A forthcoming paper by Bian Yanjie in The China Quarterly provides an analytical review of the social science literature on guanxi. Guanxi literally means 'relationships' or 'connections' and is considered is a crucial part of business life in China. The focus of this review is on the prevalence and the increasing significance of guanxi during China’s post-1978 reforms implemented to move to a market economy.

Since then, researchers have engaged in debates on what guanxi actually means to Chinese people in the past and at present, how it has been adaptive to ongoing institutional transformations, and why its influence in economic, social, and political spheres can be stabling, increasing, or decreasing along with market reforms and economic growth.

Bian provides a synthesis of these debates before offering a theoretical framework within which to understand the dynamics of guanxi from the changing degrees of institutional uncertainty and market competition. Survey findings on the increases of guanxi usage in labour markets from 1978 to 2009 are presented to illustrate the usefulness of this framework.

In the conclusion, Bian argues that guanxi is a five-level variable, and that the nature and forms of guanxi influence are contingent upon on 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-money exchanges. This five-level conceptualisation is aimed at advancing future guanxi scholarship in fast-changing Chinese society.

Chair: Professor Chang Xiangqun.

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About the speaker

Bian Yanjie is Professor of Sociology at University of Minnesota, USA. Concurrently, he is Director of the Institute for Empirical Social Science Research at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.

Dr Bian is a co-founder (with Professor Li Lulu) of the Chinese General Social Survey, which is a public data archive available to domestic and international scholars. Author of 13 books and more than 130 research articles on topics of China’s social stratification, social networks and institutional change, Dr Bian’s current projects include the development of the sociology of guanxi, a panel study about networks and jobs in Chinese cities, and East Asian social networks. He was recognized as one of the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Elsevier most-cited Chinese researchers in social science.

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