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Guanxi, structural hole and closure

Ren Lu (Department of Strategy and Logistics, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway)
Torger Reve (Department of Strategy and Logistics, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway)

Journal of Strategy and Management

ISSN: 1755-425X

Article publication date: 9 August 2011

Abstract

Purpose

Understanding China's economic success requires insights into its peculiar guanxi‐based market. Many scholars are confused about how to apply Western network theories to the guanxi‐based Chinese market. This paper aims to contribute to this comprehensive topic by theoretically exploring the differences among three fundamental network concepts: guanxi; structural hole; and closure.

Design/methodology/approach

Following Heide, the present paper categorises networks into three dimensions: network initiation, network maintenance and network termination, each based on different time phases. The three fundamental network concepts in every dimension are compared, laying out their similarities and dissimilarities in detail.

Findings

Although each of the three networks are initiated either naturally or artificially, guanxi is closely embedded in Chinese institutions. Unlike structural hole and closure, which can be applied at any level, guanxi is a special relation that only exists at the individual level. Structural hole and closure highlight the structures of the networks that bring them various benefits and constraints. Such merits are not evident in guanxi, in which favour exchange plays a crucial role in connecting entities. In addition, guanxi has special rules that affect the strength of ties.

Originality/value

The purpose of this paper is to articulate the differences among guanxi, structural hole and closure. The systematic framework provides a platform to scholars interested in applying the Western network theory to guanxi‐based markets. The study work also provides new insights to non‐Chinese actors doing business in China.

Keywords

Citation

Lu, R. and Reve, T. (2011), "Guanxi, structural hole and closure", Journal of Strategy and Management, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 275-288. https://doi.org/10.1108/17554251111152289

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited