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Guanxi And The Breakdown Of Integrity

Popularity 10Viewed 12362 times 2013-8-28 07:39 |System category:Economy

In the west, 'guanxi' is called nepotism. That is you favor family and friends for jobs and business. It is deeply frowned upon in the U.S. In government and public companies, it is against the law in the U.S. It does happen there. Yet, with an uncensored media, it is difficult to do. In the west, journalist love a story like the  drama that has been unfolding in the Bo Xilai trial.

When nepotism or 'guanxi' happens in the U.S., it is usually exposed. Most of the time it is exposed quickly. It is viewed as a practice that is not in the best interest of the public. American companies (and without doubt, government) hire people based upon ability, education, competency, experience and qualifications. There are many other problems that plague the U.S. However, though nepotism is and will always be a problem both in the U.S., China and most other countries, in the U.S. it is quite rare and certainly, not tolerated.

Why isn't guanxi a good thing? Well it is obvious. It is unfair to the masses. Especially in a socialistic society where everyone is presumed to be treated equally and fairly. But also in a democratic society where there is to at least be equal opportunity.

Why is it important that everyone be treated equally and fairly? Well, in the U.S. Constitution it states that 'all men are created equal.' I think that this sentiment is also accepted in most civilized countries and cultures. Thus, in the work place, everyone regardless of race or gender, should have equally opportunity and should only be judged on ability and qualifications. This is important for the advancement of a culture, society and a nation. If you have people in jobs who got those jobs through nepotism, then, you likely have people who aren't motivated to do that job to the best of their ability. If a person is sitting in an office every day and does nothing except come there and not contribute anything positively, then, that person isn't useful to anyone. Not even to themselves.

When you study those 'rags to riches' stories where people have come from poverty and built successful companies and businesses, then you realize that even the wealth that they've accumulated doesn't last than more than two generations of their offspring. Inherited wealth isn't valued by those who have received it as much as those who earned the wealth in the beginning. 

Likewise, when someone 'inherits' a job or are given a job because they have a family member or friend who got them the job, then, the productivity of that person is likely to be minimized at best. They won't contribute positively to the organization. Thus, money is wasted and nothing advances.

I hear a lot of Chinese people talk about China being a 'developing country'. I would never make that statement because I have no right to judge a country I've lived in and experienced for only 2 years. Even by talking about nepotism, I'm not judging China. I am stating my perspective based on common sense as a student of history and watching how such things affect a company, organization or nation. It isn't good for the larger population. 

My opinion is that each person should be judged on their own merit of ability and not upon who they know or who they are related to. Perhaps your nephew, niece, son, daughter or friend is qualified and can and will do the best job. That's great. However, their ability and own personal merit should be the first and only consideration in giving them the job or position.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-28 11:35
by whatever name one calls it, Guangxi or nepotism is looked down unfavourably in every culture by thinking people on the basis of merit, but is practised and it thrives just as well at the top in America or Europe or anywhere. All nepotism is not frowned upon or considered bad, but accepted quite readily - businesses usually are handed over to family who 'inherit' them. It is not unusual, people work hard and accumulate great wealth with the desire to pass it on to their close family all over the world - i would reckon 99% of people are motivated to be successful only to provide for or leave something to their loved ones and kith and kin. Of course, if the recipient is not worthy or qualified to carry on the enterprise, it will fail. so, smarter people will involve other people based on their merit, only with the intention and to the extent of leaving a greater fortune to their own children or kin. It is also common to favour relatives in their own succession of positions of power and privilege without earning one's way - whether it is the royal family in any country or the presidential family. Just using a Chinese term does not make it a Chinese issue. All guanxi is not bad, often skills and talents and motivations to run a certain business run in the family. For thousands and thousands of years, art and skills have flourished this way.
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-8-28 12:46
KIyer: by whatever name one calls it, Guangxi or nepotism is looked down unfavourably in every culture by thinking people on the basis of merit, but is pract ...
Thank you KIyer. Yes. I failed to mention the inheritance of businesses, portfolios, real estate, etc. These are naturally given to families. Positions within them also are given to family or friends. Thank you for your insightful comments.
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-28 13:54
That's gracious of you Michael. I might also add that I have particular and personal experience of discrimination against merit based selection by law in India, which has effectively wrecked the progress of the country and continues to do so. No matter what the system, when merit and justice are not given their due, it will fail mightily!
Reply Report lenovolihl 2013-8-28 14:50
Guanxi is very important. I am Chinese. I live in Huizhou (A city in the middle of GuangDong). All Chinese know that it is very important. Nowadays, It's value is almost equal to the money. "GuanXi" is also known as the "potential rule". you can think that it is the "under the table deal". You can ask the your Chinese friends. Ask them what is "GuanXi"...They will waste 3 days and nights to explain how important it is for you.
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-28 19:24
lenovolihl: Guanxi is very important. I am Chinese. I live in Huizhou (A city in the middle of GuangDong). All Chinese know that it is very important. Nowadays, I ...
thanks lenovolihl, for your Chinese perspective on Guanxi. I think it is good too, if done right. In place of family there is favouritism using race or religion as the basis the world over, and that is worse than nepotism. Ultimately, we all live and struggle a lot more for our family than anyone else on earth, so Guanxi is natural. It needs to be done intelligently and we need to accept others doing it too in a fair manner and that seems to be the key.
Reply Report tradervic 2013-8-29 01:20
I tend to view Guanxi more as a 'Vouch' than object - and it is viewed as such, it can be wielded much differently:

http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/blog-135031-9919.html
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-29 09:18
tradervic: I tend to view Guanxi more as a 'Vouch' than object - and it is viewed as such, it can be wielded much differently:

http://blog.chinadaily.com.cn/blo ...
That is a very interesting and well presented case for 'Good' Guanxi!!
Reply Report tonysong2000 2013-8-29 10:34
"GuanXi" and nepotism is popular in China. but I think every country exist, in fact it is more serious in China.
Reply Report RonJaDa 2013-8-29 20:44
Another disadvantage of Bad "GuanXi" and nepotism  are that it reinforces rewarding people that are undeserving and the loss of growth that could have occurred if the person that earned the reward had been given it.

Some briliant minds will find a way to succeed inspite of being wrongly passed over or falsely blamed because the blame could not be shouldered on the owner due to coinnections.

What about all the potential that is lost, when an inovater is trampled on.  

I remember walking in the corridors of my office building and over hearing two executives talking,  The comment I think of the most was

`We all know this person is has a reputation for claiming credit from other peoples work, like this and he has never put in the effort and time to earn it,  my problem is how can I determine who actually deserves the credit in this case.

I was taught at a young age you have to accept life is not fair, you have to keep on trying and do and be the best you can be so that you can sleep at night with the knowledge you have done your best.
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-8-30 02:57
RonJaDa: Another disadvantage of Bad "GuanXi" and nepotism  are that it reinforces rewarding people that are undeserving and the loss of growth that  ...
I love this. Perfect advise! Thank you
Reply Report 520157 2013-8-30 19:51
Challenges lie in how to eradicate the bad part of "Guanxi". Possibly, it is time you western minds enlighten your eastern friends some solutions.  Thank you!
Reply Report MichaelM 2013-8-30 21:16
520157: Challenges lie in how to eradicate the bad part of "Guanxi". Possibly, it is time you western minds enlighten your eastern friends some solu ...
Solution: Hire others on merit. Education, experience and most importantly, ability to do the job. To us, it is quite obvious. As has been mentioned here, guanxi and nepotism occurs in every culture and country. Yes it occurs in the USA. But it is a very, very, very small problem in the USA. Our media is open and therefore, it is so much easier to expose in the U.S. My biggest concern is not whether guanxi and nepotism is right or wrong. The question really is, "Is it good for the country?" Does it further progress at a rate that could be compared with countries where it isn't so widely practiced. I think it would be just as big of a problem in the U.S. as it is in China if were not for the fear of getting caught and exposed by the media. People are people the world over. Much the same. But, like I said, is it good for the progress of China? When you hire people based on 'who they are' and not on 'what can they do', the answer is obvious. It isn't good.
Reply Report michell19860618 2013-8-30 22:52
Hi.I'm waitting for to read your ebook if you dont mind.I want learn some more...
Reply Report KIyer 2013-8-31 11:30
MichaelM: Solution: Hire others on merit. Education, experience and most importantly, ability to do the job. To us, it is quite obvious. As has been mentioned h ...
In most cases, more than one candidate can do the job, with varying degress of perfection or even with the same efficiency. Even that is hard to know exactly before they are actually on the job. So, more than one person can qualify on merit. then as in the US they look for other considerations- attitude that the boss prefers, other considerations such as loyalty, reliability etc. It is not based on one strick criteria that determines merit, particularly in the US where they have so many qualified people competing for  jobs! Guanxi is mostly practised there on racial lines and friendship and it is an accepted way of life, perhaps because family relationships are not as close in the US as those in China. And the most important corporate or government positions and contracts in the US are even more openly given to close friends and relatives and it certainly is not a small, small percentage  either in terms of numbers of the scale of benefit - look at the famous cases of government contracts given to friends/family of past presidents and senior officals that have actually been reported. I am not sure much has been done about it despite media reporting it. I am not sure what problem China has because of Guanxi. Is there any measure of the loss suffered due to it in China as opposed to the US? It is a very common practice and not even talked about seriously in India, not even in the US media, because that is the way the US operates there, by giving benefits to the relatives of so called leaders in exchange for special favours! Does that happen with China too? If so the driving forces for guanxi may be external too since there is such a large foreign investment in China as compared to most other countries.
Reply Report Keats 2013-8-31 23:53
Guanxi has another meaning of helping with each other that has nothing related to work in company or government organization! For example, when you travel to another city in China, if you have a friend(classmate,workmate even fellow-townsman) or relative in that city,we usually will consider about turning them for help!
Reply Report clap 2013-9-27 22:15
I am also one of the Chinese, ' GuanXi' has exsited since ancient dynasty in China, it really cause some bad effect in our country, and this problem must be treated seriously. I have confidence  that things would be much better, because many Chinese has relaized it  and Chinese goverment has take steps to solve this problem.
Reply Report chang1943 2013-12-5 17:47
nepotism is family where quanxi  is not.  What is LOBBY?

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MichaelM

Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.

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