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The double-edged effects of guanxi on partner opportunism

Lu Shen (Dalian Maritime University, Dalian, China)
Chuang Zhang (Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, China)
Wenbo Teng (Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian, China)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Article publication date: 7 January 2019

Issue publication date: 7 October 2019




This study aims to examine the double-edged effects of guanxi on opportunism and the moderating effects of legal enforceability and partner asset specificity. It thus differs from the current literature, which primarily focuses on the benevolent effects of guanxi.


Based on matched data collected from 268 sales manager and salesperson dyads, this study tested hypotheses using hierarchical regressions.


The empirical test supports the conceptual model and demonstrates two findings. First, guanxi between boundary spanners follows an inverted U-shaped relationship with inter-firm opportunism. Second, both the benefits and drawbacks of guanxi are stronger under the condition of low legal enforceability and high partner asset specificity.

Research limitations/implications

The study did not untangle guanxi into different dimensions and did not investigate how firms should make trade-offs between the benefits and drawbacks of guanxi. Therefore, future research could further explore this question by using a multidimensional approach.

Practical implications

The study alerts managers that guanxi is a double-edged sword, so they should complement it with formal control mechanisms, particularly when they are operating in legally inefficient regions or when their partner firm’s asset specificity is high.


The study offers a more balanced view of guanxi by showing both its positive and negative effects on opportunism. It also uncovers legal enforceability and partner asset specificity as two boundary conditions that influence the curvilinear effects of guanxi on opportunism.



This paper forms part of a special section “Institutional environment and collaborations/consolidations in B2B”, guest edited by En Xie, Zhi Yang and K.S. Reddy.

The authors would like to acknowledge the grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (NO. 71802036; 71772031; 71402018), the MOE (Ministry of Education in China) Liberal arts and Social Sciences Foundation (NO. 18YJC630142), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (NO. 3132018301; 3132018304).


Shen, L., Zhang, C. and Teng, W. (2019), "The double-edged effects of guanxi on partner opportunism", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 34 No. 6, pp. 1313-1322.



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