China Guanxi

The best way to strengthen a guanxi network is to stay connected.

Send small gifts or ask for small favors to keep a relationship active.

Host an occasional get-together.

Remember the major Chinese holidays and send greetings.

Get to know your colleagues’ outside interests and find ways to support them, like getting tickets to a sporting event or concert.

From “China’s Changing Culture and Etiquette


I love watching the TV show, No Reservations. The show involves Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential fame) touring a country and sampling its restaurants and foods. Despite constant (at the beginning and at every commercial) warnings of adult content (there is usually massive swearing, drinking, and smoking), I always watch it with my ten-year-old daughter because I know of no better or more interesting way to learn about foreign cultures. Every show leads her to ask a torrent of questions, with none on swearing, drinking or smoking.

Bourdain defines bon vivant (see the eating, swearing, drinking and smoking above). This is a guy who clearly loves to travel, loves meeting people of other cultures, and loves eating exotic foods. I have always divided Americans into those who think going to London constitutes stretching themselves and those who want to go somewhere where almost nothing is at all familiar. Bourdain neatly fits into the second category. Most importantly, he is a likable guy whose likability and bon vivantness (I was a French major so I know I am making up this word) crosses cultural divides.

His recent episode in Laos was amazing and led me to proclaim that one can learn more about how to act in China (or anywhere else) from a one-hour No Reservations episode than from anything else. Watch it. The key takeaway from Bourdain is that if you truly seek to enjoy and respect the people (and food) around you, truly want to learn more, truly seek to participate in the culture and food and customs of a people, and do so with spirit, you will be fine. The word truly is important because people everywhere appreciate sincerity and effort and can instinctively sense phoniness.

For more on how to get along in China, check out the following:

So watch No Reservations and the next time you find yourself in a lesson on Chinese etiquette/culture designed to make you acceptable to “the Chinese,” ask yourself who you think most likely to have a real network (note how I did NOT use the word guanxi here) in China, your instructor or Bourdain.

Update: Got to see Bourdain live and he was great. If he comes to your town, don’t miss it.

Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog ( Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.

  • Ben

    Couldn’t agree more: great show and great advice.

  • Hunxuer

    Agree 100%.
    Bourdain is unpretentious, humble when in the homes of locals hosting him and respectful of local culture.
    Hopefully he and whoever is the next American president can recover some of America’s lost cred “W” & Co. shit away the last 8 years…

  • William

    Some advance preparation is great (e.g. language study or at least chopsticks skills), but I agree, eagerly taking part in the culture is probably the best way to make people like you.

  • Love Bourdain, love the show, and agree with what you said. There is a problem with the show, though, its okay if you don’t know where he’s traveling to, but the 2 episodes he did in China, he really stuck strictly to the tourist path (at least in Beijing and Shanghai).
    Totally unrelated, I recently came across the dvd box set of the first (and I think only) season of the tv show inspired by his book, Kitchen Confidential, in Shanghai and have been enjoying it thoroughly.

  • JoshuaT

    Of course you are right about this and the only people who would say otherwise are those out there teaching the courses. I have been living in China for six years and my connection with “the people” comes from “being real,” not from anything I have read in any book.

  • Dan, I totally agree with you on this. Having sincere fun builds a great network. But … I’ve found that some knowledge of Chinese culture adds to the fun. I’m sort of waiting until I finish the book, but I might just wait until I get back to the States to write a post on The Journey to the West. Dude, first off, this book, and especially Sun Wukong, is just plain old awesome. Second, The Great Sage Equaling Heaven is always fun to talk about (I think I confused and bored a lot of my friends in the States with tales of the Protector of the Horses exploits), and there’s not a Chinese person I’ve met that isn’t excited to share their opinion on any of the characters in the book. So I guess I’m saying mostly the same thing: genuine enthusiasm for the culture and eagerness to learn about the culture are what counts, and nobody but Westerners who think they know Chinese culture better than you really cares whether you use one hand or two hands to accept someone’s business card.

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  • Interesting post, seeing a different culture is one thing and understanding it another. The ‘understanding’ part is related to what I do in my business.
    Knowledge of Chinese culture can be important when doing business, but make sure you understand that the culture requirements differ in the different regions – just like they differ in the North and South of France or the East Coast/West Coast of the US.