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The art of Chinese ‘Guanxi’

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Guanxi is one of those foreign words that defy simple translation into English. It comes from the marriage of two Chinese characters: Guan, meaning a gate or hurdle, and Xi, meaning a tie, connection or relationship. So guanxi, rather poetically, can be translated into English as "Pass the hurdle and get connected". In business etiquette guides it's typically equated to the Western concept of networking, but guanxi is far more pervasive in China than networking is in Western countries.
中文里的“关系”是个无法用简单的英文单词来解释的词。这个词由两个汉字组 成:关,意为门、障碍;系,意为关联、联系。因此,“关系”这个词相当诗意,翻译成英文就是“跨越障碍取得联系”的意思。在商业礼仪指南中,这个词一般等同于西方的“网络”概念。不过,“关系”这个词的含义可要远远超出西方语言中“网络”的含义。

Chinese-Australian lawyer Savina Yang, from Lawyers Chambers, points out that the strong legal systems those businesspeople operating in Western countries have long had access to means they haven't had to create and maintain an elaborate system of trust building and mutual reciprocity. She also notes that Chinese businesspeople still tend to rely on guanxi to find lawyers with solid relationships within their communities.
澳大利亚华裔律师萨维娜·杨(音)说,一直以来,西方商业人士都能够遵循一套完善的法律制度行事,用不着去维系一个复杂的建立信任以及互惠互利的网络。她表示,中国商人还是习惯于依靠“关系”来找比较“铁”的律师。

"Guanxi is about relationships – between family members, neighbours, business partners and others," explains Yang. "When you have established a relationship with somebody else there is seen – within certain limits – to be a moral obligation to maintain that relationship through mutual backscratching. You could draw an analogy with the intricate, complex and often mutually exploitative relationships the characters have in Game of Thrones."
报道说,“关系就是人和人之间的联系,家庭成员之间、邻里之间、商业伙伴之间以及与圈子里其他人之间的联系,”杨解释说,“当你和他人建立关系 的时候,在某种程度上,是出于一种考虑,这种关系的建立自来就带有一种道德上的义务,即通过相互行方便,互相帮忙而去维系这种关系。你能够在《权力的游戏》中看到类似的错综复杂又时常相互利用的人物关系。”

Yang illustrates the importance of guanxi by pointing to the difference between her life opportunities and those of her family members back in China. "For my relatives in China, guanxi has played a part in everything from being able to enrol into certain kindergartens, schools and universities, to being able to access certain medical care, to being able to buy certain property. In contrast, accessing those things in Australia hasn't been dependent on me or my family having certain connections."  
为进一步阐述关系在中国社会中的重要性,杨将自己和她在中国的家人在生活中的机遇做了对比。她说:“对我的中国亲戚来说,关系在他们生活中的方方面面都扮演着重要角色,从上幼儿园、小学到大学,再到享受某些医疗服务,甚至是买房子。相比之下,在澳大利亚,获得这些资源根本用不着我或家人跟谁有什么交情。”

Michael Benson is Asia Pacific Regional Manager of CRCC Asia, a company that arranges internships for international students with companies in China and Hong Kong. He is currently based in Sydney but two years in Beijing – so he knows that Westerners can often be oblivious to the subtleties of guanxi.
迈克尔·本森是士亚商务咨询公司的亚太地区经理,该公司是一家专门为来中国内地和香港的海外实习生安排实习的公司。本森目前在悉尼工作,他曾在北京待过两年,因此深知西方人经常会忽视“关系”的微妙。

"Guanxi is entwined with Chinese culture and society, so a Chinese person isn't likely to announce, 'I'm now doing you this favour in order to build guanxi with you and will expect you to recognise what I've done and reciprocate at a later date.' It's also not the case that guanxi is just about overtly commercial transactions – it can be built by just giving someone a small gift or going out of your way for them in a minor way.
本森说:“关系在中国文化和社会中根深蒂固,因此一个中国人不太可能挑明了对你说,‘我现在帮你忙是为了跟你搞好关系,希望你能认识到我所做的这一切,并在今后给予我报答’。关系也不仅仅局限于公开的商业交易,你能够通过其他方式建立‘关系’,比如说送点小礼物,或者是行个方便。”

"My advice to Westerners would be to stay alert for when a Chinese person is doing you a favour and to make sure to return it. And, as with Western networking, there's a proportionality involved – you can't shout someone a $20 meal then expect them to invest $200,000 in your business in return."
他说:“对于西方人,我的忠告就是要留神,中国人帮了你的忙,你要保证给予对方回报。而且,和西方的网络一样,投入和回报得成比例,不能说请人一顿20美元的简餐就期待人家给你出20万美元的商业投资作为回报。”

Both Yang and Benson believe guanxi probably operates differently in relationships involving a Western and Chinese person, but they insist Westerners can – and should – play the guanxi game if they want to get anywhere with Chinese suppliers, clients and partners.
报道说,杨和本森都认为,西方人和中国人的关系运作或许不同。不过他们都认同一个观点,那就是西方人也应该去搞关系,如果他们想要从中国供应商、客户和商业伙伴那里得到点什么的话。

"It may well be more difficult for Westerners to develop guanxi, especially as they don't have family or geographical connections to draw on, but it can be done if you want to put the necessary time and effort in," says Benson.
“对西方人来说,搞关系可能会比较难,因为他们在中国没有人脉关系基础。不过如果你肯投入时间和精力,也是能办到的,”本森说。

"Guanxi isn't everything and it's not eternal," agrees Benson. "China has a very competitive business environment and you have to keep in mind your competitors may well have as much or more guanxi as you do. Plus, guanxi is about both parties maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship; once one or both parties come to believe that's no longer the situation the guanxi will soon disappear."
“不过,关系并非大过天,也不可能一劳永逸,”本森说,“中国的商业环境充满竞争,你得时刻牢记,你的竞争者没准也有关系,甚至关系比你更多。还有,关系是需要双方去维系的一种互惠互利的联系,一旦一方或双方觉得不再有必要,关系也就很快烟消云散了。”

2016-06-24

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