Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to critically review the extant guanxi literature to identify the major inconsistencies in the way guanxi is currently conceptualized. The authors develop a conceptualization of guanxi which views guanxi as a complex adaptive system. Design/methodology/approach – Electronic databases were queried for the keyword guanxi . This study offers an extensive review of the current literature, highlighting four major inconsistencies, namely, the breadth, linguistic‐cultural depth, temporality and level of the conceptualization and analyses of guanxi . Findings – In reviewing the extant literature, the authors find four levels of inconsistency that contribute to a lack of clarity in the way guanxi is conceptualized. They define guanxi as a complex adaptive system involving a dynamic formed by the strategic establishing, evolving, utilizing and maintaining of personal relationships based on social norms of trust and reciprocal obligation unique to the Chinese culture. Research limitations/implications – This approach has the advantage of capturing the dynamic and emerging nature of guanxi over time, while encompassing the underlying principles of the evolving networks as part of the definition. Practical implications – The authors' new definition makes it easier to explain to people of other cultures. The appropriate level of breadth allows guanxi to be distinguished from associated concepts. This provides guidance for non‐Chinese people to help understand guanxi and avoid cross‐cultural misunderstandings and conflict. Originality/value – Having a clear and inclusive definition of the cultural practice of guanxi will integrate the growing literature and theoretical dialogue surrounding the phenomena. This will allow for consistent study of guanxi and its underlying principles, making integration of the various studies conceptually easier.
Journal of Asia Business Studies – Emerald Publishing
Published: Apr 29, 2014
Keywords: Guanxi; China; Social capital; Complex adaptive system; Social network
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