This is part two, make sure to read yesterdays post about “face”
The other term that every expat dreads is “guanxi.” Roughly translated it means “relationship,” or “connection,” but really it is so much more than that. Guanxi is often described in textbooks as a kind of privilege or as a thing that might help you get a job. One of my readers described guanxi as “endemic” and that’s really the only way to describe it.
Recent articles on People’s Daily relating to guanxi have included gov’t positions being given to family members before they are even half way through college, its an official’s son running a person over, and then daring the police to arrest him. Not that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other countries, but that this level of entitlement is pervasive at even the lowest level of government (or in schools).
It runs the other way too though. Sometimes it is only through guanxi that anything can be accomplished. I had a few foreigners visiting the hospital recently, and they ran into some visa problems. The local authorities said there was nothing they could do to help them. The man behind the desk sent them away three times. Finally a phone call from their university made everything possible in a matter of minutes.
So it’s important to remember that a “no” is not always a “no” for everyone, if it doesn’t work for you bring a better connected co-worker. I had a friend trying to send a package home, and they were told by the man at the post office that the CD was a “cultural relic” and would not allow it to be sent. Finally they brought a woman from the school who claimed that sending the CD abroad was something that the school leaders need her to do, and off it went, no more questions.
After a few weeks in China most foreigners are cringing at the notion of guanxi, because as foreigners we are treated well, we have privilege, but we can never have guanxi. so when you can, try to have a little connection to someone who has a pile of guanxi.