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Guanxi, overconfidence and corporate fraud in China

Guohua Cao (School of Economics and Business Administration, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China)
Jing Zhang (School of Economics and Business Administration, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China)

Chinese Management Studies

ISSN: 1750-614X

Article publication date: 7 April 2021

Issue publication date: 17 June 2021




This study aims to combine two fraud-related streams of the literature on guanxi and overconfidence into an integrated framework, which is the fraud triangle, to interpret the mechanism of fraud commission and detection.


A bivariate probit model with Partial Observability (POBi Probit) is applied. Moreover, the POBi Probit model is adjusted to the Chinese context. The China-specific POBi Probit model is constructed using data of Chinese A-share listed companies from 2008 to 2014, with a total of 15,109 firm-year observations.


Overconfidence induces fraud commission and worsens fraud detection; overconfidence mediates the relationship between fraud and guanxi; the “white side” of guanxi comes from alumni networks, while the “dark side” is derived from relatives-based networks; overconfidence induces fraud commission in accounting and disclosure and benefits the detection of disclosure frauds. Guanxi suppresses fraud commission in management and disclosure, however, it worsens fraud detection given fraud in management and disclosure; overconfidence induces fraud commission in both state-owned enterprises (SOE) and non-SOEs, and benefits fraud detection in SOEs. Guanxi suppresses fraud commission and worsens fraud detection in SOEs and city-owned firms.

Research limitations/implications

There are two drawbacks of the partial observable bivariate probit (POBi-Probit) method that must be mentioned here. On one hand, the ex ante variable selection is one of the most difficult parts of applying the POBi-Probit model and different variables are included in different studies. On the other hand, the POBi-Probit model might not converge if too many variables are included. Thus, many widely accepted factors can be included in the model. Thus, this study initially sets the POBi-Probit model based mainly on Khanna et al. (2015) and then adjusts the model for the Chinese context (e. g. considering government ownership) according to Yiu et al. (2018) and Zhang (2018) and the local study of Meng et al. (2019). Considering the observability of fraud, on one hand, the observability of fraud commission is a widely accepted limitation, especially when accounting opacity comes across with regulatory efficiency (Yiu et al. (2018). On the other hand, the observability of relationships is another obstacle to this study. Future studies can go further by revealing the presently unobservable relationships using Big Data technology.


This paper theoretically and practically contributes to the literature on both corporate fraud and corporate governance. Theoretically, by introducing integrated principal-agent resource-reliance theory (IPRT) and upper echelon theory (UET), this paper broadens the framework of fraud triangle theory (FTT) and testifies the availability of the broaden FTT in the transitional and emerging-market context of China. Practically, this paper provides evidence that guanxi and overconfidence are two of the factors affecting corporate fraud. Thus, this paper provides a governance approach opposing corporate fraud in China, which may help the other emerging economies in transition.



This research is supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Project No.2018CDYJSY0055 and Project No. 2020CDJSK02PT04), the National Fund of Social Science (18AGL009), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (71772019) and the Basic Scientific Research Operating Expenses of Central Universities (106112017CDJXY020002).

Conflicts of interest: All authors declare no conflict of interest.


Cao, G. and Zhang, J. (2021), "Guanxi, overconfidence and corporate fraud in China", Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 501-556.



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