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An Investor's Guide to Buying Influence in China|
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
Published: August 24, 2011
BEIJING — Chinese are masters of “guanxi,” or connections, using the art of relationships — and its close companion, corruption — to secure everything from safe childbirth to a prestigious burial, taking in education, jobs, a fancy home and a Porsche Cayenne S.U.V. along the way.
That’s the popular wisdom, held by many Chinese and non-Chinese alike.
“Chinese people are good at guanxi,” said the novelist Fu Shi, whose real name is Hu Gang. “Of course, it’s not just a Chinese speciality. It exists in the West, in the United States, too. But in China, it’s just deeper.”
So why did Mr. Fu write “Chinese Guanxi,” an advice book that teaches people how to cultivate social connections with dinners, expensive gifts and “red packets,” or cash-filled envelopes? Don’t they already know?
“Some people are real masters at it, and some aren’t. Not everyone is an expert,” the novelist said by telephone from his home in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province.
“I want to help the weak ones advance and take away the oxygen from the experts,” he said.
For Mr. Fu is no mere peddler of corrupt ideals, with a dystopic solution to a serious problem. His goal is to create a new kind of level playing field, where everyone benefits from an unfair arrangement by exploiting it equally.
In other words: Fight fire with fire, and corruption with ... more corruption.
The approach reflects what experts say is widespread cynicism about the chances of curbing corruption, in the absence of independent monitoring agencies or free news media.
“Corruption is growing all the time, because people and the country are growing richer,” said Liao Ran, program officer for China and South Asia at Transparency International, a nongovernmental anti-corruption organization based in Berlin.
Despite real efforts by the government, which include regular anti-corruption drives, detailed legislation and, in December, its first anti-corruption white paper, corruption is just part of the system, Mr. Liao said.
“The Communist Party can mobilize human and financial resources to do something. It has the institutional capacity to mobilize or to suppress,” Mr. Liao said by telephone. “If it wanted to control corruption, it could do it.”
Yet, far from fearing corruption, he said, officials and businessmen “are afraid if you are not corrupt. They want you to be corrupt. If you don’t join in, if you want to be a good person, then you highlight their badness.”
Mr. Liao’s quixotic conclusion: Because of government involvement, “corruption in China is very serious and very rampant. And under control.”
Mr. Liao singled out the 2008 economic stimulus plan, which pumped 4 trillion renminbi, or $625 billion, into the economy, as a key source of rising corruption.
At least 700 billion renminbi went to the high-speed rail system in 2010 alone, with “no independent oversight or regulation,” he said.
The rail project may be “the biggest single financial scandal not just in China, but perhaps in the world,” said Mr. Liao.
Mr. Fu’s first piece of advice: Don’t be shy.
“You can use people at any time and any place. And they can use you, too,” he writes.
Chapters include: inviting powerful people to dinner (do not get your guest too drunk, he might forget what you talked about); giving red packets (de rigueur in hospitals); and giving gifts (present in person, shut the doors and windows first).
The book was published in June, and people flocked to book signings in Changsha in July, according to ent.changsha.cn, an entertainment news portal.
Mr. Fu’s first novel, “Green Porcelain,” released in 2006, about guanxi in an auction house, sold more than a million copies and was serialized by the Web portal Sina.com, earning Mr. Fu nearly 4 million renminbi, he wrote.
Corruption is morally ugly, Mr. Fu warned. It also increases costs.
“A society that relies on guanxi to get things done is a scary place,” he said.
“When guanxi becomes stronger than rules, it’s dangerous to everyone. Why? Because if you use your guanxi, I’ll use my guanxi, and in the end the price of everything rises. When there are no rules, then everything is a competition, and those with more power win,” he said.
“Guanxi is alive and kicking,” said Sarah Köchling of Whatif, an innovation consulting company in Shanghai.
As China’s economy expands and becomes globalized, she said, people ask, “Is it going to reduce in importance?”
“I think it’s going to grow,” said Ms. Köchling, who has lived in Asia for more than 20 years.
Wrote Mr. Fu: “Everyone knows that 10 years ago, success was 30 percent guanxi and 70 percent talent. Today, to succeed, you can reverse the ratio. Seventy percent guanxi and 30 percent talent will do.”
Mr. Fu sees himself as both perpetrator and victim.
A former philosophy student, he left his job in the human resources department of his alma mater, Xiangtan University, in 1992.
“Had I remained a bureaucrat, I’d definitely have become corrupt,” he wrote. “The reason is simple”: Virtually everyone offered bribes.
“You can resist temptation once,” he wrote, “but not a hundred or a thousand times.”
He went into business, eventually becoming the legal representative of an auction company, which he declined to name. Bribing officials was part of the job.
By 2003, Mr. Fu had become enmeshed in a major corruption scandal involving justice system officials. “Friends” sold him out to the authorities. Jailed for 300 days, he thought up his first novel, he said. He has since published another, “Red Sleeve,” and plans two more — a guanxi quartet.
Each has a color in the title: green, red, black or white. Together, the words form a Chinese expression meaning “right and wrong.”
For now, absent real solutions, he says, the only hope is to publicize guanxi’s tricks. That way the socially skilled lose their advantage over the socially inept.
“Build a new set of rules,” he wrote. “Make these things more open, transparent, and, in this way, more free, equal and fair.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/2 ... ?_r=1&ref=china