Guanxi and Confucianism: An 'Individualist' Analysis

Dr. Martin Francis Parnell
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This paper initially reviews recent research on ethics and 'guanxi', with particular reference to the latter's alleged Confucian basis. Several deficiencies are identified, including a relatively uncritical acceptance of the significance of numerous Confucian ideas and principles, forming a dubious basis for much of the research. A major deficiency is to completely overlook an indigenous tradition of individualism which is, nevertheless, fully compatible with mainstream Confucian thought and practice. The paper's argument then progresses through a: i) a brief account of currently prevailing views on individualism in modern anthropology; ii) an exposition of the philosophical basis of Chinese individualism in Confucianism and Taoism; iii) a summary of the role of the family in Chinese society and its relation to individual and group thinking/activity, examining not least the issue of self-interest and 'selfishness'; iv) linking the preceding analysis to the essential features of the 'guanxi' phenomenon and provisionally establishing 'instrumentality' as the key/primary element/basis upon which 'guanxi' is built. Instrumentality emerges as a Chinese form of utilitarianism which, within the multifaceted, multidimensional phenomenon of 'guanxi', expresses individual self-interest (individualism) in a way which is compatible with the self-interest of others, also 'harmonising' that self-interest with other Chinese (Confucian) values, beliefs and practices. Finally, scope for further, related empirical enquiry is outlined.

Keywords: Confucian Ethics, Guanxi, Individualism, Instrumentalism/Instrumentality, Personalism, Utilitarianism
Stream: Identity, Belonging
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Guanxi and Confucianism

Dr. Martin Francis Parnell

Senior lecturer, School of Management, Liverpool John Moores University

Ref: D05P0199