The authors of this week’s readings explore the nature of corruption in China, tracing its history while attempting to predict its future. Both Mayfair Yang and Douglas Guthrie attribute the prevalence of corruption in Chinese society to the historic social phenomena of guanxi and guanxixue—interpersonal networks used by Chinese for centuries for personal gain. Though the practice was widespread during the imperial era, the prevalence and importance of guanxi and guanxixue has been in flux since the communist revolution in 1949. In Gifts, Favors and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China, Yang argues that the importance of these networks will continue to increase in the coming decades. Gurthie refutes Yang’s conclusion in an
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Guanxixue, on the other hand, which Guthrie refers to as “guanxi practice” is the usage of these social networks for personal gain. Mayfair Yang traces the origins of the practice to long before the Communist Revolution, when it was a widely used and accepted practice (Yang, 148). With the Communist Revolution however, guanxixue became taboo, and was seldom practiced. Ordinary Chinese citizens were optimistic about their future, and happily abandoned the pursuit of personal gain in favor of building a more equal socialist society (Yang, 153). However, the desperation of the Cultural Revolution brought about the return of the practice, and the economic reforms of the 1980s, which allowed Chinese to derive financial benefits from guanxixue, reinforced the prevalence and importance of the networks in Chinese society (Yang, 172).
Given the ideological nature of socialism, it is not surprising that the CPC has a negative view of guanxixue and modern-day corruption. Furthermore, the ability of citizens to use social networks to accomplish official tasks and receive favors undermines the credibility of the state. As Guthrie notes, in the 1980s the CPC began to address the problem by creating state regulations and institutions meant to render the practice unnecessary (Guthrie, 271). Guthrie presents a series of interviews