“Relationships matter.” This is what my students report when presenting about how to conduct business in China. So, while preparing for a trip to China, I was intrigued to learn the word “guanxi” (pronounced gwan-shee). The direct translation of “guanxi” is “relationships” or "connections," but the concept is used and applied in a much richer way in Chinese culture. In fact, one of my Cornell students from China told me, “You can read about China all you want, but to really understand it you have to go there.”
I visited China early this month and experienced various levels of guanxi. During my visit with a former student, one of my mentees, colleagues from an educational consulting startup, and leaders at the schools I visited, I began to understand this word a bit better.
Here’s how I understand guanxi today. Trust is more than dependability; it’s an obligation. Bonding is more than sharing common interests; it’s about developing a close friendship. Reciprocity is more than a mutual exchange; it's about repaying a favor with more than one has received. Guanxi takes time - often years - to develop.
I look forward visiting China again to deepen my understanding of guanxi.