The relationship between Guanxi and corruption in the Chinese public sector

Li, Yanduo (2020) The relationship between Guanxi and corruption in the Chinese public sector. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This project investigated the relationship between Guanxi and corruption in the Chinese public sector by addressing four questions: ‘to what extent is the Chinese civil service a distinctive organisational environment?’, ‘how do Chinese civil servants utilise different Guanxi types in their work?’, ‘how do perceptions of Chinese civil servants push our understanding of the motives and circumstances surrounding corrupt organisational behaviour?’, and ‘to what extent do known theories explain the complex relationship between Guanxi and corruption and how do Chinese civil servants perceive it?’. In order to investigate these questions, an inductive research approach and a qualitative research strategy were adopted, with 31 semi-structured interviews with Chinese civil servants.
Firstly, the findings indicated that the Chinese civil service is a distinctive organisational environment which challenges the suitability of theories developed in different organisational environments -such as social capital and social exchange theories. Secondly, for Chinese civil servants, Guanxi is an invisible capital that brings significant competitive advantage at work, an intangible and safe currency of transactions and a way to fulfil traditional responsibility, but also an unbearable burden. Then, corruption is illegal behaviour that can be clearly identified and can find its roots in distinctive uses of Guanxi at work as well as in specific peculiarities of the organisational environment. Finally, in terms of the relationship between Guanxi and corruption, the findings point to evidence that one does not inevitably lead to the other but that corrupt behaviour in the Cinese civil service can be explained better from the theoretical lenses of Guanxi than from those of social capital and social exchange theory, most commonly utilised in Western studies on corrupt behaviour.
The findings of this study confirmed some previous studies in the literature, such as the concept that low wages can trigger corrupt behaviour. But it also unravelled new findings, such as the ‘grey space’ between regular ‘reciprocity’ and ‘corruption’, and the context specificity of a ‘clan culture’ aiming for ‘the doctrine of the mean’ in the Chinese civil service. Overall, this project contributed to the academic fields of general management (investigating management theories emerged primarily from Western cultural contexts) and organisational behaviour (investigating Chinese civil service behaviour). The theoretical contribution of the findings is the conceptual juxtaposition of Guanxi, social capital and social exchange theories, recommending Guanxi as the appropriate theoretical framing for Chinese organisational settings. Guanxi as a Chinese-based concept seems to involve some characteristics of both social capital and social exchange concepts, but with some important differences. For instance, Guanxi involves no the features of ‘linking’ social capital and other types of social exchange but ‘reciprocal’ exchange. Likewise, social capital and social exchange are probably the ‘choice’ for individuals in organisations to engage in reciprocity within social networks in Western organisations, but this research’s findings suggest that there is significantly less scope for ‘choice’ for Chinese civil servants, due to traditional culture and to the specific organisational environment in which they work. The findings also offer opportunities for both future research and managerial practice in Chinese public sector settings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School > Management
Supervisor's Name: Dudau, Dr. Adina
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Mr Yanduo Li
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81542
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2020 08:00
Last Modified: 08 Sep 2022 13:33
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81542

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