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Friday, 23 July 2010

Guanxi

By Johna Ferguson

Life here in China is all about connections; the more you have the luckier and probably richer you and your family’s life will be.

When you enter primary school, you keep those same classmates all through the first eight grades. You go to the school in your neighborhood, but if you want to go to a better one where you might meet more important people and get a better education, easy. Just get someone in another neighborhood to rent a room to your parents so you can say you live there.

In school you don’t move around from room to room; the teachers come to your classroom, therefore those classmates usually become some of your lifelong friends.

Then you take a test for middle/high school and hopefully you pass with high marks so you and some of your former friends can again go to an excellent one and your friendships will continue, plus you’ll make new friends that will be in the same room with you for four more years.

All these friends become your connections. If you go on to college, then you will again make more friends during that four-year period for those in the same major remain roommates the entire college time.

You keep track of all these friendships for in the future they may be able to help you in some way and you also can help them.

Maybe some of them will become leaders who can help you or eventually your children get jobs. Others might become doctors and you can then rely on them to help you find the best doctor for your sick mother, or perhaps just a bed in the overcrowded hospital for a sick relative.

Maybe some will even end up as lawyers or policemen and they certainly can come in handy if you are in an accident or the like. If you want a ticket to a concert, perhaps one of your classmates works for the theater or is connected in some way to it. Just give a call, and hopefully when your sister visits, you and she will have good seats at the next concert.

But remember that many of them will also call on you for help in whatever field you end up in.

I lived with five different families during my teaching here and all of them have helped me in various ways. In return if they want something special when I returned from the States, I would bring it to them. Once it was architecture books for a movie set designer, another time medical books for a doctor and for one young woman, fashion magazines as she was a dress designer.

In the end, everyone helps each other, but all those helpful times are remembered, like written down to be saved for a later date. Therefore my husband and I find it easier to not get indebted to anyone in anyway if possible, for they will in return come back and ask a favor of us.

As I am a foreigner, every one expects that I have piles of money and can help them in a myriad of ways to get to America. Therefore every time I need help, I have to think twice about the consequences.

It’s a difficult way to live, but that’s how it is. Life is not easy here, so one must keep their eyes and mind open and just be aware of every move you make and how it might affect you in the future. Don’t accept anything, even though you think it is generously given, for in the end you will somehow be asked for something in return as no one forgets anything.

Not only that, everything you do or say follows you like a paper trail; you can’t burn it up, it hangs like a lodestone around your neck forever. I should know.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Johna - Another great story!

This sounds like the Chinese version of 'networking' - Sandy

I think I like the "pay it forward" concept better. It's difficult to pay back help to the same people, since they might value it differently than you.

Thank you for sharing this, Johna. I've heard of gaunxi, but your description has given me greater insight into it. My mother was born in China, but raised in Japan. But it seems they had their own version of guanxi.

It helps me to understand why she didn't like to accept gifts or favors from her Japanese friends, and why she often saw it as a matter of debt, or even control...like if they did something nice for her, especially if she didn't ask for it, she would resent it, because it meant she was now obligated to them.

She only felt this "hook" with her Asian friends. She could receive a gift graciously from her non-Asian friends and felt freer about whether or not she would respond in kind or in what manner.

But she decided. She did not feel she had to wait for someone to extract payment to which she would not be able to say no like she did with her Asian friends.

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