Foreign business people in China will be aware of two important concepts in Chinese business culture: guanxi, which means connections, and renqing, which means favour. But if you compare these concepts with the notions of networking and reciprocity, critical differences emerge.
Whereas Americans have high levels of cognitive trust in their business circles and reserve personal feelings for friends and family, Chinese managers readily merge cognitive and affectionate trusts. In other words, the people they trust with their heads are also those they trust with their hearts.
Chinese executives are also much more willing to help people who have little to offer in return, whereas Americans will tend to save their favours for people in a position to help them at another stage.
This apparent Chinese generosity finds its root in the collectivist history and lack of a strong legal system in China. Without legal institutions, people had to develop other ways to assess people's standing in society, their readiness to help others, and the esteem in which they were held by others.
Source: Trust and reciprocity in American and Chinese business networks
Michael Morris and Paul Ingram, professors of management at Columbia Business School
Columbiaideas@work, 25 January 2006, US
Review by Emilie Filou