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Corruption or Guanxi? Differentiating Between the Legitimate, Unethical, and Corrupt Activities of Chinese Government Officials

  • Author(s): Harding, Jacob
  • et al.
Abstract

China has a well-documented corruption problem that has continued for decades, evolving concurrently with China’s economy and various institutional structures.  In analyzing China’s corruption problem, the current definitions of corruption are inadequate to account for China’s guanxi culture, which requires gift giving in order to facilitate relationship building.  By some definitions, the behaviors that guanxi culture mandates for Chinese society are corrupt when government officials engage in them, perhaps even implying that Chinese culture itself is corrupt.  This is a mistake because it distracts from the actual causes of corruption. China’s corruption problem is caused by institutional and structural flaws that provide opportunities and incentives for corruption that would be exploited regardless of guanxi culture.  Thus, it is important to explicitly exclude legitimate guanxi practices from the definition of corruption in order to bring into better focus the institutional, structural and procedural flaws that cause corruption and to provide workable solutions.

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