Rapid economic growth in East Asia has often been attributed to cultural preconditions. In the case of China, high economic growth has been attributed to Confucian emphases on loyalty, reciprocal social obligations, and the pre-eminence of the group over the individual. These cultural attributes are said to be manifested especially in the practice of guanxi, a distinctive style of inter-firm networking based on trust and mutual obligations. We suggest that cultural explanations of guanxi networking behaviour appear to conflict with standard economic assumptions of rationality and utility maximisation. We argue that guanxi networks can be better understood if modelled on these standard economic assumptions. For this purpose we use a network games approach. We find that guanxi-type behaviour can be generated by the model, such that culture-based explanations appear unnecessary. Thus, we argue, guanxi behaviour can be explained in a way more consistent with rational agents and maximising behaviour.