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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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline