Producing Guanxi

Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village

Producing Guanxi

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 11 b&w photographs, 3 maps, 5 figures Published: January 1997

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > East Asia

Throughout China the formation of guanxi, or social connections, involves friends, families, colleagues, and acquaintances in complex networks of social support and sentimental attachment. Focusing on this process in one rural north China village, Fengjia, Andrew Kipnis shows what guanxi production reveals about the evolution of village political economy, kinship and gender, and local patterns of subjectivity in Dengist China. His work offers a detailed description of the communicative actions—such as gift giving, being a host or guest, participating in weddings or funerals—that produce, manage, and deny guanxi in a specific time and place. Kipnis also offers a rare comparative analysis of how these practices relate to the varied and variable phenomenon of guanxi throughout China and as it has changed over time.
Producing Guanxi combines the theory of Pierre Bourdieu and the insights of symbolic anthropology to contest past portrayals of guanxi as either a function of Chinese political economics or an unchanging Confucian social structure. In this analysis guanxi emerges as a purposeful human effort that makes use of past cultural logics while generating new ones. By exploring the role of sentiment in the creation of self, Kipnis critiques recent theories of subjectivity for their narrow focus on language and discourse, and contributes to the anthropological discussion of comparative selfhood. Navigating a path between mainstream social science and abstract social theory, Kipnis presents a more nuanced examination of guanxi than has previously been available and contributes generally to our understanding of relationships and human action.


“[A] finely drawn portrait of life in a North China village. . . . .[E]ngagingly written. . . . Kipnis supports his theoretical conclusions with generous description of empirical observations. He exhibits evidence of broad knowledge of Chinese literature and history, and he is clear about the limits of his observations. His descriptions contribute valuably to understanding contemporary village life in northern China. His theoretical considerations are helpful for those studying construction of the self and material exchange. The book would be very useful for courses on Chinese society or on psychological or economic anthropology. . . . [H]ighly recommend[ed]. . . .” — Susan D. Blum , American Ethnologist

“[A] wonderful ethnographic study of communicative praxis in a particular place at a particular time of China’s reforms, a study that effectively draws upon some of the best work in recent social theory.” — Ralph A. Litzinger , Transcultural Psychiatry

“[A]n insightful and important contribution to our understanding of both guanxi and Chinese culture in general. . . . With its illuminating theoretical explorations and interesting ethnographic details, the book ought to be read by anyone who is interested in Chinese culture and society.” — Yuanxiang Yan , The China Journal

“[Kipnis provides] important ethnographic examinations of guanxi and the gift exchange with which it is intimately intertwined as they operate in northern Chinese villages. [It is] sensitive and insightful about the ways in which the context influences the ways in which the art of guanxi is practiced. . . . The result of Kipnis’ explorations into the practice of guanxi provide important contributions to a variety of topics regarding China. . . .” — , Anthropos

"Andrew Kipnis’s book is essential for scholars interested in the structure and practice of guanxi in China and for scholars interested in structural differences between rural and urban areas in reform era China. . . . This book adds strong research and new information to a subject of great interest and importance to scholars of China." — , The China Quarterly

"The importance of guanxi (social relationships or connections) is a much-studied topic among scholars of traditional and socialist China. Andrew Kipnis’s study is a welcome addition to ground the subject in concrete ethnographic settings of post-Mao China. Growing out of a team research project on Fengjia villiage of Zhouping County in Shandong Province between 1988 and 1990, Producing Guanxi offers a systematic analysis of guanxi in a rural context and suggests new directions and problems in the study of communications and culture in contemporary China.” — Wing-Kai To , Journal of Asian and African Studies

"An elegantly written, conceptually deft, and careful piece of work. I know of no other systematic contemporary attempt to theorize guanxi in a rural context. Kipnis’s theoretically sophisticated involvement with current debates in anthropology will also ensure that this book is of interest to a scholarly audience both within and beyond the China field." — Gail Hershatter, University of California, Santa Cruz

"This is a rich and well-reflected ethnographic text that captures a core feature of both traditional and contemporary Chinese culture. The richness and variety of ethnographic descriptions reveal the author’s meticulous fieldwork and his insightful and thought–provoking observations. This book will help correct the current imbalance towards depicting urban guanxi by examining the roots of guanxi in rural and peasant kinship, ethics, and rituals." — Mayfair Yang, University of California, Santa Barbara


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