These are two fundamental parts of Chinese culture that I am trying understand. I’ll spend the next two posts explaining and exploring these two Chinese concepts. First is “Guanxi.”
“Guanxi” 关系 are the connections with other people one shares in society. And yet the word “connections” doesn’t quite grasp the whole meaning of the word. It means that if someone scratches your back, you have to be ready to scratch theirs. It can be a never ending cycle of recycled favors. This is my basic understand of Guanxi so far, and I may be wrong but failure to return favors is a serious transgression and labels you as no good. It is said,
“Guanxi is the oil that keeps the wheels turning in Chinese society. Without guanxi, it is pretty much impossible to accomplish anything in China.” – Pierre Ostrowski & Gwen Penner, It’s All Chinese to Me: An Overview of Culture & Etiquette in China
This is a generalization of course, but this aspect of Chinese culture is everywhere despite seeing rare exceptions.
Does the Gospel agree with these kind of relationships inside the church? How does a missionary or future native pastors go about to teach unconditional love and giving without strings attached? My experience is little, but I believe the best way to teach this is to first display it. We see in our Savior how He gave to those who could not repay. He loved us in ways that caused deep repentance from the sin that has taken root in our culture.
We cannot attack the culture or else we attack individuals, but we can display Christ along with teaching and giving illustrations of sin in our own culture. In turn we cause them to think how sin has corrupted their own culture or even where is has become the foundation of it. We can show loving Christ causes the heart to sincerely make changes of anything and anywhere that falls short of God’s glory. We need to teach repentance as an attitude or a lifestyle rather than a single act one does.
In a culture that fellowship is deeply dependent on receiving and returning favors, what kind of message do you think is proclaimed if we go out of our way to help someone who cannot repay us such as loving widows or loving some of the many destitute?
I believe the church desperately needs to see this and learn this. Such practice will only bolster what kind of love we want we want in the church body rather than a “love” that is conditional on the ability to return favors.
There’s tons more that can be said about guanxi, but I just want to explore some things about guanxi and training guys for ministry. I also want to pose some questions for those who are already doing so or preparing to do so. Some questions:
Can guanxi be cultivated to serve our purposes in getting people through the doors at church? home bible studies? internships?
Since guanxi is a cycle, how can we know as bible teachers that our “disciples” aren’t with us just to return favors? Gain prestigue? Or attempting to earn “favor” with a rich foreigner? (Generally all foreigners in China are viewed to have lots of money)
What can we learn from Jesus’ example in training men? Did Christ have men who were with Him only because they were concerned (especially in the beginning) with their own position? How many people did Christ personally train who followed Him for the sake of personal benefit? How do we choose which ones to train and decide which ones will quit once the temporal benefits cease? As western missionaries we cherish heartfelt genuine decisions to serve the Lord, but in Chinese culture, especially in the beginning, guanxi is bound to be an issue.
Lend us your comments.