From Social Capital to Guanxi: A Study of Small and Medium Enterprise Growth in China

in Residency, Class, and Community in the Contemporary Chinese City
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Abstract

The rise of research on social networks and social capital in sociology has led many Chinese sociologists to use these concepts to research phenomena in Chinese society that actually belong to the category of guanxi (关系). A question here is whether social capital and guanxi are concerned with the same sphere and direction of thought. This article uses case studies of small and medium-sized enterprises in China to argue that guanxi is oriented differently from social capital. Guanxi is used primarily to express clientelism, the operation of power, and expedient relations between agents and structure, with individual characteristics. Social capital, on the other hand, is concerned with investment of and returns on information, trust, cooperation and resources, with social and institutional characteristics. To conflate these two is to hide from view many important issues in the study of guanxi.

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