Chinese public opinion surveys identify corruption as the most hated social problem, yet everyone is also guilty of it.
Last year, when my father fell seriously ill, we took him to a decent hospital close by but were told the beds were fully occupied. As always, we turned to our guanxi — our network of connections — for help.
Fortunately, a relative, a not so senior but well-connected official, managed to secure a private room at the hospital, which is reserved for ranking leaders. In return, the relative agreed to get the son of the hospital director into the most desirable school in Nanjing.
I became aware the weight of guanxi shortly after I was thrust into adulthood: At 16 I was dragged out of the school to work at a military rocket factory.
Two months later, when Spring Festival came, my mother requested that I visit my boss’ home with gifts she had prepared. Naive and embarrassed, I refused. Mother angrily predicted: “You’ll never go far in life if you don’t know how to la guanxi!” The verb la means to pull or to develop. Sure enough, I never got any promotion during my decade-long stint at the factory even though I acquired a degree in mechanical engineering….
And politically, China produces its top leaders more or less based on patron-client ties rather than meritocracy. Both President Xi [Jinping] and [jailed politician] Bo [Xilai] are “princelings” — the children of senior leaders, the most powerful and influential group in China. Nepotism, a form of corruption, has feudal roots.
In fact, I believe the whole corrupt practice of guanxi is rooted in China’s long tradition of renzhi.
How successful can president Xi Jinping be in rooting out corruption, the China Weekly Hangout is going to ask on Thursday 31 October. How committed is the Xi/Li team to real change? You can read our announcement here, or register for the event here.
The China Weekly Hangout discussed in May China’s changing labor force with Dee Lee, of the NGO Inno in Guangzhou, running a workers’ hotline, mainly funded by big brands who want to keep an eye on working conditions. Economist Heleen Mees, in New York, Sam Xu and Fons Tuinstra, of the China Speakers Bureau, ask him questions.