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Guanxi as a complex adaptive system: definition, description and underlying principals

Artemis Chang (School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
Carlin Guo (School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
Roxanne Zolin (School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
Xiaohua Yang (Associate Professor, based at the International Business School of Management, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA)

Journal of Asia Business Studies

ISSN: 1558-7894

Article publication date: 29 April 2014

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Abstract

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.

Keywords

Citation

Chang, A., Guo, C., Zolin, R. and Yang, X. (2014), " Guanxi as a complex adaptive system: definition, description and underlying principals", Journal of Asia Business Studies, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 81-103. https://doi.org/10.1108/JABS-12-2012-0058

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited