Interpersonal relations in China: Expatriates’ perspective on the development and use of guanxi

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Business Review, 2018, 27 (2), pp. 455 - 464
Issue Date:
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© 2017 Elsevier Ltd The literature on social networks identifies relationship building through guanxi as an effective way for Western organizations to reduce their liability of foreignness in China. Even though it is individuals rather than organizations who build these relationships, the focus in previous literature has been on organizational outcomes, and only a handful of studies have attempted to explain how expatriates perceive guanxi relations are built and maintained. To help address this issue, we conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 36 Western expatriates working in China. Our findings suggest that guanxi is perceived to be an informal process that is used to build trust between individuals, which in turn can reduce the uncertainty around contract enforcement in China. We also find that the process for building guanxi between parties is initiated by the individual whose organization has less market power. Finally, the findings suggest that firms should be cautious if they elect to use agents as intermediaries to help connect to, and build relations with buyers and sellers.
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