Trust in Chinese Guanxi?

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: Booth 51
Oral Presentation
Jack BARBALET , Sociology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
The paper demonstrates that the concept of trust requires very careful specification if it is to be used in comparative research. It does this by examining sociological treatment of Chinese guanxi, an asymmetrical form of favour exchange based on enduring affective ties in which enhancement of public reputation is the aspirational outcome. English-language assessments by both foreign and Chinese authors emphasize the basis of guanxi in relations of trust between the seeker and provider of favour. Through a careful examination of the structure of guanxi relations it is shown that not trust but relational obligation, third-party monitoring and fear of loss of face serve to support and enforce guanxi relations. Rather than trust, then, there are other forms of socially cooperative engagements based on different bases of solidarity. The paper shows that the concepts of trust and trustworthiness must be clearly distinguished and that the understanding of trustworthiness in Chinese cultural contexts operates not as a correlative element of trust relations but as an index of personal intimacy and interactive familiarity that are based on interdependent relations of normative obligation or loyalty associated with role expectations. The paper demonstrates, then, that theoretical and practical problems ensue if reference to and understanding of trust in cross-national comparative studies fail to take proper account of the wider social, institutional and cultural contexts in which socially interdependent relationships occur.