Guanxi and gift exchange: a study of reciprocity within business relationships in contemporary China.




Cameron, Lynda

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Conditions that underlie contracts and cooperative agreements in business take different forms in different parts of the world. This research investigates the nature, structure and content of those informal relations that lie outside the formal contractual relations in the business community in contemporary China. Specifically, it addresses the role of gift giving in business relations, including the practical and cultural implications. This is a worldwide phenomenon, but my focus is on the relationships known in China as guanxi. Building and managing guanxi includes the exchange of gifts, therefore, discerning whether these exchanges are artefacts of the past or are rational and logical today is crucial. I argue that offering a gift symbolizes the desire to have cooperation within a close trusting relationship. Using an historical anthropological approach I present a systematic examination of pre collected data. The analysis looks for patterns to answer the following questions: What role, if any, does gift exchange play in creating guanxi relationships of trust that include reciprocal obligations? What role does guanxi play in China’s growing economy? I hypothesize that in the context of uncertainty in business it is important to be able to trust the person with whom one has business relationships. The research shows that gift exchanges create an atmosphere of trust that is time-and cost-efficient. Therefore, gift exchange has a rational motivation and facilitates advantageous business transactions within a guanxi relationship. Guanxi management is an important part of business strategy. This research will lead to a deeper understanding of the differences and similarities in contemporary business as it is practiced, both globally and locally, by people with different cultural backgrounds.



guanxi, guanxi-exchange, gift exchange, reciprocity, business network, face