic and East European Review 78, 2: 301–20.
Hsu, C. 2005. Capitalism without Contracts versus Capitalists without Capitalism: Comparing the Influence of Chinese Guanxi and Russian Blat on Marketization. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 38: 309–27.
Huang, Z. 1993. Current Developments of the Private Firms in the Mainland China. Economic Outlook 8, 32: 88.
Humphrey, Caroline. 2002. The Unmaking of Soviet Life: Everyday Economies after Socialism. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Jowitt, Ken. 1992. New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Karklins, Rasma. 2005. The System Made Me Do It: Corruption in Post-Communist Societies. New York: M. E. Sharpe.
Kee, Y. P. and Kiong, T. C.. 1998. Guanxi Bases, Xinyong and Chinese Business Networks. British Journal of Sociology 49, 1: 944–74.
Ledeneva, Alena. 1998. Russia's Economy of Favours: Blat, Networking, and Informal Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ledeneva, Alena. 2000. Continuity and Change of Blat Practices in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. In, Lovell, StephenLedeneva, Alena, and Rogatchevsii, Andrei, eds., Bribery and Blat in Russia: From the Middle Ages to the 1990s. London: Macmillan, 181204.
Ledeneva, Alena. 2006. How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Lovell, Stephen, Ledeneva, Alena, and Rogatchevsii, Andrei, eds. 2000. Bribery and Blat in Russia: From the Middle Ages to the 1990s. London: Macmillan.
McBeath, G. A. 1998. Wealth and Freedom: Taiwan's New Political Economy. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing.
Michailova, S. and Worm, V.. 2003. Personal Networking in Russia and China: Blat and Guanxi. European Management Journal, 21, 4 (Aug.): 509–19.
Oleinik, Anton N. 2003. Organized Crime, Prison and Post-Soviet Societies. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Pei, Minxin. 2002. The Long March against Graft. Financial Times, 9 Dec., Accessed Nov. 2003.
Pesman, Dale. 2000. Russia and Soul. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Promptova, Olga and Chernov, Anatolii. 2004. Blat uzhe ne aktualen. Vedomosti, 14 Jan,
Ries, Nancy. 1997. Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Rivkin-Fish, Michele. 2005. Women's Health in Post-Soviet Russia: The Politics of Intervention. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Sachs, Jeffrey D., Woo, Wing Thye, and Yang, Xiaokai. 2000. Economic Reforms and Constitutional Transition. Center for International Development and Department of Economics, Harvard University, Working Paper No. 43, Apr.
Scott, James C. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Shlapentokh, Vladimir. 1989. Public and Private Life of the Soviet People: Changing Values in Post-Stalin Russia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shleifer, Andrei and Vishny, R.. 1992. Pervasive Shortages under Socialism. RAND Journal of Economics 23: 237–46.
Solnick, Steven. 1999. Stealing the State. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Standifird, S. S. and Marshall, R. S.. 2000. The Transaction Cost Advantage of Guanxi-Based Business Practices. Journal of World Business 35, 1: 2142.
Sun, Yan. 1999. Reform, State, and Corruption: Is Corruption Less Destructive in China Than in Russia? Comparative Politics 32, 1: 120..
Trompenaars, Fons and Hampden-Turner, Charles. 1998. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business. 2d ed.New York: McGraw-Hill.
Verdery, Katherine. 2003. The Vanishing Hectare: Property and Value in Postsocialist Transylvania. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Wang, W. Y. 2000. Informal Institutions and Foreign Investment in China. Pacific Review 13, 4: 525–56.
Wank, David L. 1996. The Institutional Process of Market Clientelism: Guanxi and Private Business in a South China City. China Quarterly 147: 820–38.
Wank, David L. 1999. Commodifying Communism: Business, Trust, and Politics in a Chinese City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wedel, Jamie. 2001. Who Taught Crony Capitalism to Russia? Wall Street Journal Europe, 19 Mar.: 7.
Yan, Yunxiang. 1996. The Flow of Gifts: Reciprocity and Social Networks in a Chinese Village. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. 1994. Gifts, Favors, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Yang, Mayfair Mei-hui. 2002. The Resilience of Guanxi and Its New Deployments: A Critique of some New Guanxi Scholarship. The China Quarterly 170: 459–76.
Yeung, I and Tung, R. 1996. Achieving Business Success in Confucian Societies: The Importance of Guanxi Connections. Organisational Dynamics 25, 2: 5465.
Yurchak, Alexei. 2005. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (In-formation). Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 23
Total number of PDF views: 265 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 959 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.