A Path to Understanding Guanxi in China's Transitional Economy: Variations on Network Behavior


  • Kuang-chi Chang, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201. Tel.: 414-229-6404; E-mail: kcchang@uwm.edu. I thank Howard Aldrich, Mary Brinton, Kun-chin Lin, Ethan Michelson, Stacey Oliker, Kent Redding, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Current research on guanxi (Chinese social connections) suffers from conceptual confusion. This article presents a new theoretical framework for understanding guanxi in the face of China's economic and social transformations. Guanxi is viewed as a purposive network behavior that can take different “strategic” forms, such as accessing, bridging, and embedding. Pairing this conceptualization with a social-evolutionary framework, I argue that the emergence and increasing or decreasing prevalence of each form over time result from (1) a combination of factors at three analytical levels—microagency, mesonetwork, and macroinstitutional—and (2) endogenous processes of selection. By focusing on behavioral forms and their evolution, this framework is able to bridge divides in the guanxi literature, provide a foundation for comparative studies of network behavior across societies, and connect the study of guanxi with economic sociology more broadly.